Iowa Senate district 30 primary: Waylon Brown vs. Doug Campbell

UPDATE: Unofficial results show Brown won this primary by 2,546 votes to 2,273 (52.8 percent to 47.1 percent). Original post follows.

Two Iowa state senators and six state representatives face competition for their party’s nomination in the June 4 primary. The most intriguing match-up is unfolding in Senate district 30.

Two-term Republican State Senator Waylon Brown has a huge financial advantage and the backing of powerful interest groups. His opponent Doug Campbell, a retired pharmacist and former Mason City school board member, is running a low-budget campaign powered by grassroots outrage over a proposed CO2 pipeline.

The outcome should signal whether the controversy over property rights in rural Iowa is salient enough in GOP circles to overcome the advantages of incumbency. If Campbell prevails, Senate Republicans may feel pressure to consider eminent domain legislation in 2025, after blocking all such bills in the Commerce Committee for the last several years.


Senate district 30 covers a large area in northern Iowa: all of Cerro Gordo, Worth, and Mitchell counties, plus two townships in Floyd County.

This area of Iowa has swung dramatically toward Republicans over the past decade. Mitchell County was the whitest county in the U.S. to vote for Barack Obama, but Donald Trump carried the county by wide margins in 2016 and 2020. Cerro Gordo County (containing Mason City) used to vote for Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket, but that hasn’t been the case for several election cycles.

According to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, Senate district 30 leans Republican but is not among the reddest Iowa Senate districts. Trump gained 55.7 percent of the vote in this area in 2020, while Joe Biden received 42.5 percent. In the same general election, Senator Joni Ernst outpolled Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield by 50.9 percent to 46.1 percent.

The latest voter registration figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office show 11,971 registered Democrats, 15,442 Republicans, 18,096 no-party voters, and 244 Libertarians live in Senate district 30. Looking only at “active” registered voters (those who have cast a ballot sometime in the past two years), the numbers are 8,841 Democrats, 12,500 Republicans, 10,575 no-party voters, and 130 Libertarians.

About two-thirds of all registered voters in Senate district 30 live in Cerro Gordo County, containing Mason City and Clear Lake. Brown has represented Mitchell (his home county) and Worth since being elected to the Senate for the first time in 2016. But most of Cerro Gordo was not part of his district until Iowa adopted new political maps in 2021.

The winner of the GOP primary will be favored in November. Democratic candidate Rich Lorence, a public school employee who works at Mason City High School, would need strong Democratic turnout and a significant advantage among independents to flip the Senate seat. In the 2022 election here (required because the new map placed two incumbents in the district), Brown defeated Democratic opponent Whitney Mixdorf by 15,288 votes to 10,082 (60.3 percent to 39.7 percent).


Brown generally keeps a low profile. But in his role as Senate Commerce Committee chair since 2023, he has buried every bill seeking to limit the use of eminent domain for CO2 pipelines. That inspired Campbell to seek the nomination here, instead of taking another shot at House district 59, where he lost to Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman in 2022.

Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline route would go through Floyd, Cerro Gordo, Mitchell, and Worth counties.

Campbell frequently posts about property rights on his campaign’s Facebook page. Here’s an example from May 27.

In another recent Facebook post, Campbell praised the Mitchell County supervisors for writing to the Iowa Utilities Board to oppose eminent domain for Summit Carbon Solutions’ CO2 pipeline. Campbell noted that his opponent supports eminent domain for pipelines, even though Brown is from Mitchell County. The conservative website The Iowa Standard posted on Facebook in early May, “One of the biggest hurdles to protecting Iowans’ private property rights has been Waylon Brown. Iowans can send a message by voting him out in primary.”

Former U.S. Representative Steve King, who is active in anti-pipeline efforts, is backing Campbell and will join him for a May 30 campaign event in Fertile (Worth County). Cerro Gordo County was part of the fourth Congressional district during the 2010s, when King represented that area.

