Post-primary overview of the key Iowa Senate races

Competitive primaries happened yesterday in several of the Iowa Senate districts that will determine control of the upper chamber for the next two years. Full results are on this page of the Secretary of State’s website.

My first take on the general election match-ups is below. I still see Democrats favored to hold their majority, with a decent chance of expanding it.

Only the 25 odd-numbered Iowa Senate districts are on the ballot this year.

Democrats go into the election guaranteed to hold at least 20 seats after November. Twelve incumbents serve in even-numbered districts, so won’t be up for re-election until 2016. In addition, Republicans are not fielding candidates in the following eight districts:

Senate district 17 (open seat; unofficial results give Tony Bisignano a 13-vote lead over Nathan Blake)

Senate district 21 (Matt McCoy)

Senate district 31 (Bill Dotzler)

Senate district 33 (Rob Hogg)

Senate district 35 (Wally Horn won his primary yesterday)

Senate district 37 (Bob Dvorsky)

Senate district 43 (Joe Bolkcom)

Senate district 45 (Joe Seng won his primary yesterday)

Republicans are guaranteed at least 19 Iowa Senate seats after November. Thirteen incumbents serve in even-numbered districts, so won’t be up for re-election until 2016. In addition, Democrats left the following seats uncontested:

Senate district 1 (David Johnson)

Senate district 3 (Bill Anderson)

Senate district 9 (open seat; Jason Schultz won uncontested primary yesterday)

Senate district 11 (open seat; Tom Shipley won contested GOP primary)

Senate district 19 (Jack Whitver defeated his primary challenger)

Senate district 25 (Bill Dix)


Democrats go into the general election defending six Iowa Senate seats they already hold. Republicans need to win at least two of the following districts to gain a majority. My opinion hasn’t changed since March. I see Democrats well-positioned to win all of these races or, at most, lose one out of the six.

Senate district 5 (Daryl Beall)

This seat covers most of Webster County, including Fort Dodge, and all of Pocahontas, Calhoun, and Humboldt counties (map). Mitt Romney outpolled President Barack Obama in Senate district 5 by about 52.0 percent to 46.7 percent. In addition, Beall is one of only two Senate Democrats facing re-election this year in a district where the GOP has a voter registration advantage. As of June 2014, Senate district 5 contained 11,147 active registered Democrats, 12,063 Republicans, and 14,942 no-party voters. GOP numbers may spike at bit in July from people changing their registration to vote in yesterday’s primary.

There was no competitive primary here. Fort Dodge-based financial adviser Tim Kraayenbrink was the only GOP candidate to file against three-term State Senator Daryl Beall. As I’ve explained here and here, I think Beall can hold off this challenge, having survived the 2010 Republican landslide.

Senate district 15 (open because of Dennis Black’s retirement)

Most of the time, open seats are better targets for the party out of power, but Democrats recruited a strong candidate in former Newton Mayor Chaz Allen. Senate district 15 covers most of Jasper County and parts of eastern Polk County (map here).  Corporate executive Crystal Bruntz defeated former Mitchellville Mayor Jeremy Filbert in the GOP primary yesterday.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Senate district 15 by roughly 1,700 now. Allen has strong contacts in the business community and even supported Terry Branstad against Governor Chet Culver in 2010. I think he will win this seat, assuming he runs a competent campaign.

Senate district 23 (Herman Quirmbach)

Quirmbach easily won his primary yesterday against Democratic challenger Cynthia Oppedal Paschen. Republicans have an experienced candidate in Jeremy Davis, who has served on the Ames City Council. He will probably run against Quirmbach’s abrasive personality as much as on any policy issues. The latest voter registration totals show 11,152 active registered Democrats, 8,881 Republicans, and 13,080 no-party voters in Senate district 23. Although Ames is not Iowa’s most liberal college town, I think Quirmbach can make a strong case that Democratic control of the Iowa Senate protects higher education funding, including appropriations for Iowa State University.

City council members can be strong state legislative candidates, but Jeremy Davis’ day job working in U.S. Representative Steve King’s local office puts him way outside the mainstream in Ames.

Senate district 27 (Amanda Ragan)

Three-term incumbent Ragan should take nothing for granted, because Senate district 27 covering most of Cerro Gordo and Butler counties and all of Franklin County is the most GOP-Senate leaning district now held by a Democrat. As of June 2014, Senate district 27 contained 10,925 active registered Democrats, 12,778 Republicans, and 16,107 no-party voters. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama carried this district with just under 53 percent of the vote against Mitt Romney.

Several Republicans with potentially strong support in the Mason City area passed on this race. Shawn Dietz, a former mayor of a small town in Franklin County, won yesterday’s primary. I think he’s got an uphill battle against Ragan. She runs the Community Kitchen of North Iowa in the population center of the district. She can take credit for the final compromise over expanding health insurance for low-income Iowans. Republicans will spend a lot of money here, though, for lack of better options.  

Senate district 29 (Tod Bowman)

First-term Senator Tod Bowman of Maquoketa (Jackson County) is seeking re-election in a very different district from the one he carried in 2010. Senate district 29 covers all of Jackson County, part of Jones County, and most of Dubuque County outside the city of Dubuque (click here to view a map).

