IA-03: Mary Ann Hanusa jumps the gun

Former State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa announced on April 15 that she will seek the Republican nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district next year. She has also filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.

The odd part is, no one knows whether Hanusa’s home county will still be part of IA-03 when Iowa adopts a new political map.

Hanusa served five terms in the Iowa House, representing part of Council Bluffs from 2011 through the end of last year. She was considered among the moderates in her caucus, voting against the 2017 law that undermined collective bargaining rights (probably influenced by her work for the Council Bluffs school district). She also opposed a Republican-backed “water quality” bill in 2018. Hanusa opted to retire rather than seek a sixth term in 2020.

Early in her career, Hanusa worked in Senator Chuck Grassley’s Council Bluffs office, then served in President George W. Bush’s administration as director of the Office of Presidential Personal Correspondence. She was the GOP nominee for Iowa secretary of state in 2006, losing to Democrat Michael Mauro by 53.6 percent to 46.3 percent.

Hanusa has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress in previous cycles, but Council Bluffs is a difficult base for a contender in this district. The latest official figures indicate that 187,270 active registered Republicans live in IA-03’s sixteen counties. About 23,580 of them live in Pottawattamie County (containing Council Bluffs). More than five times as many Republicans live in the Des Moines metro area (86,493 in Polk County, 22,676 in Dallas County, and 13,541 in Warren County).

More to the point: we have no reason to assume Pottawattamie will end up in the same district as Polk County, where the Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne lives. When the Legislative Services Agency draws the next set of political maps for the Iowa Supreme Court or state legislators to consider, they won’t use the current districts as a starting point. The nonpartisan commission will strive to create districts consistent with criteria such as population equality, compactness, and contiguity.

Pottawattamie could be placed in a large western Iowa district, similar to the shape of Iowa’s fifth district during the 2000s. In that case, Hanusa would be competing for the GOP nomination against U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra in the fourth district.

As Evan Burger showed here, Pottawattamie could even end up in a district stretching across most of southern Iowa, but not including Polk County. In that case, Hanusa would be competing against U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the second district.

If Iowa’s next map puts Hanusa in a position to run for IA-03, she will likely face several rivals in a GOP primary. Anyone with a base of support and name recognition in the Des Moines metro area will have an advantage, particularly if that person has strong fundraising potential. GOP State Senators Zach Nunn and Jake Chapman both considered running for Congress in 2020. Nunn is up for re-election next year, so he would have to choose between his legislative seat and higher office. But Chapman (now the second-ranking Iowa Senate Republican) was just re-elected to a four-year term last November, so would not have to give up his Senate seat to run for Congress.

The GOP nominee in IA-03 may or may not face Axne in the general election. She’s actively considering running for governor or U.S. Senate in 2022 instead of seeking a third term in the U.S. House.

Any comments about the next campaign in IA-03 are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Some readers have argued that it’s logical for Hanusa to get an early start on campaigning, even without knowing the shape of the new Congressional districts. They note that she could move into IA-03 if Pottawattamie County ends up in the second or fourth districts.

The problem is, Hanusa already has low name ID in the counties where most Republicans in the third district live. It’s hard to imagine any viable path for her in a primary where the GOP voters who do know her well can’t participate.

Another reader noted that the next legislative map could put Nunn in an even-numbered Iowa Senate district (not up for re-election until 2024) and Chapman in an odd-numbered one (which will be on the 2022 ballot). That’s theoretically possible, but in practice, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency usually numbers the new districts with such considerations in mind. So senators who would have been up for re-election in 2022 are likely to end up in odd-numbered districts on the new map as well. We won’t know for sure until sometime this fall.

  • Ah, memories...

    Thank you for the link to the post about that awful 2018 water bill. It is sobering to realize that such a bill might not pass today — it would likely have to be even worse to become law.

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