Iowa’s filing period for the 2022 general election closed on August 27 with no third-party candidate qualified for the ballot in any federal race, or any statewide race other than for governor and lieutenant governor.
The landscape could hardly be more different from four years ago, when the Libertarian Party of Iowa fielded a full slate of federal and statewide candidates, and no-party candidates also competed in three of the four U.S. House districts.
The lack of a third-party presence could be important if any of Iowa’s Congressional or statewide elections are close contests.
MOSTLY TWO-WAY RACES FOR HIGH-PROFILE OFFICES
As Bleeding Heartland previously reported, the initial general election ballot published in March included fewer third-party candidates than in any Iowa election since 2008. Libertarian candidates Rick Stewart and Marco Battaglia qualified for the ballot for governor and lieutenant governor, and Bryan Jack Holder (who ran for Congress twice as a Libertarian) is a “Liberty Caucus” candidate in the fourth U.S. House district.
Third-party and independent candidates gained several additional months to get their nominating papers in order after a federal court struck down Iowa’s 2019 law that required those candidates to qualify for the general election ballot by mid-March. The judge found the early deadline “imposes a substantial burden” on the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
I anticipated more competition in Iowa’s high-profile races once candidates had more time to collect signatures. However, the current version of the general election ballot, published late in the afternoon on August 27, shows no additional candidates filed for any federal or statewide offices.
Consequently, the races for U.S. Senate, Iowa’s first, second, and third Congressional districts, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, secretary of agriculture, and attorney general will all be two-way contests between a Republican and a Democrat.
LIBERTARIANS FOCUSED ON GOVERNOR’S RACE, LEGISLATIVE SEATS
In a telephone interview several days before the August deadline, Libertarian Party of Iowa chair Jules Ofenbakh told Bleeding Heartland the party decided to concentrate its efforts on helping Stewart cross the 2 percent threshold in the governor’s race. If he is successful, Libertarians would regain major-party status in Iowa, making it easier to field candidates for 2024.
The Libertarians met the state’s legal definition of “political party” following the 2016 election, when its presidential nominee surpassed 2 percent of the vote. Libertarians reverted to “non-party political organization” status two years later, when Jake Porter fell short of that threshold in the governor’s race.
Asked whether nominating candidates for federal or other statewide offices might help build the party, Ofenbakh said having names on the ballot is not helpful if they are not “quality” candidates. She noted that Libertarians had nominees for all of those races in 2018, yet Porter’s vote share was below 2 percent. (I believe it hurt Porter that the governor’s race was widely seen as a toss-up between Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell.)
Incidentally, Ofenbakh received a little more than 2 percent of the vote as the Libertarian nominee for secretary of state in 2018.
Worth noting: a Republican-backed election law in 2021 substantially increased the signature requirements for all statewide and federal offices. In contrast, the barrier for entry remained low for Iowa legislative candidates. Candidates need to collect just 50 valid signatures to run for the state House and at least 100 to run for the state Senate.
When Bleeding Heartland reported in March on the lack of third-party options for Iowa voters, the general election ballot included only one Libertarian candidate for state Senate (ToyA Johnson in Senate district 17) and three for state House (Robert Fairchild in district 15, Jeni Kadel in district 40, and Charles Aldrich in district 56). The party nominated one additional Iowa House contender in late March and nine more candidates for state legislative seats in August.
- David Davis is running in Senate district 6, covering five counties in western Iowa;
- Jordan Taylor is running in Senate district 25, covering part of the city of Ames;
- Amy Janowski is running in House district 13, covering Monona County, most of Woodbury County outside Sioux City, and parts of Plymouth and Cherokee counties;
- Michael Wood is running in House district 38, covering Newton and much of Jasper County;
- Joshua Herbert is running in House district 51, covering much of Story County outside Ames and much of Marshall County outside Marshalltown;
- John Bothwell is running in House district 61, covering part of the city of Waterloo;
- Sean Schriver is running in House district 71, covering part of the city of Dubuque;
- Clyde Gibson is running in House district 82, covering Cedar County and small areas in Muscatine and Scott counties;
- Jacob Wenck is running in House district 85, covering North Liberty and other areas in Johnson County;
- Andrew Onsgard is running in House district 97, covering part of the city of Davenport.
Ofenbakh said the party sought to recruit candidates for legislative districts that would otherwise be uncontested. Indeed, only House district 38 already had Republican and Democratic contenders early in the year. The GOP is not fielding candidates in Senate district 25 or House districts 61, 71, or 97, and was late to nominate a candidate in House district 85. By the same token, Democrats have no one on the ballot in Senate district 6 or House districts 13, 51, or 82.
