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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Twenty Iowa House races to watch, with ratings

In some states, gerrymandering predetermines the outcome of most legislative races. But many Iowa House and Senate districts are in play every election year, thanks to our non-partisan redistricting system.

Drawing on voter registration totals, recent voting history, absentee ballot numbers, and where Democratic or Republican leaders have made large expenditures, I’ve identified the state House seats most likely to indicate whether Democrats can win control of the lower chamber, where Republicans now enjoy a 59-41 majority.

The districts are grouped in four categories: Democratic-held open seat, Republican-held open seats, Democratic incumbents facing strong challengers, and GOP incumbents facing strong challengers.

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Race ratings: Battle for the Iowa House

Josh Hughes analyzes sixteen Iowa House races likely to be competitive and points to other districts that could also be in play. Hughes is a Drake University undergraduate and vice president of the I-35 school board. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Iowa Democrats have had a pretty good summer. In recent weeks, election forecasters have moved the races for governor and third Congressional district to “toss-up” status, Fred Hubbell and other Iowa Democrats have blown past Republicans in fundraising, and Iowa Republicans have begun to hit the panic button on an election many believed would not be competitive just one year ago. Democrats appear to have the wind at their back for the first time in several election cycles here, after blowout losses in 2016 and 2014.

Winning back Terrace Hill and Congressional seats is at the forefront of many activists’ minds. Doing so would be hugely impressive and important to stopping reactionary right-wing legislation at the state and federal levels. However, in order to not just stop the bad stuff but also advance good legislation, Democrats will need to do more than just defeat Governor Kim Reynolds. The race for the Iowa legislature, where 25 of 50 Senate seats and all 100 Iowa House seats are up for election this year, will determine what kind of policy will be possible over the next two years in our state.

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20 Iowa House races to watch tonight

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, we have an unusually large number of competitive state legislative districts. In any given general election, depending on candidate recruitment, between one dozen and two dozen of the 100 Iowa House districts could be up for grabs. Democrats and Republicans spend big money on a much smaller number of districts; this year, only seven Iowa House races involved a large amount of television advertising. But the parties and candidates invest in direct mail and/or radio commercials in many more places than that.

Republicans go into election day favored to hold their Iowa House majority, which now stands at 53 seats to 47. Carolyn Fiddler has pegged seven “districts to watch” at her Statehouse Action blog, and in September, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble discussed five districts he viewed as “key to Iowa House chamber control.” I see the playing field as much larger.

Follow me after the jump to review 20 Iowa House seats that will determine control of the chamber for the next two years.

Caveat: most years, there’s at least one shocking result in an Iowa House district neither party had their eye on. I’m thinking about Tami Weincek defeating a longtime Democratic incumbent in Waterloo in 2006, Kent Sorenson defeating a Democratic incumbent in Warren County in 2008, three Democratic state representatives who had run unopposed in 2008 losing in 2010, and Democrat Daniel Lundby taking out the seemingly safe Republican Nick Wagner in the Linn County suburbs in 2012. Wagner had run unopposed in the previous election.

So, while I don’t expect any of the “favored” seats discussed below to change hands, I would not rule out a surprise or two. That would be excellent news for the stealth challenger’s party.

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