Groups endorsing Campbell include the Iowa Liberty Network (a Christian conservative organization) and Iowa Gun Owners, which is even more extreme on gun issues than the National Rifle Association’s Iowa affiliate. Although Brown has voted for every pro-gun bill that has come before the Senate during his tenure, Aaron Dorr of Iowa Gun Owners noted in a recent Facebook video that Brown refused to fill out the group’s survey and hasn’t sponsored some of their proposals. In contrast, Campbell was “100 percent pro-gun” on the survey and promised he would lead on gun issues if elected. For example, Campbell agreed to sponsor the so-called “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would prohibit using Iowa law enforcement to enforce federal gun control laws.

One factor favors Campbell: as mentioned above, Cerro Gordo County has far more registered voters than the other parts of the district. Campbell went into this race with relatively high name ID for a challenger, having won a Mason City school board race in 2015 and campaigned for the Iowa House in the district that covers Mason City in 2022.

GOP turnout should be higher in Cerro Gordo than in Mitchell or Worth, because there are other competitive Republican primaries on the ballot. Chief Deputy Sheriff David Hepperly and Deputy Sheriff Matt Klunder are seeking the nomination to replace longtime Sheriff Kevin Pals, who is retiring. Meanwhile, State Representative Jane Bloomingdale faces a primary challenger from the right, John Rosenfeld, in the half of the Senate district that is part of House district 60 (Clear Lake and some smaller towns in Cerro Gordo, Mitchell and Worth counties, and the Floyd County precincts).

Campbell’s biggest vulnerability is that he has raised and spent far less on this race than the incumbent. According to his latest financial disclosure, his campaign raised $17,861.73 from January through May 14. All funds were individual donations, and $1,700 came from the candidate himself. During the same period, the campaign spent $11,746.82; Campbell also donated about $8,640 in kind to his own campaign, mostly to cover expenses such as signs, printing, and advertising.

The challenger has focused on low-budget grassroots efforts such as canvassing and text messages. In a telephone interview with Bleeding Heartland, Campbell estimated that he had knocked on approximately 5,000 doors across the district since February.

Although no current Republican legislators have publicly endorsed Campbell, two have donated to his campaign. State Senator Sandy Salmon gave $300 in February and another $200 in April. State Representative Mark Thompson gave $400 in March and another $50 in April. Both lawmakers have advocated for restricting eminent domain for pipelines. Salmon represents Senate district 29, to the east and south of Senate district 30. Thompson represents House district 56, covering counties to the west and south.

[UPDATE: Campbell did carry Cerro Gordo County but trailed by wider margins in other parts of the district.]


Brown has been a party-line legislator and has served as Senate majority whip since the 2023 session. I can’t think of any time he voted against a bill GOP leaders brought to the floor during his first seven years in the Senate, from 2017 through 2023.

However, this year Brown voted against two versions of House File 2612, the bill overhauling Area Education Agencies which was one of Governor Kim Reynolds’ top legislative priorities. Before that bill came to the Senate floor, legislators received thousands of emails, texts, and phone calls urging them not to gut the AEAs. I saw the vote as a sign that Brown is taking his primary challenger seriously and didn’t want to anger constituents who care about the AEA system.

Brown’s biggest advantage in this race is financial. Incumbents typically raise more money than challengers, and that’s especially true when a lawmaker leads a powerful committee.

As Senate Commerce chair, Brown raised $142,715 during 2023 and another $44,197.05 from January through mid-May. His campaign finance disclosures show that political action committees donated the vast majority of funds raised last year and this year. The largest amounts came from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s PAC ($10,000) and Bankers Unite in Legislative Decisions ($11,000). MidAmerican Energy’s PAC has given $7,500 this cycle. Several corporate or industry PACs have donated $5,000 to Brown’s campaign, and many more have donated in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.

Those funds have allowed Brown to run a robust television, radio, and digital advertising campaign. As of mid-May, he had spent $18,100 on Mason City-based television ads and more than $8,500 on four area radio stations.

