Republicans spent more than $420,000 defending Iowa House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow's seat during the last election cycle. But after Hagenow moved further west to a safer seat, his chosen successor Michael Boal raised under $12,000 during his first four and a half months as a candidate in House district 43.
The latest campaign financial disclosures show Boal has just $3,697.26 cash on hand for a race Democrats have pegged as one of their top state legislative pickup opportunities nationally. Jennifer Konfrst, making her second bid to represent this suburban district, has raised more than $30,000 since the beginning of this year and has $51,257.85 cash on hand.
House district 43 covers the whole city of Windsor Heights, Clive precincts within Polk County, and parts of West Des Moines (see map enclosed at the end of this post). Hagenow barely won re-election in 2012 by less than two dozen votes and won 51.5 percent against Konfrst in 2016 after outspending his challenger by more than $200,000.
Democrats have been optimistic about their chances here, since the House district 43 precincts voted for Hillary Clinton in the last presidential race by 52.5 percent to 41.0 percent for Donald Trump. Many Iowa politics watchers considered Konfrst the Democrat best positioned to win a GOP-held state legislative seat even before Hagenow opted not to push his luck.
The western suburbs of Des Moines were reliable Republican territory for decades, but Democrats have gained ground, in line with national trends in similar areas. Shortly before the 2016 general election, House district 43 contained 7,516 active registered Democrats, 7,522 Republicans, and 5,595 no-party voters. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office show 7,795 active registered Democrats in the district, nearly a thousand more than the 6,832 Republicans.
Though Boal is a first-time candidate, I expected big fundraising from him. Not only does House district 43 contain some of the state's wealthiest precincts, Boal is an attorney with a highly regarded Des Moines firm. Lawyers are more willing to make political donations than are people in some other well-compensated professions. In addition, the candidate's mother Carmine Boal represented the Ankeny area in the legislature for ten years and has served as House chief clerk since late 2012.
When Boal reported raising $6,492.88 during his first two and a half months as a candidate, I figured he would turn on the juice before the July report was due. But he brought in only $4,241.18 since mid-May, well below the $6,346.24 he spent during the same period.
While many individuals donated to Boal before his May filing and in the past two months, he's not getting the large, four- or five-figure gifts I would expect for a GOP candidate in a targeted House race. The latest report shows Boal received $500 donations from reliable Republican donors Denny Elwell and Jeff Lamberti, both former constituents of his mother in Ankeny. Two political action committees also gave him $500: the state bar association's Iowa Lawpac (which gives similar amounts to dozens of lawmakers in both parties) and the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC (which almost exclusively backs Republicans).
Meanwhile, Konfrst reported $19,608.00 in contributions on her May filing, all from individuals. She followed up with $11,321.79 raised between May 15 and July 14, mostly from individuals other than $350 from Women for a Stronger America and $250 from the Asian & Latino Coalition.
A cautionary note: House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and Majority Leader Hagenow have not yet uploaded their latest reports on fundraising and expenditures to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board's website. (The disclosure deadline for statewide and legislative candidates is July 19.) In most competitive state legislative races, the bulk of the spending comes from in-kind contributions by the state Democratic or Republican parties. Upmeyer has no challenger this year in House district 54, and Hagenow is seeking another term in the open House district 19, heavily weighted toward the GOP. So almost all of what they raise will be spent in battleground districts.
That's not to say Boal is guaranteed to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of help from his party this fall. The largest crop of Democratic Iowa House candidates in decades includes a bunch of strong recruits who have out-raised their GOP opponents. Republicans typically conduct internal polling and message-testing for numerous legislative races before Labor Day. If the results for House district 43 are not promising, GOP leaders may decide to let this seat go.
Map of Iowa House district 43: