Republicans seeking recounts in six Iowa House races

All 99 Iowa counties have finished counting their votes, clearing the way for recounts to begin. None of the 34 state Senate races were decided by a razor-thin margin this year, but Republican candidates have requested or will ask for recounts in six of the 100 state House races.

Two of those elections are very close, two others were decided by margins under 100 votes, and the last two are not remotely within striking distance for the losing candidate.

If every candidate now leading remains ahead after the recount, the GOP would have a 63-37 majority next year, up from 60-40 currently. In the fourteen years I've closely followed Iowa legislative races, I've never seen a recount change the winner.

VERY CLOSE RACES

HOUSE DISTRICT 20

This area of Council Bluffs and Carter Lake is an open seat due to Democratic State Representative Charlie McConkey's retirement. On paper, this is one of the most balanced Iowa House districts, with 4,782 active registered Democrats, 4,841 Republicans, and 4,624 no-party voters, as of early November.

Trump carried these precincts in 2020 with 50.5 percent of the vote to 47.1 percent for Biden. But Hubbell edged out Reynolds in the 2018 governor's race by 48.9 percent to 47.8 percent.

Democrat Josh Turek ran an active campaign, knocking on many doors. The Iowa Democratic Party also spent around $50,000 on direct mail and television commercials in the expensive Omaha market on Turek's behalf. Republican Sarah Abdouch spent only a few thousand dollars and did not receive any financial help from the Iowa GOP. But a conservative group called the American Federation for Children Action Fund did spend more than $12,000 on direct mail supporting Abdouch and attacking Turek.

Turnout here was quite low. Unofficial results show Turek ahead by 3,404 votes to 3,397 (50.0 percent to 49.9 percent). That's right: seven votes.

HOUSE DISTRICT 81

Iowa's redistricting plan created several legislative seats with no incumbent in Scott County. This was one of them, covering part of Davenport. Democrats had reason to be optimistic, with a slight voter registration advantage and a healthy margin of victory for Biden in the 2020 election: 53.4 percent to 44.5 percent. Similarly, Hubbell received 54.3 percent of the vote in these precincts, to 43.6 percent for Reynolds.

Republicans did not target this race, but Luana Stoltenberg spent tens of thousands of dollars on mail, digital, and television advertising. In addition, the American Federation for Children Action Fund paid for phone calls and texts on her behalf and spent more than $15,000 on mail attacking Democrat Craig Cooper.

Cooper ran a low-budget campaign with no significant advertising expenditures aside from less than $5,000 on direct mail. The Iowa Democratic Party didn't pay for advertising on his behalf.

Stoltenberg appeared to be ahead by 29 votes after November 8. However, something went seriously wrong in Scott County, where Republican auditor Kerri Tompkins has been supervising her first general election. Secretary of State Paul Pate ordered a county-wide administrative recount after about 470 absentee ballots were apparently not counted.

Following that administrative recount, Cooper leads by six votes: 5,093 to 5,087 (50.0 percent to 49.9 percent). Stoltenberg has until the middle of next week to request a recount of this race, and she confirmed to Bleeding Heartland on November 18 that she intends to do so.

REASONABLY CLOSE RACES

HOUSE DISTRICT 42

This race was a rematch from 2020. In a result that surprised most Iowa politics watchers, Republican challenger Garrett Gobble defeated State Representative Heather Matson by 157 votes two years ago.

Redistricting made this area slightly more favorable to a Democratic candidate. The GOP still has a small voter registration edge of about 500. But according to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave's Redistricting App, Biden outpolled Trump in the new House district 42 precincts by 49.0 percent to 48.5 percent. Hubbell's advantage over Reynolds in the 2018 governor's race was 50.0 percent to 48.1 percent.

The Iowa Democratic Party spent about $122,000 on direct mail and digital and television advertising for this race. The Iowa GOP spent much more: around $472,000, including hundreds of thousands for tv ads.

Unofficial results showed Matson ahead by 24 votes shortly after November 8. Following Polk County's canvass, she leads Gobble by 23: 6,991 votes to 6,968 (50.0 percent to 49.8 percent).

HOUSE DISTRICT 72

This race wasn't on many people's radar, because state House races in Dubuque haven't been competitive for many years. But redistricting added more territory outside the city of Dubuque to State Representative Chuck Isenhart's district. Although Democrats still have a voter registration advantage of nearly 2,500, Joe Biden carried this district by a narrow margin in the 2020 presidential election: 50.7 percent of the vote to 47.0 for Donald Trump, according to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave's Redistricting App. Fred Hubbell took 52.4 percent here in the 2018 governor's race, to 44.9 percent for Kim Reynolds.

Isenhart's opponent Jennifer Smith raised around $30,000 over the election cycle. The Iowa GOP spent about $16,000 on direct mail supporting Smith, and she also benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures by conservative groups Americans for Prosperity and the American Federation for Children Action Fund.

Isenhart's fundraising and spending was competitive with his opponent, but neither the Iowa Democratic Party nor progressive advocacy groups made independent expenditures here.

I was surprised Smith requested a recount, because Isenhart's 94-vote lead last week was well outside what a recount could realistically overcome. At this writing, the Democrat leads by 95 votes: 6,161 to 6,066 (50.3 percent to 49.6 percent).

Smith told the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, "It was close enough, I just think the voters and constituents deserve to know and have it verified. [...] It’s just a transparency issue."

UPDATE: Isenhart tweeted on November 20 that the recount had finished and confirmed his victory. The Secretary of State's website still shows him 95 votes ahead.

RIDICULOUS RACES TO RECOUNT

HOUSE DISTRICT 73

No incumbent lived in this new district, covering most of the Cedar Rapids suburb of Marion. The voter registrations are a near tie: 6,988 active registered Democrats, 6,718 Republicans, and 6,920 no-party voters. However, the suburban terrain favored Democrats, with Biden outpolling Trump in the precincts by 52.6 percent to 44.9 percent. Hubbell carried the district by 51.2 percent to 46.5 percent.

The Republican Party of Iowa spent around $45,000 on mail or digital advertising on behalf of Susie Weinacht, who also spent thousands from her own campaign funds. The Iowa Democratic Party spent nearly $60,000 on mail or digital advertising for Elizabeth Wilson.

Following Linn County's canvass, Wilson leads by 7,296 votes to 6,991 (51.1 percent to 48.9 percent). That's a close race but honestly, not recount-close. Perhaps Weinacht was inspired to seek a recount because there were some problems with Linn County's initial count of absentee votes.

HOUSE DISTRICT 59

This part of northeast Iowa has been trending away from Democratic candidates. Although Democrats still have a voter registration advantage of nearly 1,000, precincts in the new House district 59 voted 49.3 percent for Biden and 48.9 percent for Trump. Hubbell carried the area in the last governor's race by 50.9 percent to 47.1 percent.

The Republican Party of Iowa didn't target this race, but GOP challenger Doug Campbell raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars. Democrats were worried enough to direct $22,630 from the Iowa Democratic Party toward mail supporting State Representative Sharon Steckman down the stretch.

The result wasn't close: Steckman leads by 6,328 votes to 5,589 (53.1 percent to 46.9 percent). Nevertheless, Campbell asked for a recount.

I've seen leads of fewer than 30 votes hold up in lots of Iowa legislative races, so there's no way Campbell can reverse as 739-vote deficit.

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