Yesterday tea party activist James Budde defeated former Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens in the GOP primary. Budde is a onetime Congressional candidate who dropped out of that race before that primary. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has predicted that Republicans will compete for Senate district 29, but I don’t see much of an opening. The latest voter registration numbers indicate that Senate district 29 contains 14,721 active registered Democrats, 10,342 Republicans, and 17,175 no-party voters. An outstanding candidate might be able to overcome that kind of disadvantage, but Budde isn’t that person. Bowman should win, assuming he doesn’t run a lazy campaign.

Senate district 49 (Rita Hart)

Senate district 49 includes Clinton County and parts of northern Scott County (click here to view a map). Rita Hart (background here) won a two-way Democratic primary and then beat Republican Andrew Naeve by nearly 3,000 votes in the general.

There was no competitive primary here. Clinton County Supervisor Brian Schmidt was the only Republican to file against Hart. Many state lawmakers previously served as county supervisors, so Schmidt’s campaign and governing experience could be an asset. Having experience winning a county election should help Schmidt in his Senate campaign. The district tilts against him, though, with 12,396 active registered Democrats, 9,813 Republicans, and 16,750 no-party voters as of June 2014.

To recap, Republicans need to win at least two of those six districts for a chance at 26 Iowa Senate seats. They also must stop Democrats from taking any seats away from them.


Senate district 7 (Rick Bertrand)

Jim France won yesterday’s Democratic primary against Maria Rundquist and will face a first-term Republican who won narrowly in 2010. Democrats will target this seat covering much of Sioux City for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed here. President Obama carried Senate district 7 with nearly 57 percent of the vote in 2012, a larger margin than in any other Iowa legislative district represented by a Republican. The latest voter registration numbers show that the district contains 11,433 active registered Democrats, 8,838 Republicans, and 9,876 no-party voters. Bertrand is a high-profile local business owner and was an early ally of Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, so Republicans will spend heavily to hold this seat. It’s not a gimme for Democrats by any means.

Senate district 13 (Julian Garrett)

Gronstal isn’t targeting this race. Given the sizable GOP voter registration advantage, Senate district 13 would have been in play only if disgraced former Senator Kent Sorenson were still on the ballot. Democrat Pam Deichmann was unopposed in yesterday’s primary. She will have an uphill battle against the new incumbent Julian Garrett, who won last year’s special election to replace Sorenson.

Senate district 39 (open because of Sandy Greiner’s retirement)

Michael Moore took 49 percent in the three-way Republican primary here, while Kevin Kinney won 76 percent on the Democratic side. The district covers part of Johnson County, most of Washington County, and all of Keokuk County (map here). Moore is from Washington County, while Kinney is from Johnson County.

Neither party has a clear advantage in this race. As of June 2014, Senate district 39 contained 12,214 active registered Democrats, 12,423 Republicans, and 14,814 no-party voters.

Senate district 41 (Mark Chelgren)

Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel took more than two-thirds of the vote in yesterday’s Democratic primary against Tom Rubel. He will face Senator Mark “Chickenman” Chelgren, who won by fewer than a dozen votes in 2010. The territory favors Democrats. Senate district 41 contains all of Davis and Van Buren counties, plus the population centers of Wapello and Jefferson counties, Ottumwa and Fairfield (this post contains a map). The district went for Barack Obama in 2012, and Democrats currently have a voter registration advantage of more than 3,500.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks hails from the Ottumwa area and won the GOP primary yesterday for a third shot at beating Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s Congressional district. If she runs strong in the Senate district 41 counties, Chelgren could benefit. But Democrats are strongly committed to taking back a seat they feel should never have been lost.

Senate district 47 (Roby Smith)

There were no competitive primaries here. First-term Senator Smith will face Democratic challenger Maria Bribriesco. Senate district 47 covers Bettendorf, some neighborhoods in Davenport, and several small towns in Scott County (this post contains a map). Earlier this year, Gronstal listed this seat as a competitive one, maybe because the district went narrowly for Obama in 2012. It will be a long-shot. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats here by about 2,000.

Losing one or more of the seats they already hold would almost certainly put the Iowa Senate majority out of reach for Republicans.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

About the Author(s)


  • Dix

    Someone should run against Bill Dix, particularly if the Iowa Senate GOP agenda is truly objectionable.  Many contests aren’t about winning, they are about offering alternatives.

    There are plenty of retirees out there who don’t have to worry about losing their job over politics, so someone should let their hair down and just run against Dix.  

    • I agree

      It’s a tough district but I would prefer to see candidates in all of the districts. Someone should be out there making the case against Dix. He has said some ridiculous things.

  • Voting stats ?

    Any ideas about how the voting participation rate among naturalised citizens compares to that of citizens born here?  Is that a demographic we should seek out?

    • I have never seen that data

      but I know that some Democratic campaigns have done extensive outreach to naturalized citizens. Latino voters helped save Steve Sodders’ Iowa Senate seat and Mark Smith’s Iowa House seat in the Marshalltown area, and Sioux City Democrats have reached out to the Latino and Vietnamese communities.