Top election forecaster: Iowa governor's race a toss up

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.”

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  • Thanks for this update...

    …and please keep us posted. This kind of information does help in deciding how to most effectively donate limited dollars.

  • Oh Oh...

    I spoke with Glasson this evening and as of now she won’t be speaking. Yes, she is the only one of the Dems who has not as of yet, endorsed him. For good reason.

    I am very afraid that class divisions will derail Dems, handing our dear Iowa over to forces that we all know are NOT where we want our state to be. What do I mean?
    We see the damage that Branstad’s privatization of Medicaid has done to real people but are we too well off ourselves to really understand the gravity of this condition on those people who have no way out?
    Cathy Glasson garnered 20% of the Dem primary voters across the state because she (helped mightily by Iowa CCI) honestly connected with rural and urban voters on the issues that Dems (not just “progressives”) are supposed to care about.

    Can Hubbell win without the 20% of Dems who deem themselves as unashamedly progressive? Does Hubbell’s team plan on pulling enough fed-up Reps in to compensate for the loss of Dems who may hear ‘same old-same old’ boilerplate from Hubbell and stay home?
    As reported on BH, Glasson asked Hubbell to speak tomorrow (today?) Personally, Hubbell agreed that she had earned the right to speak but his “people” nixed the idea.
    Her lack of pre-convention endorsement was certainly a factor but the fact that he let himself be overruled when he himself agreed that she should speak is a critical tell for me.
    People may not naturally think of Iowa CCI and Fred Hubbell in the same constituency group (Yah, makes my head spin too…) but all Dems are going to need each other to fix the mess we’re in.
    I wasn’t living in Iowa during the Culver (Chet) days but I hear over and over that the “big lug” just didn’t have the capacity to inspire.
    My friend Jack Hatch took one whole county in his bid to be Governor. Clearly, Iowa Dem messaging is badly in need of an overhaul.
    Failing to acknowledge Glasson’s success (and every other primary challengers’ constituencies in a state where you’ll will need a total effort from everybody), will be a fatal mistake.
    Fred (and his team) must meaningfully reach out to harvest the best ideas from each of his opponents. Each one of them will be more likely to keep their supporters on board until November and, darn it, each of them have good ideas that should be components of a new administration and a new vision for Iowa.

    So, no…Glasson hasn’t endorsed Fred as of tonight but…dude, you gotta earn it. I did hear that he has committed to meeting with and speaking to Iowa CCI members soon. He was the only candidate for governor who failed to sit for a Q&A with them but he intends to rectify that post convention.
    Protest votes and sitting out elections are only for pouters and crybabies. Glasson, Norris, and every other candidate inspired bright, motivated, informed and hardworking folks to support them. If Hubbell (and his team) have the vision to harness this energy then he deserves to be Governor.
    If not….
    The future starts tomorrow. If Fred Hubbell (and Iowa Dems) want to be defined as leaders, here’s our chance. For all our sakes, I hope we can take advantage of the opportunity.
    ….Thanks for the reporting BH.

    • he called key CCI members

      and Glasson supporters within the first day or two after the primary to talk and set up meetings.

      If it had been my decision, I would have let Glasson speak at the convention. The fact that she’s not speaking suggests to me that she did not commit to unequivocally endorsing Hubbell from the stage. When you lose a primary 55 percent to 20 percent, you’re in no position to dictate terms. I don’t know what you expect Hubbell to do to “earn” Glasson’s endorsement. He is a superior alternative to Reynolds in every way imaginable.

      • A Critical Friend

        Fred doesn’t have to do anything. He doesn’t owe Glasson anything but I tell you what? 20% of anything is a significant amount. In politics that’s a constituency worthy of respect.
        I hadn’t heard of her “demanding” anything. Have you?
        If he expects to win, he is going to need a broad coalition.
        “Earning it” doesn’t mean anything more than acknowledging the big tent that your combined constituencies represent. You don’t have to put Glasson or anyone in your cabinet, but would an open show of unity between the top Dem vote getters be so bad?
        (Why have these demonstrations of Party unity become so damn hard to engineer?)

