Four ways to resolve Iowa Senate district 16 incumbent pairing

Iowa’s new legislative maps create many more match-ups between Republican incumbents than Democrats. But two first-term Democratic senators, Claire Celsi and Sarah Trone Garriott, live in the new Iowa Senate district 16. Celsi announced in early November she’ll seek re-election in the district, which covers a blue-trending portion of Des Moines’ western suburbs.

Trone Garriott hasn’t decided how to proceed and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent telephone interview that she hasn’t ruled anything out. She has “lots of options,” she said, but “none of them are easy.”

Trone Garriott’s choice may depend in part on how Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman responds to being placed in a competitive district for the first time. Will the chamber’s second-ranking Republican stay in a district Joe Biden carried, or flee to safer nearby territory?

The new Senate district 16 covers all of Windsor Heights, the Clive precincts in Polk County, the West Des Moines precincts in Polk County, and a small part of West Des Moines in Dallas County.

I don’t have voter registration numbers yet for the new districts, but Josh Hughes used Dave’s Redistricting App to create an Iowa Senate map with recent election results for each new district. Residents of the new Senate district 16 voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a roughly 10-point margin, supported Fred Hubbell in the 2018 governor’s race by about 15 points, and favored Joe Biden over Trump by 19 points and Theresa Greenfield over Senator Joni Ernst by about 14 points in 2020.

In other words, this district should remain in Democratic hands.

Celsi’s decision to seek re-election here guarantees Senate district 16 will be on the 2022 ballot. While most state senators in even-numbered districts won’t be up for re-election until 2024, Celsi won a four-year term in 2018, so can’t hold over. Iowa law doesn’t allow anyone to serve a six-year term in the Senate.

As Trone Garriott mentioned, she has a lot of options. None of them are easy.

One: Retire from the legislature

Republican Senator Craig Williams, just elected for the first time in 2020, is standing aside to make room for his GOP colleague Jason Schultz in the new Senate district 6.

Trone Garriott is well-liked, and many Democrats would discourage her from even contemplating this option.

Two: Compete against Celsi in a primary

Sitting Iowa lawmakers from the same party rarely face off against each other following redistricting. In the vast majority of cases, one legislator resolves the pairing by retiring or moving. So I would be very surprised if Trone Garriott ends up seeking re-election in Senate district 16. But both she and Celsi represent large areas of the new district, so either has a plausible path to victory in a contested primary.

Here’s a map of the current Senate district 21, where Celsi was elected in 2018.

Here’s the current Senate district 22, which Trone Garriott won in 2020.

Three: Move into an open district in Des Moines

Trone Garriott lives in Windsor Heights, a small suburb adjacent to Des Moines. If she moves to the other side of 63rd Street, she could run for office in the new Iowa House district 35. No sitting lawmaker lives here, and it’s solid blue territory. According to a map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, Biden and Greenfield each won about two-thirds of the vote in these precincts.

One potential problem: lots of politically active Democrats in this area (which includes Beaverdale) will look at this race. Trone Garriott probably would not clear the field in a primary.

UPDATE: Polk County Democrats chair Sean Bagniewski is running for House district 35.

The new Senate district 17, covering some west side, north side, and east side neighborhoods in Des Moines, is another open seat. But again, lots of Democrats will be considering the race, and it’s farther from where Trone Garriott now lives. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Grace Van Cleave may seek the Democratic nomination in this district.

State Senator Tony Bisignano hasn’t announced whether he will seek re-election in 2022. If he retires, the new Senate district 15 on the south side of Des Moines should be an easy hold for Democrats. But if Trone Garriott moves there, she might have to compete against one or more lifelong south-siders.

Four: Move to the Dallas County part of her current district

The most intriguing option would be for Trone Garriott to move to Waukee or the Dallas County portion of Clive. A fact sheet prepared by Legislative Services Agency staff explains that under certain circumstances, a senator may move within their current district and hold over in the corresponding new Senate district.

Senators cannot pick any random open seat; they can only hold over if their new residence is part of the district where they were most recently elected.

Part of Trone Garriott’s current district is now part of Senate district 14, as is Senate President Chapman’s current home in Adel.

This district should be competitive in the coming decade. According to Josh Hughes’ map in Dave’s Redistricting App, Biden carried this district by 49.8 percent to 48.1 percent for Trump.

But there appear to be quite a few “never Trump” Republicans in these suburban precincts, because Ernst outpolled Greenfield in the 2020 Senate race by 50.4 percent to 47.1 percent. Similarly, Reynolds gained 50.2 percent of the vote here in the 2018 governor’s race, to 48.2 percent for Hubbell.

So a GOP legislative candidate who could appeal to moderates might be slightly favored in this area. Then again, Chapman is anything but a moderate Republican.

If Trone Garriott moved to Dallas County and Chapman stayed put, the two would face each other in Senate district 14 in the 2022 general election. Maybe Chapman would like those odds; the midterms may favor the GOP, with Biden’s approval underwater in Iowa.

However, the Republican may find other options more attractive. His current district covers the northeast corner of Dallas County and the northwest corner of Polk County, which are part of the new Senate district 23. Chapman would have to run for re-election next year, since this is an odd-numbered Senate district, but Trump won a little more than 55 percent of the vote in this area in 2016 and 2020.

Another possibility: if Chapman moves a little way up Highway 169 to Dallas Center, or anywhere in northwest Dallas County, or anywhere in Guthrie County, he’d remain in the district where he was elected in 2020 and be part of the new Senate district 24.

No Senate incumbent lives here, according to an analysis by Iowa Senate Democratic staff. It’s an even-numbered district. Since Chapman was elected to a four-year term in 2020, he could hold over in the new Senate district 24 until 2024. Trump received 57.7 percent of the vote in these precincts in 2020.

UPDATE: Republican State Senator Jesse Green, who was paired with fellow GOP Senator Tim Kraayenbrink in Senate district 4 on the new map, announced on November 14 that he “will be establishing residency in the new Senate District 24.”

If Chapman moves out of the new Senate district 14, and Trone Garriott moves into it, she would be the only incumbent living there. Legislative Services Agency staff won’t comment on specific scenarios, but my understanding of their legal analysis indicates Trone Garriott would then be able to hold over until 2024.

I’ll update this post as needed when senators or other potential candidates announce their 2022 plans.

NOVEMBER 21 UPDATE: I learned of another possible escape hatch for Chapman. The district where he was re-elected in 2020 includes Adair County and southwest Dallas County, which are both part of the new Senate district 12.

I didn’t mention this path, because Iowa Senate Majority Whip Amy Sinclair is from Wayne County. However, sources close to the legislature believe there is a realistic chance of Sinclair retiring. If she declares by February 16, 2022 that she intends to retire no later than January 2023, Chapman could move into this district and be the sole incumbent, able to hold over until 2024.

Last November, Trump received 68.5 percent of the vote and Ernst 65.8 percent in the new Senate district 12.

Top image: From left, official Iowa legislative photos of State Senators Claire Celsi (D), Sarah Trone Garriott (D), and Jake Chapman (R).

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