Iowa moved from “Likely R” to “Toss Up” in the latest Cook Political Report governor race ratings, announced this morning. That’s a big shift: typically election forecasters would move a race from “likely” Democrat or Republican hold to “lean,” rather than going straight to toss up.
Jennifer Duffy explained in her overview of the landscape six months before the election, “[Governor Kim] Reynolds is running for a term in her own right after becoming Governor when Terry Branstad resigned to become Ambassador to China. She will face Fred Hubbell, former president of Equitable Iowa and former Acting Director of the Department of Economic Development under Democratic Gov. Chet Culver. Hubbell easily won a crowded primary, outperforming expectations.”
As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Hubbell carried 96 of 99 counties amid high Democratic turnout. He won at least 50 percent of the vote in 76 counties and at least 60 percent in 44 counties. The number of votes for Hubbell alone nearly equaled the total ballots cast in Iowa’s 2016 Democratic primary.
Hubbell’s unprecedented spending on television air time raised his profile before Reynolds or outside groups had a chance to define him in a negative way. His campaign ran tv ads for at least seven months in markets reaching about two-thirds of Iowans and for at least three months in areas covering about another 20 percent of the state’s population.
Reynolds still carries some advantages of incumbency into the general election. She and her running mate continue to travel the state on the taxpayer’s dime, generating mostly favorable media coverage from “official” events that are thinly-disguised campaign stops. Because her only competition for the GOP nomination failed to qualify for the ballot, Reynolds was able to conserve most of her funds and had $4 million in the bank before the primary. The Republican Governors Association political action committee has already given the campaign $1.25 million directly and more than $40,000 in kind. The group will probably donate more or make large independent expenditures in the coming months.
On the other hand, the Democratic Governors Association does not currently have Iowa on its target list. UPDATE: See additional comments below. That group is focusing on eight states where control of the governor’s office would prevent another Republican gerrymander after the 2020 census. Since Iowa has a non-partisan redistricting system, our governor’s race will not affect the future map of U.S. House districts–in theory. Worth noting: Reynolds’ staff have ignored my repeated requests for comment on whether the governor will pledge to veto any effort to bring gerrymandering back to Iowa, if elected to a full four-year term.
Even without help from the DGA, Hubbell has shown he can raise the resources for a statewide race. His campaign spent nearly $7 million before the primary; the candidate contributed just under $3 million. Many well-known Democrats who had backed other candidates for governor have confirmed their support for Hubbell since June 5. The nominee also picked up the endorsement of AFSCME, the largest labor union backing Nate Boulton before the Democratic primary. Of Hubbell’s former rivals for the nomination, only Cathy Glasson has not yet endorsed him. Glasson asked to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party state convention on June 16, but she is not on the schedule at this writing.
Hubbell will announce his choice for lieutenant governor at tomorrow’s convention. Most of the speculation has centered around women from eastern Iowa, including State Senators Liz Mathis and Rita Hart and Iowa State Education Association President Tammy Wawro. I have also heard rumblings about State Representative Timi Brown-Powers. According to Iowa Starting Line, former State Representative Patti Ruff may be in the mix.
If Hubbell selects a man as a running mate, he would be the first Democrat to do so since Iowans amended our constitution in 1988 to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team. State Representatives Chris Hall and Todd Prichard appear to be the leading male contenders.
UPDATE: Melissa Miller, press secretary for the Democratic Governors Association, reached out by e-mail with a “friendly correction”: “Iowa is very much one of the DGA’s top targeted races for 2018. It’s not on our ‘Unrig the Map’ list because of its unique redistricting system, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not engaged in the race. As you’ll see from our memo below that went out on primary day, we think Governor Reynolds is in a vulnerable position and Democrats absolutely can win Iowa back.”
I didn’t mean to imply the DGA wouldn’t be issuing occasional press releases about our governor’s race. I was thinking of meaningful financial support, like the $2.1 million the group spent to boost Chet Culver’s re-election campaign in 2010. Answering my follow-up questions by phone, Miller said she was unable to provide a full list of “top targeted races,” but assured me they aren’t putting that label on all of this year’s elections. She confirmed the DGA has not yet reserved any air time in Iowa (the group has done so in only four states) but said that is “absolutely subject to change.”
Miller added that she has been working with the Iowa Democratic Party “on a very regular basis” and was just in Iowa last week connecting with state party and Hubbell campaign staff. In addition, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, the chair of the DGA, will be in the Des Moines area for the June 23 IDP Hall of Fame event. According to Miller, that’s only the third state with a competitive governor’s race that Inslee has visited this year.
Meanwhile, IDP communications director Tess Seger confirmed late in the day on June 15 that Glasson will not be addressing state convention delegates: “as of right now, we are proceeding with our already packed speaker schedule as planned.”