        Fred Hubbell is a competent, honest, compassionate guy. While his steady, consistently businesslike persona will be a plus, his speaking style is not compelling. He is going to need a community behind him to make it happen.
        He will need all of us (conservatives, moderates and progressive dems) working together to overcome Reynolds
        I intend to vote for Fred Hubbell (as a CCI member) but I also intend to be a “critical friend” if he makes it to Terrace Hill.
        Thanks for the response and the reporting.

  • I really hope that Glasson supporters will vote for Hubbell in the general election...

    …and I say that as someone who didn’t vote for Hubbell in the primary. The choice now is not between Hubbell and a different Democratic candidate that the voter likes better. The choice now is between Hubbell and Reynolds. If we don’t end up with the first, we will end up with the second.

  • Unity

    I got a Facebook invite to hear Cathy Glasson speak at CCI headquarters in Des Moines on Friday evening. I’ve never been affiliated with CCI in any way and didn’t support Glasson in the primary (though definitely like and respect her). The event was billed as a discussion of “the next steps in the fight for a Bold Progressive Iowa.” I was interested in what she’d have to say, so I went. She didn’t address endorsing Hubbell in her speech, and I didn’t expect her to. She spoke in general (though impassioned) terms about continuing the fight for single-payer healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, holding factory farms accountable for pollution, etc. It was a fine, short speech and I enjoyed it.

    What I heard from the leaders at CCI concerned me. Without calling out Hubbell by name, they spoke disparagingly of center-left Democratic values, eschewed compromising their beliefs to vote *against* candidates with whom they disagree rather than *for* candidates with whom they do fully agree, and repeatedly said they want unity “on our terms.” Think about that statement for a second. Unity on OUR terms? The director of CCI said it over and over again. I kept looking around to see if anyone else was registering what a childish statement that was, not to mention a complete contradiction in terms. No one seemed to notice or care; they were loving it. It’s like saying, “We’d love to cooperate with you but only if you do everything we say.” I would’ve half expected to hear something like that from a passionate young volunteer, but this was the director of the organization.

    Fred Hubbell wasn’t my first choice for the nomination, but as soon as the primary was over I knew it was time to be an adult and do everything I could to help him get elected. I don’t know any of the people at CCI and I don’t know if any of them stayed home or voted third party in 2016. But they certainly saw the consequences of voters applying rigid purity tests and not voting/voting third party in self-righteous indignation. If they maintain this attitude, they could very well throw a close race to Reynolds, for which they’ll certainly accept no responsibility. They offered us unity (on their terms), after all.

    If we were up against some moderate, competent Republican without a slate of *dire* issues facing our state, I’d be more sympathetic to their refusal to bend on the issues that are most important to them. It might even be a healthy struggle for the party to have. I don’t need to remind anyone of the extreme laws being passed by extreme conservatives in this state. These aren’t normal times, and we can’t afford this right now. They don’t want to simply vote against something? A vote against Reynolds is a vote FOR funding our schools again. A vote against Reynolds is a vote FOR a reasonable tax structure. A vote against Reynolds is a vote FOR reproductive rights. And a vote against Reynolds is a vote FOR protecting immigrants, FOR funding mental health care, and FOR more equitable treatment of workers in this state. Will Hubbell push as far to the left as they’d prefer on most issues? Of course not. But I hope they’ll stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the much, much better. Let’s pull our state back from the brink and fight out our intra-party differences when our state is healthy enough to take the hit if it ends up costing us an election.

    • Thank you!

      Your last paragraph says it all and says it well. And I would add that a vote against Reynolds is a vote for cleaner water. Hubbell is better on that issue too. Much better, because Reynolds has set that bar very low.