Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

The filing period for major-party candidates closed on March 16, and the final list of candidates for state legislative seats is here. The Secretary of State’s office will determine early next week whether Ron Corbett qualified for the GOP ballot for governor and Courtney Rowe and Theresa Greenfield qualified as Democrats running in the first and third Congressional districts.


Only five Iowa House districts have no Democratic candidate yet.

House district 3 (Dan Huseman)
House district 4 (Skyler Wheeler)
House district 11 (Gary Worthan)
House district 18 (Steven Holt)
House district 54 (Linda Upmeyer)

That’s a tremendous improvement from the last two midterm election cycles. Democrats went into the 2010 election with a 56-44 Iowa House majority and left 24 GOP-held seats uncontested. In 2014, Republicans had a 53-47 House majority, and Democrats did not field a candidate in 22 GOP-held seats.

All of the uncontested seats skew heavily to the GOP in terms of voter registration. But former State Representative Greg Stevens commented on Facebook today,

No seat is safe. We lose 100% of the seats when no Democrat runs. Though the filing deadline is done, we can still get Democrats on the November ballot by nominating by committee. Please, people, in the open seats, run. At worst, the local media has an alternative voice they must cover. If you are lucky, the Republican could implode.

Stevens would know: he agreed to run for the House in 1998 in what was perceived as a hopeless district for Democrats. I highly recommend his entertaining account of how he was talked into being a “sacrificial lamb,” and how he ended up winning that race. Luck played a part; a manure spill from his opponent’s farm caused a large fish kill shortly before the November election.

On a related note, two Republicans who defeated Iowa House Democrats in 2010 (Bob Hager and Brian Moore) didn’t file for the GOP primary but were nominated that summer at district conventions. Strange things happen in a wave election.

Democrats need a net gain of ten seats to regain the House majority. Republicans are unlikely to spend much money on offense in the lower chamber, with the possible exception of the open seat in House district 9 (Fort Dodge). Megan Srinivas is the Democratic candidate for the seat eight-term State Representative Helen Miller is vacating. Ann Meyer and Gary Waechter are seeking the GOP nomination.

Meanwhile, check out the long list of House districts with no Republican candidate at this writing:

House district 13 (Chris Hall)
House district 31 (Rick Olson)
House district 33 (Brian Meyer)
House district 34 (Bruce Hunter)
House district 35 (Ako Abdul-Samad)
House district 36 (Marti Anderson)
House district 40 (John Forbes)
House district 41 (Jo Oldson)
House district 46 (Lisa Heddens)
House district 52 (Todd Prichard)
House district 53 (Sharon Steckman)
House district 59 (Bob Kressig)
House district 61 (Timi Brown-Powers)
House district 62 (Ras Smith)
House district 64 (Bruce Bearinger)
House district 69 (Kirsten Running-Marquardt)
House district 70 (open with Todd Taylor running for the Senate; Tracy Ehlert is the only Democratic candidate)
House district 74 (Dave Jacoby)
House district 77 (Amy Nielsen)
House district 82 (Phil Miller)
House district 85 (Vicki Lensing)
House district 86 (Mary Mascher)
House district 89 (Monica Kurth)
House district 90 (Cindy Winckler)
House district 93 (Phyllis Thede)

Note that Republicans aren’t even trying to beat Phil Miller. The GOP spent six figures trying to win a special election in House district 82 last August. On paper, Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage here.

I wonder whether Republicans deliberately avoided recruiting candidates for some of the safer Democratic seats, in the hope of sapping the incumbents’ commitment to raise money and GOTV in heavily Democratic precincts this fall. Several of the unchallenged incumbents represent plenty of well-off constituents but don’t devote much energy to fundraising.

In a March 16 statement, House Minority Leader Mark Smith argued that the “fantastic crop” of Democratic candidates shows “momentum is building for a blue wave in November 2018. We have candidates running in 95 out of 100 House Districts, which is the biggest number by either party in over 30 years.” That press release emphasized:

Democrats filled 95 of 100 seats and Republicans filled just 75

95 candidates is biggest number of seats filled by either party in over 30 years

113 total Democratic candidates are running for the Iowa House

Republicans have 13 open seats, 20% of their members are retiring

Republicans lose 117 years of incumbency with their retirements

Although some of the GOP retirements are happening in strongly Republican seats, others look like good prospects for Democratic takeovers.


