Republicans outspending Democrats in most Iowa Senate battlegrounds

Iowa House and Senate candidates were required to file their last pre-election campaign finance reports on Friday. In stark contrast to four years ago, Republicans are outspending Democrats in most of the contested state Senate districts. (I’ll address spending in the key Iowa House races in a different post.)

Currently, there are 25 Senate Democrats, 23 Republicans, and one independent. If former GOP Senator David Johnson makes good on his promise to remain an independent in 2017, and Democrats win the December special election to replace the late Senator Joe Seng, Republicans would need to pick up three seats to gain control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2004.

I enclose below in-kind contribution figures for the Senate districts expected to be in play next Tuesday. Candidates running elsewhere did not report large in-kind contributions from their respective parties.

You can find all of the November 4 reports from Iowa legislative candidates here; the October 19 reports are here.

At this point in an Iowa legislative race, the Schedule E forms on “In-Kind Contributions” are the most revealing, because most of the spending on advertising and direct mail comes from Democratic and Republican leadership funds, rather than from candidates’ campaign accounts.

Either the Iowa Democratic Party or the Senate Majority Fund provide most in-kind contributions to Democratic candidates, while the “Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club” spends the most on behalf of GOP candidates. For the remainder of this post, “Iowa GOP” refers to the Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club.

Technically, Iowa law prohibits candidates from transferring money they raise to another candidate. Both parties get around that restriction by having legislative leaders raise most of the money for key races and donate it to state party funds. The party then turns around and spends the cash in the targeted House or Senate districts.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix is not up for re-election, so he was not required to file campaign finance reports on May 19, July 19, October 19, or November 4. Consequently, we can’t see how much he has transferred to the Iowa GOP this year. The same is true for Senate Minority Whip Jack Whitver. He represents a wealthy part of the state (Ankeny), so may have brought in a lot of money this year. But like Dix, he won’t be required to report his fundraising or expenditures until January 2017.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Although senators not up for re-election this year don’t have to submit full disclosure forms, I forgot that contributions to state party organizations would be visible on the parties’ reports to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The October 19 disclosure from the Republican Party of Iowa and its Eisenhower Club shows four contributions from Dix’s campaign committee, totaling $1,441,000. Whitver’s committee made two donations totaling $125,000. Political parties don’t have to file reports on the Friday preceding the general election the way candidates do, so we can’t determine how much money GOP Senate leaders transferred after October 19. We can say that Dix and Whitver provided as least six times as many dollars for crucial races as the previous Senate caucus leaders, Jerry Behn and Brad Zaun, made available in 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal reported giving $195,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party on his October 19 report and $1,090,000 to the party on the November 4 filing ($750,000 on October 25, $100,000 on October 27, and $240,000 on October 31).

That’s a lot of money, but I guarantee Dix has given his party more.

Senate district 8

Gronstal is facing a tougher challenge from Dan Dawson this year than from his hapless 2012 opponent, Al Ringgenberg.

Amazingly, Gronstal is spending less on his own race than Republicans are. He reported $243,363.98 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $243,546.31 from the state party (November 4 disclosure).

Dawson reported $316,544.12 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and $263,988.02 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

I can’t remember an Iowa legislative leader getting outspent in his own district before. Someone please let me know if there is precedent for this situation.

Senate district 26

State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm reported $141,853.92 from the Senate Majority Fund (October 19 disclosure) and $193,748.45 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure).

She received more help from party leaders four years ago, when she was facing GOP State Senator Merlin “Build my fence” Bartz.

Wilhelm’s challenger Waylon Brown reported $291,354.81 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and $173,963.28 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

Senate district 28

Challenger Jan Heikes reported $65,739.46 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and no in-kind contributions on November 4. She was able to spend just $10,716,99 from her own campaign account for advertising in the final weeks.

GOP Senator Mike Breitbach reported $128,544.20 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and nothing from the state party on his November 4 report. In fact, he donated $12,700 in campaign funds to the Iowa GOP in late October, indicating that Republicans feel very confident about holding this seat.

I share Pat Rynard’s disappointment that Democrats have not made a stronger play for this district, where Breitbach won by only 17 votes in 2012.

Senate district 30

Since nearly losing his 2008 re-election bid, Senator Jeff Danielson has run his campaigns mostly independently from Democratic party leaders. He reported $15,382.55 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $30,252.72 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure). But he had raised enough to spend more than $160,000 from his own campaign account to cover most of his expenses.