Whereas quite a few independent candidates have run for statewide or federal offices in recent Iowa election cycles, no one stepped up this year. As of March, one independent had qualified for an Iowa Senate race (Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz in district 17) and four for the state House (Dan Wahl in district 10, RJ Miller in district 34, Dennis McCullough in district 35, and Luke Barnes in district 48).
Over the summer, just one additional no-party candidate filed for the legislature: Bruce Gardner in Senate district 42, covering rural Linn County and most of Benton County.
LESS COMPETITION MAY AID REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES
The presence of a third-party candidate on the ballot is rarely decisive. However, at least a few recent Iowa elections were arguably influenced by voters having more than two options.
U.S. Representative Bruce Braley was re-elected to Iowa’s first Congressional district in 2010, gaining 4,209 more votes than his Republican challenger (49.5 percent to 47.5 percent) in a GOP wave year. Two little-known independents who campaigned on conservative messages received a combined total of 6,179 votes (2.9 percent) in that race.
I believe the third Congressional district election in 2018 was the main reason Republicans moved up the filing deadline the following year. Democratic challenger Cindy Axne defeated two-term GOP incumbent David Young in IA-03 by 7,709 votes (49.3 percent to 47.1 percent), while the four third-party or independent candidates who had qualified for the ballot received a combined total of 12,471 votes (3.5 percent). Also in the 2018 election, a Libertarian candidate nearly cost Republicans an Iowa House seat in Council Bluffs.
Despite the March filing deadline, Holder qualified for the IA-03 ballot again as a Libertarian in 2020 and received 15,361 votes (3.4 percent), greater than Axne’s winning margin in her rematch with Young (6,208 votes, 48.9 percent to 47.5 percent).
Conventional wisdom says it hurts Axne and other Democratic challengers (Senate candidate Mike Franken, IA-01 nominee Christina Bohannan, and IA-02 nominee Liz Mathis) to have no third-party candidate siphoning off some GOP votes. I agree and would guess the same is true for the other statewide races. Having a Libertarian option on the ballot likely draws more votes from Republicans because the party’s small-government platform is more appealing to conservatives than to Democratic-leaning voters.
An Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom in March 2021 indicated that 55 percent of respondents, including 35 percent of Republicans surveyed, hoped U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley would not run again in 2022. The latest Selzer poll, from July of this year, measured Grassley’s job approval at 46 percent and re-elect number at 47 percent. Some Iowans who feel the 89-year-old senator should have retired will vote for him anyway. But I suspect it would have helped Franken to have another name on that ballot line, to appeal to those who aren’t open to a Democrat but are disenchanted with the incumbent.
I believe Stewart has a strong chance of clearing the 2 percent threshold in the governor’s race. The latest Iowa Poll by Selzer & Co showed 5 percent of likely midterm voters favored Stewart, compared to 48 percent for Governor Kim Reynolds and 31 percent for Democratic candidate Deidre DeJear. That’s a high number for the Libertarian, even taking into account that opinion polls often overstate support for third parties.
In addition, opposition to proposed carbon dioxide pipelines is a hugely salient issue in much of rural Iowa. Republican-dominated county boards of supervisors have formally objected to the projects.
Conservatives who (justifiably) view Reynolds as beholden to the companies trying to build the pipelines may hesitate to mark their ballots for a Democrat, but could find a Libertarian option for governor appealing. Stewart has said he would not allow eminent domain to be used for any proposed carbon capture pipeline across Iowa, During the August 19 edition of the Iowa PBS program “Iowa Press,” he put it this way: “I’m not going to let the state come in and take people’s land away from them so that a private company can get private gain. That’s just not right, that’s not in the Constitution and it’s not going to happen on my watch.”
IMPACT ON FUTURE LITIGATION?
During our interview last week, I asked Ofenbakh (who is an attorney) whether she was concerned that the legislature may try to enact an early filing deadline again. Could they cite the failure to nominate more Libertarian candidates for federal and statewide offices as proof the March filing deadline didn’t really harm the party?
Ofenbakh observed that the federal court ruled the early deadline was unconstitutional. If state lawmakers tried to reinstate the policy, they would be knowingly violating the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. District Court found Iowa’s early filing deadline for third parties burdensome, in part because “the political landscape and election issues can change dramatically after mid-March and after the Political Party candidates are selected during the primary elections held in June.” As mentioned above, Libertarians did recruit more than half a dozen candidates over the summer for state legislature races that would otherwise have had only one option on the ballot.
From where I’m sitting, Libertarians demonstrated the importance of giving third-party and independent candidates time to review and react to the playing field after the major-party primaries in June.
I would welcome insight from others with expertise in constitutional law.
Appendix: Iowa’s 2022 general election candidate list for federal and state offices, as published on August 27