Get ready for a wave of Iowa House Republican retirements (updated)

State legislator retirements are typically a problem for the party out of power. Members of the majority can chair committees, drive the agenda, and get plenty of attention from lobbyists. Life in the minority caucus is much less satisfying.

Although Iowa House Republicans enjoy a 59-41 majority, four GOP representatives have already confirmed plans to step down this year, with more retirements likely before the March 16 filing deadline. When incumbents don’t seek re-election, party leaders sometimes must spend more resources defending open seats, leaving less money available for top and especially second-tier targets.

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Gas tax fallout: Eric Durbin challenging Clel Baudler in Iowa House district 20

Many Iowa GOP activists are upset that dozens of House and Senate Republicans voted to increase the gasoline tax this week. WHO drive-time radio host Simon Conway has been bashing some legislators who voted for the gas tax hike. He’s also urging listeners to “ditch the GOP” by changing their party registration.

Such symbolic acts mean little to compared to what Eric Durbin did yesterday. Appearing on Conway’s Thursday afternoon broadcast, he announced that he will challenge nine-term incumbent GOP State Representative Clel Baudler in Iowa House district 20. Durbin narrowly lost the GOP primary in House district 26 last year, but he recently moved his family from Indianola to a farm in Baudler’s district. His campaign is on Facebook here; at this writing, the website still lists House district 26, which covers most of Warren County. I assume that will be changed soon. Durbin’s core issues hit many of the top priorities for conservatives.

House district 20 covers Guthrie and Adair counties, plus parts of Dallas and Cass counties. A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 20 contains 4,629 active registered Democrats, 6,471 Republicans, and 7,490 no-party voters. Although Mitt Romney just barely carried this district in the 2012 presidential election, Baudler was re-elected by more than a 2,000 vote margin that year and last November. For those reasons, Baudler is probably at more risk from a primary challenger than from a Democrat in the next general election.

Among the longest-serving Iowa House Republicans, Baudler was first been elected in 1998. He has chaired the House Public Safety Committee since 2011. Although he’s a longtime member of the National Rifle Association’s board of directors, Baudler drew the ire of some Iowa gun rights activists by not advancing a gun bill during the 2012 legislative session. Nevertheless, he didn’t face a primary challenger either that year or in 2014. The Iowa Gun Owners group will likely get behind Durbin’s primary challenge. I wonder whether anti-tax groups like Iowans for Tax Relief and Americans for Prosperity will do much to punish the incumbents who went against them on the gas tax issue.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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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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The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn’t file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

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