Challenger Bonnie Sadler reported $58,968.57 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and just $5,005.22 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

Republicans spent much more trying to win this district four years ago.

Danielson’s district covers Cedar Falls and parts of Waterloo, an area including the University of Northern Iowa, where Donald Trump probably hurts down-ballot GOP candidates. I would guess internal polling showed this race wasn’t a good pickup opportunity. In addition, Danielson has enjoyed a fairly large lead in absentee ballot returns these past few weeks.

Senate district 32

Republicans didn’t make a big play for this district four years ago, but times have changed.

Senator Brian Schoenjahn reported $192,603.30 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $192,172.27 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure).

Craig Johnson reported $313,922.50 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and $264,916.26 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

Schoenjahn won his first state Senate race in 2004. It’s rare for an entrenched Iowa legislative incumbent to be so heavily outspent in a re-election bid.

Senate district 34

Republicans conceded this district in 2012. Senator Liz Mathis is unusually popular and well-known, thanks to her years of work as a local newscaster. This year, GOP leaders spent heavily on negative advertising and direct mail soon after Labor Day. They appear to have accepted defeat a few weeks ago.

Mathis reported $42,468.06 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $39,972.29 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure). She actually contributed nearly as much to the Iowa Democratic Party from her campaign account as she received in kind. But Mathis raised enough money to fund most of her own advertising and direct mail.

Challenger Rene Gadelha reported $242,233.58 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) but only $20,992.64 from the Iowa GOP on the final report before election day.

My hypothesis: Republicans waved the white flag after realizing the brazen lies in campaign communications attacking Mathis backfired. Democrats also have a big lead in absentee ballots in this district covering parts of the Cedar Rapids suburbs, where Trump isn’t an asset to down-ballot candidates. It’s no coincidence that the only sitting Iowa Republican legislator to say publicly he would not vote for Trump is Ken Rizer, who represents half of Mathis’s Senate district.

Senate district 36

Republicans had a weak candidate here in 2012 and didn’t invest much in her campaign. They are making a big play for this seat now. Challenger Jeff Edler was running tv ads in the Des Moines market for approximately a month before Democratic Senator Sodders. Even now, I see two or three misleading Elder hit pieces about a “spending spree” for every commercial promoting Sodders.

Sodders reported $116,240.69 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $302,909.11 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure).

Edler reported $282,531.32 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and another $260,636.30 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

Senate district 42

I have my eye on this race, because the southeast corner of Iowa looks more like Trump territory than any other Democratic-leaning Senate district.

Apparently the same thought occurred to Senate Democratic leaders.

Senator Rich Taylor reported only $51,451.97 from the Iowa Democratic Party on his October 19 disclosure, but the Iowa Democratic Party kicked in $100,344.74 for advertising, according to the November 4 disclosure.

For reasons that elude me, Dix chose not to invest in challenger Danny Graber’s campaign. The October 19 report showed no in-kind contributions. At this writing, Graber has not filed a November 4 disclosure.

Senate district 42 wasn’t a high priority for Republicans in 2012, but they spent some money here.

Senate district 46

First-term Senator Chris Brase has long been seen as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the upper chamber, partly because Republicans recruited former State Representative Mark Lofgren to run against him. Both campaigns have been working hard on GOTV and have spent heavily on mail and paid advertising.

Brase reported $236,779.05 from the Iowa Democratic Party (October 19 disclosure) and $311,603.10 from the Iowa Democratic Party (November 4 disclosure).

Lofgren was a terrible fundraiser for his unsuccessful Congressional campaign in 2014, but he’s done better as an Iowa Senate candidate this past year, and a bunch of political action committees made contributions. Still, Dix and company provided most of the money supporting Lofgren’s campaign: $255,530.14 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and $328,802.64 from the Iowa GOP (November 4 disclosure).

Senate district 48

Democrats spent a lot of money trying to win this open seat four years ago.

This year, challenger Scott Peterson reported no in-kind contributions from the Iowa Democratic Party on his October 19 or November 4 disclosures.

As a result, first-term Senator Dan Zumbach got a pass, and his party leaders weren’t forced to spend a lot of money defending his seat. He reported $99,107.39 from the Iowa GOP (October 19 disclosure) and nothing from the state party on November 4.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread.

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