As in the House races, more Democrats stepped up to run for the Iowa Senate than in the last two midterm election cycles. The party did not field challengers against three GOP state senators in 2010 (when Democrats had a big 32-18 majority in the chamber). Holding only a 26-24 majority in 2014, Democrats failed to recruit candidates against six of the upper chamber’s Republicans, including then Minority Leader Bill Dix.

In contrast, Democrats have at least one candidate running in all but two of the 25 Iowa Senate districts on the ballot this year. The party did not attempt to recruit a candidate in Senate district 1, where independent State Senator David Johnson (who often votes with Democrats) is running for re-election. In that heavily Republican area of northwest Iowa, Johnson will need support from almost all Democrats and most of the no-party voters in order to defeat the winner of a three-way GOP primary between Brad Price, Zach Whiting, and Jesse Wolfe.

State Senator Jason Schultz is the only GOP incumbent in the upper chamber not yet facing an opponent. Senate district 9 is understandably not an easy place to recruit a Democratic candidate, given voter registration totals strongly favoring Republicans. Even so, Democrats could nominate someone here at a special convention later this year.

I enclose below a press release listing all Democrats running for the Iowa Senate in 2018.

Republicans left five Democratic senators unchallenged in 2010 and six unchallenged in 2014. This year, there are six Democratic-held Senate districts with no Republican candidate:

Senate district 17 (Tony Bisignano)
Senate district 23 (Herman Quirmbach)
Senate district 31 (Bill Dotzler)
Senate district 35 (open due to Wally Horn’s retirement; Todd Taylor is the only candidate)
Senate district 37 (open due to Bob Dvorsky’s retirement; Zach Wahls and Janice Weiner are the leading Democratic candidates)
Senate district 45 (Jim Lykam)

Any comments about the 2018 state legislative races are welcome in this thread.

March 16 press release:

Senate Democrats field strong slate of community leaders for 2018 Elections

Iowa Senate Democrats have announced a slate of candidates for the 2018 elections that includes community leaders from nearly every corner of Iowa.

“We’re excited about our Democratic candidates,” said Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen. “So many talented, energetic people have stepped up to run. It almost feels like there is a buzz in the air across our state. Iowans are longing for leaders who will show up for them and give them more opportunities to get ahead in life. The Republican-led legislature has had one corruption story after another because they have chosen to put special interests, lobbyists, out-of-state corporations and inappropriate behavior ahead of serving Iowans. Democrats are ready to put Iowans first again. With our great incumbent Democratic Senators and newcomers on the ballot, I’m hopeful Iowa will have bluer skies and a much bluer Senate after the November election.”

There are 25 Senate districts on the ballot this year and Democrats have fielded candidates in 23 districts so far. They are:

Iowa Senate District 3 – David Dawson, Lawton

Dave Dawson, former two-term State Representative, is running for Iowa Senate District 3, covering most of Plymouth County and a large part of Woodbury County. Dave is a Northwest Iowa native, former small business owner, and currently serves as a prosecutor in the Woodbury County Attorney’s Office. Dave and his wife Liza have three children.

Iowa Senate District 5 – John J. O’Brien, Fort Dodge

John O’Brien is a 12-year resident of Fort Dodge. He was raised in Atlantic and graduated from Atlantic High School. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, John joined the Ironworkers Local # 21 in Omaha NE. John and his brother Mark started a construction business that lasted more than 33 years. John sold his half of the partnership in 1990 and returned to college to pursue his current profession as an educator. John is currently a 5-12 grade principal for Manson Northwest Webster Community School District, where he works as the administrator in a school designed to educate at-risk children. John and his wife of 43 years, Gina, have raised two children who both still live in Iowa. They have three grandchildren.

Iowa Senate District 7 – Jackie Smith, Sioux City

Jackie Smith served eight years as a Woodbury County Supervisor. A retired speech pathologist, Smith has 34 years of experience as an educator, including a stint with Northwest Area Education Agency. After graduating from North High, Jackie attended Briar Cliff College and received a master’s degree from Baylor University. After graduation, she returned home and worked as a speech-language pathologist with Northwest Area Education Agency for 34 years. Smith is married to Dennis Smith, a retired high school math teacher. They previously owned and operated a small clothing business for 15 years. This is an open seat.

