EMILY's List not writing off Iowa's 2022 races for governor, Senate

Devastating results for Democrats up and down the ballot last November brought Iowa's swing-state status into question.

Nevertheless, the largest political action committee focused on electing pro-choice Democratic women has named Iowa's 2022 races for governor and U.S. Senate among its national targets.

EMILY's List spent more than $38 million during the 2020 election cycle and helped their endorsed candidates for governor or Congress raise millions more.


The PAC announced on April 13 that Governor Kim Reynolds is among nine Republican governors the group will try to defeat next year. (The others are from Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, Vermont, and New Hampshire.) EMILY's List executive director Emily Cain said in a written statement,

Each and every one of these nine Republican governors have failed to perform what should be their primary duty in office: to use their offices to improve the lives of families across their states. When faced with an unprecedented public health crisis, they prioritized politics over people and took cues from a willfully ignorant former president rather than informed experts. Now, some are attempting to enact highly restrictive voting rules to subvert democracy and avoid being held accountable for their unpopular actions.

Cain added, "We need governors who place the public good over their personal and partisan political agendas," and that EMILY's List would be "working hard" to elect Democratic pro-choice women in each of those nine states.

No Democrat has announced plans to run against Reynolds next year. Women who might be approached about the race include U.S. Representative Cindy Axne or any number of well-regarded state lawmakers, such as State Senators Liz Mathis, Janet Petersen, or Pam Jochum.

EMILY's List would focus its efforts elsewhere if Iowa Democrats nominated a man for governor. State Auditor Rob Sand has been considering the race.

Two women have become Democratic nominees for governor in Iowa. Roxanne Conlin lost to Terry Branstad in 1982, and Bonnie Campbell lost to Branstad in 1994.

Several factors favor Reynolds as she gears up for a re-election campaign:

  • Incumbents have lost only five Iowa governor's races in the past century, and just one in the past 50 years;
  • The first midterm during a presidency typically favors the party out of power in Washington;
  • Reynolds survived a 2018 challenge from Fred Hubbell despite high turnout and good results for Democrats in many other races;
  • Iowa Republicans have a structural advantage in midterm election turnout;
  • A pro-gun state constitutional amendment will be on the 2022 general election ballot, helping to mobilize conservative voters.

On the other hand, Reynolds' approval rating is below 50 percent, according to the most recent Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. About 52 percent of respondents in that survey said they hoped the governor would not seek re-election, while 41 percent said they hoped she would run again.


EMILY's List also announced on April 13 that Senators Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio are on the group's "initial list" of targeted GOP senators. (The PAC will surely be active in several states where Republican senators are retiring as well.) Cain said in a written statement,

“Throughout his 40 years in the Senate, Chuck Grassley has advanced his party’s extreme agenda at the expense of the people he was elected to serve. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Senator Grassley voted to deny Iowans urgently needed funds for vaccine distribution and school reopenings, long overdue support for small businesses, and $1400 relief checks for families. Senator Grassley’s repeated attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and undermine equal pay protections show just how damaging his agenda is for Iowan women. EMILY’s List intends to replace him with a candidate who will always put Iowa families first.”   

Grassley hasn't confirmed whether he will seek a seventh term in the Senate. Conventional wisdom holds that he's unbeatable if he runs; he hasn't had a tough campaign since his first Senate race in 1980.

Moreover, Iowa's junior Senator Joni Ernst was just re-elected by a 6.6 point margin despite being outspent by her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield (whom EMILY's List backed in the 2020 primary). The Senate nominees spent more than $85 million in that race, and outside groups spent more than $173 million.

Why would EMILY's List even think about investing in the next IA-Sen race? For one thing, Grassley may retire. He'll be 89 years old on election day 2022. Selzer's latest poll for the Des Moines Register found that 55 percent of respondents hope Grassley won't run for another six-year term, while only 28 percent hope he will.

As with the governor's race, Iowa has no declared Democratic candidates for Senate. Speculation has largely centered on retired Admiral Mike Franken, who finished second in the four-way 2020 primary. I haven't heard of any women laying the groundwork to run against Grassley or for an open Senate seat, but interest from EMILY's List could encourage someone thinking along these lines.

Any comments about next year's campaigns for governor or Senate are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Tom Cullen reported for the Storm Lake Times on April 13 that Axne said she'd "be interested" in running for Senate and will also consider running for governor. She had indicated earlier in the year that she was looking at those races.

Axne hasn't ruled out seeking re-election in the third Congressional district, which she has represented since 2019. Although the redistricting process is delayed this year, IA-03 cannot realistically get worse for Democrats and could become a Democratic-leaning seat, for reasons Evan Burger explained here.

Top image: Governor Kim Reynolds and Senator Chuck Grassley in April 2019. Cropped from a photo posted on Grassley's campaign Facebook page.

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