IA-01: Strong fundraising for Abby Finkenauer and Ashley Hinson

Iowa’s first Congressional district will be among the country’s top-targeted U.S. House races next year. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate this district a toss-up, for good reason. Although voter registration numbers slightly favor Democrats, voters in northwest Iowa swung heavily to Donald Trump and to Republicans for down-ballot offices in 2016.

Three Republican candidates have announced plans to challenge first-term U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer, but at this writing, only State Representative Ashley Hinson appears relevant to the conversation. Thomas Hansen announced his candidacy on May 1, but his first Federal Election Commission filing shows just one donation from the candidate and one expenditure for gas, leaving $18.36 cash on hand. (FEC staff have already dinged Hansen for not filing his campaign’s statement of organization on time.) The third GOP candidate, Darren White, filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC last month but has not filed a July quarterly, indicating that he has not raised or spent any significant sum.

Former U.S. Representative Rod Blum, who lost to Finkenauer in 2018, raised nothing during the second quarter and spent only a token amount to keep campaign e-mail accounts working. Blum paid for some polling during the first quarter and has not ruled out running for Congress again. Republican insiders appear to prefer Hinson, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed in detail here.

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Reynolds, GOP killed way to reduce racial, economic disparities in Iowa courts

Governor Kim Reynolds made headlines last week with two vetoes: blocking language targeting the attorney general, and rejecting a medical cannabis bill that had strong bipartisan support in both chambers.

A provision she didn’t veto drew little attention. For the foreseeable future, it will prevent Iowa courts from using a tool designed to make the criminal justice system more fair to defendants of all races and income levels.

Reynolds should appreciate the value of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), since she works closely with two former State Public Defenders: Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg and the governor’s senior legal counsel Sam Langholz. But last year she ordered a premature end to a pilot program introducing the tool in four counties. The governor’s staff did not reply to repeated inquiries about the reasoning behind Reynolds’ stance on this policy.

Notably, the owner of Iowa’s largest bail bonding company substantially increased his giving to GOP candidates during the last election cycle, donating $10,100 to the governor’s campaign and $28,050 to Republicans serving in the state legislature.

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2019 Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Bleeding Heartland continues to catch up on the legislature’s significant actions during the session that ended on April 27. Previous posts related to the work of the Iowa House or Senate can be found here.

Republicans showed little interest in amending the Iowa Constitution during the 2019 session. Only one amendment passed both chambers. If and when that proposal appears on a statewide ballot, it will spark a costly and divisive campaign about gun rights and regulations.

The Senate and House debate over the pro-gun amendment is the focus of the first half of this post. Arguments raised on both sides will surely return in future television commercials and mass mailings.

The rest of the post reviews this year’s unsuccessful attempts to change the constitution. One amendment (backed by Governor Kim Reynolds) made it through the Iowa House, and four others advanced from a House or Senate committee but did not come up for a floor vote. The rest did not get through a committee, even though some of the same ideas went further last year.

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First look at the Iowa House landscape for 2020

Republicans used their control over state government to inflict tremendous damage on Iowa during the 2019 legislative session: underfunding education, blocking steps that would improve Medicaid services, dismantling effective sex education programs, further undermining workers’ rights, targeting health care for transgender Iowans, and giving Governor Kim Reynolds the ability to pack our highest courts with conservative ideologues.

The disastrous outcomes underscored the urgent need for Democrats to break the Republican trifecta in 2020. The Iowa House is the only realistic path for doing so, since Reynolds won’t be up for re-election next year, and the 32-18 GOP majority in the Iowa Senate will take several cycles to undo. State Representative Andy McKean’s recent party switch improved Democratic prospects, shrinking the Republican majority in the chamber from 54-46 to 53-47. Nevertheless, a net gain of four House seats will be no easy task for Democrats.

The Daily Kos Elections team calculated the 2018 election results for governor and state auditor in every Iowa House district. Jeff Singer discussed their key findings in a May 2 post: Reynolds carried 60 state House districts, Democratic nominee Fred Hubbell just 39. The “median seat backed Reynolds 51.0-46.3, a margin of 4.7 points. That’s about 2 points to the right of her statewide margin of 2.8 points.” Eight Democrats represent districts Reynolds carried, and one (Dave Williams) represents a district where Reynolds and Hubbell tied, while “only one Republican is in a Hubbell district.”

I’d encourage all Iowa politics watchers to bookmark the DK Elections number-crunching, as well as the team’s spreadsheet on 2016 presidential results by House district.

The Daily Kos team also looked at the 2018 voting for state auditor, seeking clues on which House seats might be within reach for Democrats. I don’t find that angle as useful. Previous State Auditor Mary Mosiman ran a terrible campaign. Not only did Rob Sand outwork Mosiman on the trail, he ran unanswered television commercials for six weeks, allowing him to go into election day with higher name ID than the incumbent, which is almost unheard of. Sad to say, Democrats won’t be outspending incompetent, little-known GOP candidates in the 2020 state legislative races.

Here’s my first take on both parties’ best pickup opportunities. What appear to be competitive state House seats may shift over the coming year, depending on candidate recruitment and incumbent retirements, so Bleeding Heartland will periodically return to this topic.

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IA-01: First thoughts on a possible Rod Blum-Abby Finkenauer rematch

Thomas Nelson of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier was first to report last week that former U.S. Representative Rod Blum’s campaign has spent $11,365 on polling this year. Blum’s quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission showed two disbursements to the candidate’s longtime pollster in early January.

The payments exceeded the $4,119 Blum for Congress owed The Polling Company at the end of December, indicating that Blum commissioned new surveys in the first district and wasn’t merely settling debts left over from the 2018 campaign.

While I have not been able to find details about the questions asked, his campaign likely tested voters’ views on key issues as well as approval and favorability numbers for himself and Representative Abby Finkenauer. Blum hasn’t ruled out running for office again. Nelson noted that he appeared at a Jones County GOP event on April 11.

No Republican has confirmed plans to run against Finkenauer. I see Blum as a weaker challenger than State Representative Ashley Hinson, who has said she’s considering the race and will make her intentions known after the legislative session ends.

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IA-01: How would Ashley Hinson match up against Abby Finkenauer?

UPDATE: Hinson filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on May 13.

“I am considering my options and hope to make a decision in the next few weeks,” State Representative Ashley Hinson told WHO-TV’s Dave Price on January 18 regarding a possible campaign for Congress in 2020.

Since former state lawmaker Abby Finkenauer defeated U.S. Representative Rod Blum in November, insiders in both parties have speculated that Hinson could be the GOP’s best chance for winning back the first Congressional district. Both parties will certainly target this race, rated a toss-up by Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report.

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