It's hard to beat an Iowa legislative incumbent in a primary

Yesterday’s primary elections demonstrated again that Iowans like to re-elect their incumbents, barring extraordinary circumstances.

The exception proving the rule: three-term State Representative Dan Kelley lost his Democratic primary in House district 29 (covering Newton and most of Jasper County) to Wes Breckinridge by 65 percent to 35 percent. As Pat Rynard explained here, that race was notable because prominent local officials and Iowa’s two largest labor organizations, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, opposed the incumbent.

I’ll be sorry to see Kelley go. Of all the state legislators, he was the most vocal opponent of the Bakken pipeline, despite knowing that unions–a powerful interest group in Iowa Democratic politics–had bought into the oil company’s greatly exaggerated job estimates for that project (see also here). Kelley wasn’t always popular in the House Democratic caucus. I didn’t agree with all of his votes, but I admired his independent thinking.

No one challenged a sitting Iowa senator in a primary this year. The other eight state representatives who faced competitive primaries all won easily yesterday. Among the Democrats, Jo Oldson took about 67 percent of the vote against a hard-working opponent in House district 41, Brian Meyer won 69.5 percent in House district 33, and Mary Gaskill 59 percent in House district 81. Among the Republicans, Greg Forristall won just under 80 percent of the vote in House district 22, Stan Gustafson 67 percent in House district 25, Kevin Koester more than 86 percent in House district 38, Jake Highfill 58.5 percent in House district 39, and Jarad Klein 67 percent in House district 78.

No Iowa lawmaker failed to win his or her party’s nomination in 2014. Highfill had the closest call, taking a 43 percent plurality against two Republican opponents. Highfill was the only successful primary challenger to an Iowa legislative incumbent in 2012. The college student’s victory over then House Majority Whip Erik Helland was shocking, but an OWI arrest and other examples of poor judgment worked against Helland. Though inexperienced, Highfill had the backing of former State Representative Walt Tomenga and the “Liberty PAC” of Ron Paul supporters in that 2012 race.

Any comments about Iowa legislative elections are welcome in this thread.

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