Following another devastating election up and down the ballot, Iowa Democrats have begun to speculate about the next political cycle. Governor Kim Reynolds will be up for re-election, and Iowa’s other U.S. Senate seat will be on the ballot.
State Auditor Rob Sand hasn’t ruled out running for governor, Senate, or re-election in 2022, he told viewers of an “ask me anything” Facebook session on December 10. “Any of those three would be possibilities.”
Sand said it’s a “pretty big decision,” and for now he’s focused on enjoying the holidays, deer hunting season, and his current job.
Andrew Turner, who managed Sand’s 2018 campaign for state auditor, has been the communications director for the State Auditor’s office since early 2019 but is leaving that position at the end of this month.
Iowa Republican leaders including state party chair Jeff Kaufmann have long mocked Sand for supposedly planning to run for higher office. They don’t apply the same standard to Reynolds (who ran for lieutenant governor after only two years as a state senator) or to Senator Joni Ernst (who ran for U.S. Senate as a first-term state legislator).
Sand would probably go into a state auditor’s re-election campaign as the favorite. Fellow Democrats Tom Miller and Michael Fitzgerald have been re-elected as attorney general and state treasurer even in tough midterm elections for Democrats. In contrast, the party’s nominees for governor have won only three elections in the past 50 years.
A U.S. Senate campaign would also be an uphill battle for any Democrat, based on recent federal election results in Iowa. However, an open-seat race would be less of a long-shot than a bid against Senator Chuck Grassley. He has not clarified whether he intends to retire or seek an eighth six-year term in 2022, when he would be 89 years old on election day.
Asked during the Facebook live session about the atmosphere when he and the governor are in the same room, Sand said they hadn’t been in that situation since before the COVID-19 pandemic. He added,
I want to work with anyone, and I will try to work with anyone. So I don’t care if I’ve had words with someone before, I don’t care if I’ve disagreed with them privately or publicly, I have tried to work at that relationship, and I will continue to be available to work with her, as I would with anyone else.
Many Democrats have wondered whether Representative Cindy Axne might run for higher office. She defeated incumbent Representative David Young in Iowa’s third Congressional district in 2018 and was re-elected this year, despite a challenging climate for down-ballot Democrats. Having worked in state government, she’s been mentioned as a candidate for governor. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reportedly recruited Axne to run against Ernst in 2020.
Axne spoke to the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee for about fifteen minutes on December 12. Listening to her presentation, I got the impression she is leaning toward running for re-election to the U.S. House. Her campaign’s communications staffer, Ian Mariani, declined to specify whether she will consider seeking some other office, telling Bleeding Heartland via email, “Congresswoman Axne is solely focused on the job that Iowans just re-elected her to do: representing the folks of the Third Congressional District.”
In her remarks to the state party’s governing body, Axne noted she’s the only Democrat in the U.S. House to have won by a margin of less than 2 percent, twice, in a district Donald Trump carried. “This is one of the hardest seats in the nation to hold, literally.”
Although all four Iowa Congressional districts favor Republicans, as currently configured, IA-03 is less GOP-leaning than the others. Trump barely outpolled Joe Biden in its sixteen counties while winning by 8 points statewide.
The Congressional district containing Polk County, where Axne lives, could get better for Democrats under the political map Iowa lawmakers will adopt next year. IA-03 has excess population now, so it’s likely to lose one or more smaller counties that vote heavily for GOP candidates. The district could even become much more favorable to Democrats, if it loses much of western Iowa, including Pottawattamie County (Council Bluffs area) and picks up part of central Iowa, including Story County (Ames area).
Top image: Screen shot from State Auditor Rob Sand’s “ask me anything” Facebook session on December 10.