Dave Rowley to represent Iowa Senate district 1

Republican Dave Rowley will represent Iowa Senate district 1 through the end of next year. He won a special election on December 14 by 2,690 votes to 864 for Democrat Mark Allen Lemke (75.6 percent to 24.3 percent), according to unofficial results. That’s in line with the 3:1 GOP voter registration advantage in this district, covering five northwest Iowa counties.

The candidate’s wife Kris Rowley posted on Facebook early this month that Dave Rowley “was asked to run on the Republican ticket” after former State Senator Zach Whiting resigned from the legislature in order to take a new job in Texas.

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Tiffany O'Donnell continues GOP winning streak in Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids residents elected yet another Republican mayor on November 30, as former television news anchor and Women Lead Change CEO Tiffany O’Donnell defeated Amara Andrews by 13,479 votes to 6,358 (67.8 percent to 32.0 percent), according to unofficial results. As is typical for runoff elections, turnout was lower today at 21.4 percent of registered voters than in the November 2 election (28.1 percent turnout).

After receiving about 42 percent of the vote on November 2, O’Donnell appears to have consolidated support from almost all residents who preferred outgoing Mayor Brad Hart. He and Andrews both received about 28 percent of the vote four weeks ago.

O’Donnell is the fifth Republican (including Hart) to be elected mayor of Iowa’s second-largest city since 1996. Only one Democrat (Kay Halloran) has won Cedar Rapids’ highest office during the same period.

While it was logical for Andrews to run as a progressive Democrat in a city that generally favors Democratic candidates, in retrospect it looks like a strategic error for her campaign to focus on her opponent’s Republican ties. For whatever reason—I’d welcome insight from locals—a lot of Democratic-leaning voters in Cedar Rapids are comfortable with Republican mayors.

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Cedar Rapids mayoral race offers contrast in values, priorities

Cedar Rapids residents will elect either Amara Andrews or Tiffany O’Donnell to be city’s third woman mayor on November 30. O’Donnell received about 42 percent of the votes cast in the November 2 general election. Andrews advanced to the runoff with about 28 percent of the vote, just 41 votes ahead of outgoing Mayor Brad Hart, who endorsed O’Donnell the following week.

While O’Donnell has to be considered the favorite going into Tuesday, the general election leader has lost Cedar Rapids runoff elections at least two times in the recent past. Anything can happen in a low-turnout race, and voter participation usually drops in runoffs.

Although Iowa’s local elections are nonpartisan, some candidates have revealed their party affiliations as one way of expressing their values. Andrews has been campaigning as a progressive Democrat who will make the city more equitable and fair. In contrast, O’Donnell has downplayed her Republican affiliation and presented herself as a candidate for “all of Cedar Rapids.”

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GOP sweep in Ankeny may boost party spending on local races

Republican-aligned candidates had mixed results in this month’s city and school board elections across Iowa, but they swept the board in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny. Not only did mayoral candidate Mark Holm win by 20 points, both Republican candidates for city council (Kelly Whiting and Joe Ruddy) were elected, as were all three school board candidates campaigning against mask mandates (Joy Burk, Trent Murphy, and Sarah Barthole).

In contrast, anti-mask candidates for school board were shut out in many other large Iowa school districts, including Cedar Rapids, Davenport, West Des Moines, Ames, and Waukee. Candidates taking the same stance won only one out of three available seats on the Urbandale and Linn-Mar school boards.

Although no single factor fully explains the GOP’s success in Ankeny, conservative candidates benefited from an unusual level of partisan spending on what are nominally nonpartisan races in Iowa. The likely result will be more spending by political parties to promote future candidates for city and school offices.

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How a strong ground game helped turn Urbandale blue

Going into the 2019 elections, Urbandale’s city council consisted of five Republican men with backgrounds in legal or real estate work. This suburb to the west of Des Moines was a GOP stronghold for decades. But Matt Blake and Bridget Carberry Montgomery won two of the three council seats on the ballot two years ago. On November 2, Amy Croll and Larry McBurney won the Urbandale city council races with 5,044 votes and 4,207 votes, respectively. Once they are sworn in, four Democrats and one Republican will serve on the council of Iowa’s twelfth-largest city (around 45,000 residents). Democrats Jason Menke and Rachel Kent won two of the three Urbandale school board seats on this year’s ballot.

Urbandale’s longtime Mayor Bob Andeweg (who was unchallenged for re-election this year) is a Democrat these days, having changed his registration in 2019.

Many suburbs around the country have undergone political transformations as their populations diversify, and college graduates increasingly favor Democrats. But winning a local election in a purple area still requires hard work. McBurney finished just 27 votes ahead of the third-place candidate, Republican John Bouslog.

Each of the winning city council candidates knocked thousands of doors. In addition, Urbandale area Democrats have built a phenomenal volunteer organization to support local candidates by knocking doors, making phone calls, and sending postcards or text messages.

When I reached out to Croll and McBurney this week, both credited the grassroots effort for their wins. McBurney noted, “27 votes means that every door mattered.” Carberry Montgomery agreed, “the bottom line was organization” in each of the last two cycles. Blake estimated that volunteers helped his campaign knock nearly three times as many doors in 2019 as he could have managed on his own.

The late Jerry Tormey was among the most influential activists who helped change Urbandale. Two other superstar volunteers, Donna Richard-Langer and Dave Langer, agreed to a telephone interview on November 4 to discuss their methods.

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