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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Events coming up this weekend and next week

With only five days left before the Iowa primaries on June 8, many candidates have a busy weekend ahead. Event details are after the jump. Please post a comment or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com if you want to suggest an event for this calendar. Iowa Democratic candidates, please add me to your list for press announcements so that I can include your public appearances and fundraisers on these calendars. Also, let me know where you are having your election night parties if you would like me to add them to this post.

Although most of the competitive primaries this year are on the Republican side, please remind your friends and family to vote in the June 8 election. Democrats across the state have a choice to make in the U.S. Senate race between Roxanne Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause. Democrats in 32 counties (the fifth Congressional district) will select either Matt Campbell or Mike Denklau to face Representative Steve “10 Worst” King. A few state legislative districts have multiple Democrats running too. County auditors’ offices are open for early voting today, tomorrow, Saturday and Monday.

Stay tuned for a Bleeding Heartland primary election prediction contest. I’ll post more details soon. As usual, no prizes will be awarded, but the winner gets bragging rights.

Most of our Democratic incumbents and challengers are out knocking on doors every weekend and often during the week. Please consider getting involved in an Iowa House or Senate race near you. Candidates for the state legislature can always use volunteer help, and summer parades and county fairs are not far off.

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Democrats looking more likely to hold Iowa House district 21

First-term Democratic State Representative Kerry Burt announced yesterday that he won’t run for re-election in Iowa House district 21, which comprises part of Waterloo and some rural areas in southern Black Hawk County (map here). The state Attorney General’s Office filed charges against a group of parents including Burt, who allegedly gave false addresses to avoid paying higher tuition fees for their children to attend the Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls. Burt said in a statement, “I look forward to my day in court.  I believe I am innocent and strongly believe my name will be vindicated once all of the relevant facts come to light. […] I am extremely grateful to the citizens of Waterloo for allowing me to serve and look forward to continuing my public service in the future.”

I wish Burt the best but won’t deny that I’m one of those relieved Democrats John Deeth mentioned here. I’ve been hoping for some time that Burt would not seek re-election, not only because of the tuition scandal but because of his drunk driving arrest in February 2009.

After the jump I cover the recent electoral history of House district 21 and reasons Democrats can feel optimistic about holding the seat.

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Iowa candidate filings deadline thread

The filing deadline for statewide and state legislative offices closed at the end of business today. John Deeth has been covering the highlights at his blog. Click here to download a pdf file from the Secretary of State’s office for the full candidate list.

As I mentioned earlier, Governor Chet Culver has no primary challenger. All three remaining Republican gubernatorial candidates qualified for the ballot (Terry Branstad, Rod Roberts, Bob Vander Plaats).

There will be a three-way Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between Roxanne Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

Republicans have a full slate of candidates for statewide offices. Sadly, Democrats failed to find anyone to take on Auditor David Vaudt.

Four Republicans filed against Bruce Braley in Iowa’s first Congressional district, and four Republicans filed against Dave Loebsack in the second district. All seven declared GOP candidates qualified for the ballot in Iowa’s third district. I would not be surprised if a district convention ends up selecting Leonard Boswell’s opponent.

Bill Maske is the only Democrat running against Tom Latham in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. As expected, we will have a competitive primary in the fifth between Mike Denklau and Matt Campbell.

Most surprising statehouse district left uncontested: House district 16 in northeast Iowa. I had heard rumors that Republicans had no candidate against freshman State Representative John Beard, but I’m still shocked they left him unchallenged. That was a battleground race in 2008. Does anyone know whether a GOP district convention will be able to name a candidate for this race later?

Democrats didn’t leave any obviously competitive statehouse districts open. I’m a little disappointed we don’t have a candidate in House district 73, from which Republican Jodi Tymeson is retiring. It is a fairly strong GOP district, but I thought a candidate pounding the pavement there might help State Senator Staci Appel in her re-election campaign against Kent Sorenson (Senate district 37).

We found a candidate in House district 51 (Carroll County), which Rod Roberts is vacating to run for governor. Democrat Larry Lesle of Manning will face the winner of a three-way GOP primary.

Yesterday two-term incumbent Elesha Gayman surprised many people by announcing her retirement from House district 84 in Davenport. Gayman indicated that no one had been lined up to replace her, but today Shari Carnahan filed for that seat as a Democrat. She will face Gayman’s 2008 opponent, Ross Paustian.

Ruth Ann Gaines ended up being the only Democrat to file in Wayne Ford’s district 65 (Des Moines).

Six Democratic Iowa House incumbents have primary challengers. The people running against Dave Jacoby (district 30, Iowa City/Coralville) and Geri Huser (district 42, east side of Des Moines) appear to be backed by organized labor. A socially conservative pastor, Clair Rudison, is running against Ako Abdul-Samad in district 66 (Des Moines). Anesa Kajtazovic stepped up to the plate in House district 21 (Waterloo). Freshman Kerry Burt really should have retired from that seat. I don’t know what the deal is with Kenneth Oglesby, who is challenging Chuck Isenhart in district 27 (Dubuque). Likewise, I have no idea why Mike Petersen is running against Mary Gaskill in district 93 (Ottumwa). Please post a comment or e-mail me (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com) if you know the backstory.

Most surprising retirement: Republican Doug Struyk in district 99. The GOP candidate for secretary of state in 2006, Mary Ann Hanusa, is running for the Council Bluffs-based seat instead. She will face Democrat Kurt Hubler, who nearly defeated Struyk in 2008. Struyk was first elected as a Democrat but switched parties several years ago. His departure will leave only one turncoat in the Iowa House. We failed to field a candidate against Dawn Pettengill (district 39), who switched to the GOP in 2007.

More posts are coming soon on some of the battleground statehouse races. Meanwhile, post any relevant comments in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that we will see seven or eight rematches in Iowa House races. Republicans are running Josh Thurston and Stephen Burgmeier and 2009 special election winners Kirsten Running-Marquardt (district 33) and Curt Hanson (district 90). Also, in district 23 first-term Democrat Gene Ficken will face the Republican he beat in 2008, Dan Rasmussen. Republican Jane Jech is taking another shot at incumbent Mark Smith in district 43. The district 89 race may be a rematch as well if Jarad Klein wins the GOP primary to face first-term Democrat Larry Marek. In House district 60, first-term Republican Peter Cownie faces 2008 Democratic candidate Alan Koslow. Not only will Koslow be at a severe financial disadvantage, his endorsement of Jonathan Narcisse for governor won’t win him friends among the Democratic base. Democrat Pat VanZante is taking another shot at Jim Van Engelenhoven in district 71 (assuming Van Engelenhoven doesn’ lose to his GOP primary challenger). Republican Dave Heaton will face his 2008 opponent, Ron Fedler, in district 91.

SECOND UPDATE: Republicans are crowing that they are fielding candidates in 88 of the 100 Iowa House districts, while Democrats are fielding candidates in only 75 districts. I would like to challenge Republicans everywhere, but it’s only natural that Iowa Democrats are going to focus more on defense this year. We already have the majority, and it could be a tough cycle for incumbents at all levels.

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