Close shaves for two Iowa lawmakers; others coast in 2024 primaries

All seven Iowa legislators who faced competition for their party’s nominations prevailed in the June 4 elections. The outcome was a reversion to normal following a tumultuous 2022 cycle, in which six Iowa House Republicans lost their primaries. Two years ago, Iowa’s new political map forced three pairs of House members to face off against each other, and Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed challengers against several more GOP lawmakers who had opposed her “school choice” plan.

Crucially, Reynolds did not endorse any 2024 candidates running against incumbents. On the contrary, she backed one of the incumbents in a tough primary.

In addition, property rights proved to be a less potent issue here than in South Dakota, where fourteen Republican lawmakers lost to primary challengers on June 4.

Although Iowa saw no upsets, several of this year’s legislative races revealed that Republicans could be vulnerable to candidates from the right. The two challengers who came closest to knocking off incumbents were both vocal opponents of using eminent domain to build CO2 pipelines.

This post covers the primaries from the narrowest winning margin for the incumbent to the most comfortable victory.


First-time candidate Wendy Larson came very close to beating State Representative Mike Sexton, who has served in the Iowa House since 2015 and previously served in the state Senate from 1999 to 2003.

Unofficial returns show Sexton winning by 1,372 votes to 1,317 (50.9 percent to 48.9 percent) in this district, which covers all of Sac, Calhoun, and Pocahontas counties, plus some rural areas in Webster County. Larson carried Sac by almost a three-to-one margin but fell short in the other counties.

This is solid Republican territory. No Democratic or Libertarian candidate has filed nominating papers here. According to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, precincts that are now part of House district 7 voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 72.6 percent to 25.8 percent in 2020. The district has almost as many registered Republicans as Democrats and no-party voters combined.

Sexton was an early endorser of Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and spoke at a rally the candidate held in Fort Dodge last November. He announced in a June 3 Facebook post that he was “grateful to be recognized as the American First Candidate” in House district 7.

As an incumbent, Sexton raised far more money for his campaign (largely from political action committees) than Larson. His largest donors this year were the REALTORS PAC, which gave $12,500, and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s PAC (two contributions totaling $5,000).

Most of Sexton’s campaign spending went toward went toward newspaper advertising, direct mail, and printing. The 527 group Iowans for a Renewable Future (representing the ethanol industry) also spent thousands of dollars to air a radio ad that urged listeners to vote for Sexton because of his work to cut taxes and restrict foreign ownership of farmland. An out-of-state group, the American Federation for Children, paid for mailings that “thanked” Sexton for his legislative work without expressly asking recipients to vote for him.

Larson was running on a platform of “pro-life and pro-family principles, advocating for less government and more personal freedom.” She promised to uphold the Second Amendment and spoke out against eminent domain for CO2 pipelines. (Sexton did vote for a House bill on eminent domain this year, but he was one of the last Republicans to vote, after the bill already had more than enough votes to pass.)

During a June 6 telephone interview, Larson told Bleeding Heartland that she knocked on about 3,000 doors during the campaign. Her main takeaway was that people in the district needed a voice because they “were not being represented.” By way of example, she said the incumbent doesn’t write bills, doesn’t return constituent phone calls, and doesn’t show up at many community events.

Ben Smith, the county attorney for Sac and Calhoun, endorsed Larson on Facebook June 1, saying he had “made NUMEROUS attempts” over the past two years to contact Sexton about “crucial legislation” to protect child sex abuse victims. The lawmaker “HAS NEVER ONCE RETURNED MY CALLS/EMAILS,” Smith wrote.

Others backing Larson’s campaign included Iowa Gun Owners, the anti-vaccine group Informed Choice Iowa, the Iowa Liberty Network (which gave two $1,000 contributions), and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s PAC (which gave $1,000).

Larson hasn’t decided yet whether she might run for office again, but told Bleeding Heartland that she was open to the idea, because the campaign turned out to be “more doable than I had expected,” and she “had a blast.”


Two-term State Senator Waylon Brown had a narrow escape in this red-leaning district, which covers a large area in northern Iowa. Unofficial returns show him beating Doug Campbell by 2,546 votes to 2,273 (52.8 percent to 47.1 percent). He lost by 11 points in the district’s most populous county (Cerro Gordo), but carried Mitchell and Worth counties by a roughly two-to-one margin.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed in more detail here, Campbell ran an active campaign centered on private property rights. In his role as Senate Commerce Committee chair, Brown has blocked all bills seeking to restrict the use of eminent domain for CO2 pipelines.

Brown outspent his opponent by a substantial margin, and as The Iowa Standard was first to report, Iowans for a Renewable Future paid for tv ads supporting him and State Representative Jane Bloomingdale. The renewable fuels group bought radio ads promoting Brown on some Mason City stations as well; you can listen to that 60-second spot here.

Brown will face Democrat Richard Lorence in the November election.


Bleeding Heartland covered this race in depth here. It looked like four-term State Representative Jane Bloomingdale could be in trouble in this district covering half of Senate district 30. Governor Reynolds endorsed her five days before the primary.