Iowa Senate District 11 – Sara Ramsey, Corning

Sara Ramsey was born and raised in Corning. She graduated from Corning High School and Southwestern Community College before earning a degree in Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Currently, she works as a psychiatric technician in Omaha. Sara decided to seek a nomination for State Senate after speaking with others and learning that, like her, they did not feel their current Senator supported bills that reflected their beliefs or interests.

Iowa Senate District 13 – Vicky Brenner, rural Winterset

Vicky Brenner, retired Indianola teacher, small business owner, and citizen advocate from Winterset is running for Iowa Senate District 13 because she feels it’s time to elect leaders who will work together to make sure Iowa is place where we make people our priority. Brenner grew up in Iowa, where she learned the importance of working hard, getting a good education and making the most of every opportunity to give back in order to ensure the next generation in Iowa is better off. She is an Iowa native who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa. Before retiring, she taught high school English for 34 years, including 17 years in Indianola. Brenner is married to Mike Brenner, a small business owner.

Iowa Senate District 15 – Sen. Chaz Allen, Newton

Chaz Allen of Newton was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2014. The owner of Jorlen Welding in Newton, he also serves as executive director of the Jasper County Economic Development Corp and is the former Newton mayor. He is a member of the Commerce, Local Government and Veterans Affairs committees, as well as the Economic Development Budget subcommittee. Allen and his wife Teri have two daughters, Morgan and Madeline.

Iowa Senate District 17– Sen. Tony Bisignano, Des Moines

Tony Bisignano of Des Moines was elected in 2014 to the Iowa Senate. He previously served three terms in the Iowa House and one term in the Iowa Senate. Senator Bisignano is a member of the State Government, Judiciary, Labor & Business Relations and Transportation committees. He previously served as Polk County’s Human Resources Director. Tony and his wife Kim have two daughters, Emily and Allison.

Iowa Senate District 19 – Amber Gustafson, Ankeny

Amber Gustafson has been a resident of Ankeny for 14 years. She is a fourth-generation Iowan and grew up in rural southwest Iowa. She was among the first class of Hixson Opportunity Award recipients at Iowa State University. She graduated in 1999 with a degree in Journalism/Public Relations and worked as an academic advisor at the University of Missouri. She is a small business owner, health and fitness coach, and volunteers for numerous causes including the farm-to-table food movement, parent-teacher organization, and refugee resettlement. Gustafson is married and has three children who attend Ankeny Public Schools.

Iowa Senate District 21 – Democratic primary

Claire Celsi of West Des Moines and Connie Ryan of Des Moines are facing off in the June 5th Democratic primary to succeed Senator Matt McCoy, who is retiring from the Senate to run for the Polk County Board of Supervisors.

Iowa Senate District 23 – Senator Herman Quirmbach, Ames

Herman Quirmbach was elected in 2002 to the Iowa Senate. He is a member of the Education, Human Resources, Local Government, and Ways & Means Committees, as well as the Education Appropriations subcommittee. He is an Associate Professor of Economics at Iowa State University.

Iowa Senate District 25 – Tracy Freese, Dike
Tracy Freese is Chair of the Grundy County Democratic Party. She was raised in Clinton by a mother disabled by Multiple Sclerosis and is no stranger to hardship. She bootstrapped her way to a BA in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Organizational Communications at UNI. She went on to build a career in insurance, investments, and estate planning. Tracy founded and runs a global online marketing company. She is a firm believer in protecting Iowa farm families from predatory finance. This is currently an open seat. There will be a special election on April 10 to fill the vacancy created by the abrupt resignation of Republican Senator Bill Dix.

Iowa Senate District 27– Senator Amanda Ragan, Mason City.

Amanda Ragan is a member of the Health & Human Services Budget subcommittee and also serves on the Agriculture, Appropriations, Human Resources, Rules & Administration and Veterans Affairs committees. She is the executive director of two non-profit agencies, The Community Kitchen of North Iowa and Mason City Meals on Wheels. She is married to Jim Ragan. She has two grown children, Edith and Charles, and four grandchildren.