In this ad, Brown boasts about “getting the job done” and delivering “conservative results” such as “historic tax relief,” a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants,” and a ban on Chinese purchases of Iowa farmland.

An earlier spot also highlighted anti-immigration efforts: “I fought to ban sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants in Iowa, and I’m ensuring Iowa law enforcement has the authority to detain and deport people here illegally.” (That law, known as Senate File 2340, is being challenged in two federal lawsuits.)

Brown has also sent several direct mail pieces to potential GOP primary voters. In a recent Facebook video, Campbell mocked Brown’s mailings and accused the incumbent of spending “corporate money to buy your vote for deep state purposes.”

In addition to voting with their checkbooks, some powerful interest groups have publicly endorsed Brown’s re-election. The Iowa Industry PAC (affiliated with the Iowa Association of Business and Industry) named him a “Friend of Iowa Business” candidate. The Iowa Farm Bureau PAC designated him as a “Friend of Agriculture.” The National Federation of Independent Business is backing him as well.

The group Convention of States Action, which seeks to call a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, has reported independent expenditures on behalf of several Iowa GOP lawmakers, including $6,465.71 on direct mail supporting Brown.

A final note: Brown was an early endorser of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for president in 2023, but he wasn’t an active campaign surrogate. Campbell did not endorse a GOP candidate before the Iowa caucuses. I don’t expect presidential preferences to have much impact on the Senate district 30 outcome.

UPDATE: Campbell posted a video on May 29 to dispute a claim allegedly made in some of Brown’s advertising: that the challenger wants to “defund the police.” Retiring Sheriff Pals vouched for the fact that Campbell has always been “very supportive of law enforcement.”

The attack ad appears to assert that Campbell’s “liberal allies” stand for defunding the police. But as one Campbell advocate posted in response, “The CO2 Pipeline issue is a bipartisan issue. The Sierra Club agrees with Doug on the face that the pipeline is dangerous and harmful. Obviously this does not mean that Doug agrees with everything the Sierra Club says.” (For what it’s worth, the Sierra Club does not stand for “defunding the police” either.)

SECOND UPDATE: The fundraising disparity continued during the last reporting period before the primary election, which covers money raised and spent from May 15 through May 28. Campbell’s campaign brought in $2,323.42, including $1,000 from the Iowa Liberty Network and $500 from the PAC connected to the Iowa Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.

Brown’s campaign raised $56,900, including $25,000 from Jeff Broin (the founder of the ethanol producer POET), three other individual donations totaling $900, and contributions from sixteen PACs totaling $31,000.

During the same two-week period, Campbell’s campaign spent $2,708.80 on advertising, while the incumbent spent $15,725.20 on printing and mailing a postcard, $1,300 on salary for a paid canvasser, and $39,602.05 for television advertising and production.

THIRD UPDATE: Jacob Hall reported for The Iowa Standard on June 2 that a 527 group called “Iowans for a Renewable Future” has spent $48,500 to air television commercials in Mason City. The spot urges viewers to vote for Brown and Bloomingdale on June 4.

Top photos of Waylon Brown and Doug Campbell are cropped from pictures originally posted on their campaigns’ Facebook pages.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Laura, thank you for this very interesting post.

    For me, it was especially fascinating to see the large amount of moolah that the Iowa Farm Bureau is funneling into Brown’s campaign, not to mention the “Friend of Agriculture” endorsement. From what I’ve seen and heard over the past few years (maybe I’ve missed some news), the IFB has mostly officially been vewy vewy quiet regarding the issue of the carbon pipelines. But this seems to show where their support really lies.

  • in theory

    I believe the Iowa Farm Bureau took the position that Summit Carbon Solutions should obtain voluntary easements along 90 percent of its route. But supporting Waylon Brown shows they have no problem with this pipeline being rammed through by any means necessary.