EMILY's List to play in Iowa; won't commit to positive Senate race

One of the leading Democratic-aligned political action committees endorsed three Iowa candidates this week. EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women seeking federal, state, or local offices, endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer on December 15 and U.S. House candidates Christina Bohannan and Liz Mathis in the new first and second Congressional districts on December 16.

The PAC endorsed U.S. Representative Cindy Axne for re-election in the third district in March.

This week’s announcements were no surprise, since EMILY’s List supported Axne and Finkenauer in their 2018 and 2020 U.S. House campaigns, and said in April that Senator Chuck Grassley was one of three Republicans the group planned to target in 2022 Senate races.

Backing from EMILY’s List helps candidates raise money through the organization’s large network of donors. Perhaps more important, it indicates the group is prepared to pay for advertising on behalf of endorsed candidates or against their opponents.

The big question is whether EMILY’s List will keep its messages positive before the June 2022 Senate primary, or also target Democratic rivals. I couldn’t get an answer from the group yesterday.

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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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Four takeaways from the Iowa House district 37 special election

Republican Mike Bousselot won the September 14 special election in Iowa House district 37 with 51.6 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for Democrat Andrea Phillips, according to unofficial results from the Polk County elections office. Those numbers should change very little, since late-arriving absentee ballots mailed before the election can no longer be counted under the voter suppression law Republicans enacted this year.

Once Bousselot is sworn in to represent this district covering part of Ankeny and northern Polk County, the GOP will again hold 59 of the 100 Iowa House seats. Democrats currently hold 40 seats, and an October 12 special election will fill the vacancy in House district 29.

I’ll have more to say about today’s race once more details become available on the partisan breakdown of the electorate. For now, a few quick hits:

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Iowa House district 37: Mike Bousselot banks on false ads

The short special election campaign in Iowa House district 37 has been a costly affair, as expected. Disclosures filed last week show the Iowa Democratic Party has spent $306,470.21 on behalf of Andrea Phillips, while the Republican Party of Iowa has spent $234,327.12 supporting Mike Bousselot.

As is typical for targeted Iowa legislative races, the bulk of the spending has gone toward television and digital advertising: roughly $285,000 on the Democratic side and just under $230,000 from Republicans.

Bleeding Heartland analyzed the introductory ads for Phillips and Bousselot here. During the last two weeks of the campaign, I’ve seen more negative advertising about both candidates on Des Moines-based broadcast and cable television. The difference is that the Democratic ads highlight truthful claims about Bousselot’s past work, whereas the Republican ads are wholly false–much like the spots they ran against Phillips in 2020.

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COVID-19 as backdrop for Iowa House special election tv ads

Early voting has begun in Iowa House district 37, where voters in parts of Ankeny and northern Polk County will choose a new state representative on September 14. Bleeding Heartland previously covered the recent voting history of this suburban area, as well as background on Democrat Andrea Phillips and Republican Mike Bousselot.

Both candidates and many of their supporters (including other Iowa House Democrats and U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer) have been knocking doors in the district. Direct personal contact has long been considered one of the most effective ways to drive turnout in a state legislative race.

Phillips and Bousselot are also advertising in the Des Moines market on broadcast and cable television. Both introductory ads tap into voters’ feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation policies.

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Pro-Ernst dark money group may get sued over undisclosed finances

UPDATE: Campaign Legal Center filed suit against Iowa Values on February 12. Original post follows.

A group formed to support U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s re-election may face a lawsuit over its ongoing failure to disclose its fundraising and spending.

Iowa Values, created as a 501(c)4 political nonprofit, has not registered with the Federal Election Commission. The FEC has yet to act on a complaint filed more than a year ago, seeking to bring the group into compliance with campaign finance law.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization supporting public access to the political process, has asked a U.S. District Court in Washington, DC to find that the FEC failed to comply with a court order to address the Iowa Values matter. If the court does so, federal law allows the center “to sue Iowa Values directly” to force disclosure of its financial activity. That option is on the table, an attorney for the center told Bleeding Heartland on February 8.

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