Iowa Senate District 29– Senator Tod Bowman, Maquoketa

Tod Bowman of Maquoketa was first elected in 2010 to the Iowa Senate. He is a member of the Transportation, Agriculture, Education, State Government and Veterans Affairs committees and the Transportation & Infrastructure Budget subcommittee. He teaches political science and psychology at Maquoketa High School and at Clinton Community College. Tod and his wife Renee have three children: Beau, Levi and Addie.

Iowa Senate District 31– Sen. Bill Dotzler, Waterloo
Bill Dotzler was elected in 2002 to the Iowa Senate after serving three terms in the Iowa House. He is a member of the Economic Development Budget committee and the Appropriations, Labor & Business Relations, and Ways & Means committees. He is retired from John Deere Waterloo Works, where he was employed as a Machine Operator and Labor Representative.

Iowa Senate District 33 – Senator Rob Hogg, Cedar Rapids

Rob Hogg was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2006. He previously served two terms in the Iowa House. He is a member of the Local Government, Education, Government Oversight and Ways & Means committees, as well as the Justice Systems Budget subcommittee. He is an attorney in private practice in Cedar Rapids. Rob and his wife Kate have three children.

Iowa Senate District 35– Rep. Todd Taylor, Cedar Rapids

Todd Taylor is currently serving his 12th term in the Iowa House. Taylor grew up on the west side of Cedar Rapids and graduated from Jefferson High School. Taylor has bachelor degrees in English and political science from Graceland College and the University Iowa. He and his wife Kim have two children and are members of the Community of Christ. Taylor has spent the last 25 years as an AFSCME union representative. This is an open seat that was created by the retirement of Sen. Wally Horn.

Iowa Senate District 37 – Democratic primary

Eric Dirth of Coralville, Zach Wahls of Coralville and Janice Weiner of Iowa City are facing off in the June 5th Democratic primary to succeed Senator Bob Dvorsky, who is retiring.

Iowa Senate District 39 – Sen. Kevin Kinney, rural Oxford

Kevin Kinney was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2014. Kevin Kinney was elected in 2014 to his first four-year term in the Iowa Senate. He is a member of the Agriculture, Ethics, Judiciary and Natural Resources committees, as well as the Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget subcommittee. After working law enforcement for 28 years, Senator Kevin and his wife Deb own and operate his family’s century farm near Oxford. They have two grown children, Shaun and Megan.

Iowa Senate District 41– Democratic Primary

Ed Malloy of Fairfield and Mary Stewart of Ottumwa are facing off in the June 5th Democratic primary. This is an open seat created by the retirement of Republican Mark Chelgren.

Iowa Senate District 43 – Senator Joe Bolkcom, Iowa City

Joe Bolkcom was elected to the Iowa Senate 1998. He previously served for six years on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Senator Bolkcom is a member the Appropriations, Human Resources and Ways & Means committees, as well as the Health & Human Services Budget subcommittee. He is the outreach and community Education Director for the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and the Iowa Flood Center.

Iowa Senate District 45 — Senator Jim Lykam, Davenport

Jim Lykam was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2016. He previously served six terms in the Iowa House of Representatives. Senator Lykam serves on the Commerce, Natural Resources and Transportation committees, as well as the Administration & Regulation Budget subcommittee. Before retiring, Senator Lykam ran a small business for more than 25 years. He and his wife Barb have an adult son, Jeff.

Iowa Senate District 47 — Marie Gleason, Bettendorf

Marie Gleason is a John Deere employee for 20 years and a community activist. At John Deere, Gleason is a Project Manager in the Human Resource area and previously worked in the Sales & Marketing area. She currently serves on the board of directors for Dress for Success Quad Cities, a non-profit organization making a distinct difference in the lives of women who are job ready and working toward economic independence and career advancement. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University – Bloomington.

Iowa Senate District 49 — Senator Rita Hart, rural Wheatland

Rita Hart was first elected to the Iowa Senate in 2012. She a member of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget subcommittee and a member of the Agriculture, Appropriations, Education and Natural Resources committees. She taught for more than 20 years in the Calamus-Wheatland and Bennett school districts. Hart farms with her husband Paul. They are the parents of five children.

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