Iowa House district 39, covering much of northwest Polk County, is represented by the youngest current member of the state legislature. Republican Jake Highfill pulled off a shocking upset in his 2012 primary against then House Majority Whip Erik Helland. He was the only successful one of a dozen primary challengers to sitting Iowa House Republicans that year. Highfill benefited from some blunders by Helland and some help from fellow supporters of Ron Paul’s presidential bid as well as former State Representative Walt Tomenga, whom Helland had beaten in the 2008 GOP primary. Highfill beat Democrat Kelsey Clark in the 2012 general election and Tom Leffler in 2014, but underperformed the top of his party’s ticket both years.
A new Democratic challenger to Highfill emerged last week. Maridith Morris is a nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. She is also a personal friend (not through Democratic Party politics), and I can vouch for her commitment to helping others, in volunteer capacities as well as through her vocation.
I enclose below a district map and background on Highfill and Morris. House district 39 leans Republican, with 5,863 active registered Democrats, 9,291 Republicans, and 8,206 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. (Those numbers do not include voters who changed party affiliation on February 1 to participate in the Iowa caucuses.) Mitt Romney outpolled President Barack Obama among voters in this district by 55.76 percent to 43.02 percent in 2012, and Joni Ernst had nearly a 20-point margin over Bruce Braley here in the 2014 U.S. Senate race.
While the district is a long-shot for a Democrat, Highfill is weaker than the average GOP statehouse incumbent. He chairs the relatively insignificant International Relations Committee, which has met only once this session and does not appear to have any legislation pending. Quite a few House Republicans from the 2012 cohort and even a few colleagues serving their first terms have better committee assignments than Highfill.
Last year, when then House Speaker Kraig Paulsen needed to yank one opponent of raising the gasoline tax off the Ways and Means committee, he picked Highfill. This year, Highfill was assigned to the Appropriations, Education, State Government, Local Government, and Government Oversight committees as well as International Relations. He has not floor-managed any significant bills, to my knowledge.
In a sense, Highfill is fortunate to remain in the legislature. He drew two primary challengers in 2014, which allowed him to win the GOP nomination despite gaining less than 50 percent of the vote. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Republican with more stature run here this year, though at this writing I am not aware of any rival GOP candidate in House district 39.
Highfill’s campaign raised $16,990 last year, about half from individuals and the rest from political action committees that give to numerous legislative incumbents. His campaign spent $12,670.17, mostly on a $10,000 contribution to the state party. He entered the election year with $13,283.48 cash on hand and $6,100 in outstanding loans–not a lot to fend off a primary challenge, if one materializes. Assuming Highfill wins the GOP nomination again, House leaders could chip in more funds if they felt he were in trouble during the general election campaign.
Any comments related to the House district 39 race or either candidate are welcome in this thread. I found it strange that a 2012 Ron Paul supporter Highfill endorsed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie before this year’s Iowa caucuses. But some big movers and shakers in Iowa Republican politics were supporting Christie, including Gary Kirke, one of Highfill’s larger individual donors.