But the incumbent ended up winning comfortably by 1,729 votes to 1,112 (60.8 percent to 39.1 percent), according to unofficial results. Bloomingdale lost the Cerro Gordo area but ran up the score in the rest of the district.

Rosenfeld promised to stand up for property rights and staunchly oppose abortion. The social conservative group The FAMiLY Leader paid for direct mail and GOTV phone calls for Rosenfeld. (Bloomingdale angered social conservatives by voting against anti-abortion measures in 2018 and 2021 and against the governor’s school voucher plan in 2023.)

Iowans for a Renewable Future paid for television and radio spots promoting the incumbent.


First-term State Representative Joshua Meggers has kept a low profile, and many legislative watchers were surprised to see another Republican file against him. Unofficial returns show he defeated Jody Anderson by 1,218 votes to 377 (76.2 percent to 23.6 percent). He gained nearly 70 percent of the vote in Hardin County, where Anderson recently stepped down as the city manager for Iowa Falls, and won just under 80 percent of the vote in his home county of Grundy.

Anderson told the Iowa Falls Times Citizen in March that he opposed property tax changes Meggers voted for in 2023, as well as proposed changes to Area Education Agencies.

Meggers raised and spent far more than his challenger, and also benefited from independent expenditures by Convention of the States Action and the Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity, which paid for direct mail and digital advertising.

No Democratic or Libertarian candidate has filed for House district 54. In 2020, Trump received about 66 percent of the vote in the precincts that are now part of Meggers’ district. The Republican voter registration advantage is very large.


State Senator Claire Celsi was first elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2022 in the western suburbs of Des Moines. Senate district 16 was on the ballot for a two-year term in 2022, because Celsi was reaching the end of her four-year term. It’s on the ballot this year like all even-numbered Iowa Senate districts.

Unofficial returns show Celsi defeated Julie Lasche Brown by 2,466 votes to 595 (80.5 percent to 19.4 percent).

This part of the western suburbs of Des Moines metro was solid Republican territory for decades but leans Democratic now. Biden carried this district in the 2020 presidential election by 58.6 percent to 39.4 percent for Trump. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a few thousand. Although Iowa Democrats generally did poorly in the 2022 elections, Celsi won her race with about 58 percent of the vote.

Many area Democrats were perplexed by Brown’s decision to run here. The challenger’s messaging didn’t highlight any specific legislative vote or issue where she disagreed with Celsi. Brown told Bleeding Heartland in March, “I am willing to rebuild bridges that have been burned, work for bipartisan solutions for the betterment of all Iowans, and connect with community members and businesses where they are.”

Both candidates knocked many doors and paid for mailings before the primary. The takeaway for me is that a successful campaign against a sitting legislator needs something concrete to gain traction. Barring some scandal, a challenger needs to show that the incumbent is out of step with their party’s dedicated supporters (at least one vote for a bad bill, refusing to introduce or vote for good bills).

No GOP or Libertarian candidate has filed for Senate district 16, though either party may nominate someone over the summer.


Chad Brewbaker has run for the legislature before as a Libertarian. This year he filed as a Republican against first-term State Representative David Young, a former member of Congress.

Turnout was lower here than in other districts where Republican lawmakers faced challengers. Unofficial results show Young won by 813 votes to 99 (88.6 percent to 10.8 percent).

House district 28 covers much of Dallas County, including West Des Moines precincts, Adel, and Van Meter (Young’s home base). It’s swingy, with a decent contingent of “never Trump” Republicans. According to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, these precincts split almost evenly in the 2020 presidential race (49.0 percent for Biden, 48.8 percent for Trump). Senator Joni Ernst carried the same area by 50.9 percent to 46.5 percent.

Young’s latest campaign finance disclosure shows he had about $132,000 cash on hand in late May. He spent only $1,646.08 before the primary, on direct mail printing and postage. Brewbaker did not file a report with Iowa’s Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, indicating that he raised and spent less than $1,000.

Young will face first-time Democratic candidate Laura Snider in November. Democrats have indicated that they plan to target this district.


If you can’t run unopposed, the next-best scenario for an incumbent is having a challenger who does nothing. That was the situation in House district 89, covering part of Iowa City. Aside from filing nominating papers with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, Ty Bopp had no campaign presence whatsoever.

First-term incumbent Elinor Levin prevailed by 1,266 votes to 117 (91.0 percent to 8.4 percent).

There’s no Republican or Libertarian candidate on the ballot here, but even if there were, Levin would have a clear path to re-election in November. This is the bluest Iowa House district. Biden recieved 79.1 percent of the vote in 2020. (In neighboring House district 90, he received 78.9 percent.)

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Misery loves company

    I see I am not the only constituent Sexton ignores. I thought maybe he would be nicer to Republicans bearing compliments, but maybe they don’t have any more compliments than I offer. Thanks for the excellent report and the links to boot.

  • I was stunned

    by the county attorney’s comments. I too have found Representative Sexton to be mostly non-responsive. But I wouldn’t expect him to blow off elected officials in his own district.