If the Iowa politics rumor mill can be believed, State Senator Rick Bertrand has been telling constituents for some time that he will not seek a third term in the legislature. Less than two weeks after losing the fourth Congressional district primary to Representative Steve King by a two to one margin, Bertrand told the Sioux City Journal's Bret Hayworth that he is more likely to run for Congress or some other office in 2018 than for re-election.
I am skeptical.
From Hayworth's exclusive report in the Sioux City Journal on Sunday:
In a Journal interview, Bertrand said getting 35 percent after spending less than $100,000 and being a candidate for only three months shows King is at risk in the 4th District, given what Bertrand said is ineffectiveness by the congressman.
Therefore, Bertrand said while it is unlikely that he will seek re-election to the Iowa Senate, he would not rule out seeking other elective office. [...]
One of those could be the 4th congressional district position in 2018.
"Yes, absolutely. It will come down to where the state is at, where the district is at and where I am at," Bertrand said.
Bertrand is proud he "ran a classy campaign" and kept his criticism of the incumbent focused "on the issues," rather than waging the "scorched earth" battle some observers expected. For that reason, he is confident he hasn't "burned any bridges with any Republicans," even with fellow state senators who backed King's re-election.
I disagree with Bertrand on most things, including whether King is vulnerable to a future primary challenge. But I would be overjoyed to see the senator take another crack at the fourth district or run for governor, another rumor that's made the rounds. My biggest misgiving about Bertrand's Congressional bid was that a bad loss might put him off running for higher office in 2018. He was re-elected by a comfortable margin in 2014 after winning narrowly in 2010, aided by a last-minute controversy over an attack ad run by Democrats.
Democrats would have a much better chance of taking back the Sioux City-based Senate seat (map enclosed below) without Bertrand on the ballot. Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Senate district 7, Democratic turnout tends to drop more in midterm election years. President Barack Obama won 56.7 percent of the vote against Mitt Romney here in 2012, but Joni Ernst carried the district by a 5-point margin in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.
Bertrand noted he campaigned on the fact that he would only serve two terms in the state senate. He said the only way he would veer on that decision is if it appears his departure would cost Republicans a chance to hold the Senate majority.
Republicans need a net gain of two seats to regain the Iowa Senate majority--assuming State Senator David Johnson, who recently left the party to protest Donald Trump, comes back into the fold. I expect Johnson to return to the GOP immediately after the November election, though he has not committed to do so.
Even if Republicans fall just short of a majority for the fourth election in a row, I expect overwhelming pressure on Bertrand to stay in the legislature, because everyone knows holding down that Sioux City seat would be more difficult with a lesser-known GOP candidate. Bertrand is a longtime ally of Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix and one of five assistant minority leaders in the upper chamber.
The Democratic Senate majority has kept Iowa from becoming another Wisconsin or Kansas over the past six years. Speaker after speaker alluded to that fact at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame event on Friday. Bertrand's latest comments lend new urgency to holding, or even better expanding, that majority. Letting Republicans gain ground this year would not only affect what bills reach Governor Terry Branstad's desk in 2017 and 2018, but could also cost Democrats a pickup opportunity during the next election cycle.
Any comments about Bertrand's political future or the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread.
Senate district 7 covers parts of Woodbury County, including most of Sioux City other than the south side of town.