Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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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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Republicans nominate Jonathan Lochman in Iowa Senate district 17

After fielding candidates in every Iowa Senate district in 2012, Republicans left a bunch of low-probability seats uncontested this year. One of those districts now has a GOP candidate, however: a special convention on July 24 selected Jonathan Lochman to run in Iowa Senate district 17. I don’t see a website for his campaign, but Lochman’s on Facebook here. During 13 years of active duty in the U.S. Army, he served wartime tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s now the Iowa coordinator for Team Rubicon (the Iowa chapter is on Facebook here).

Iowa Senate district 17 is open because State Senator Jack Hatch is running for governor. Tony Bisignano narrowly won a contentious three-way primary in this heavily Democratic seat covering parts of downtown Des Moines and the south side. In a press release, Lochman asserted that Bisignano would “be a rubber stamp for the radical, obstructionist agenda of Mike Gronstal,” whereas the Republican would “be an independent voice for my community.” Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix asserted, “Des Moines voters deserve a candidate​ like Jonathan Lochman, who has​ the integrity, honor and passion to effectively represent their interests at the State Capitol​.” Judging from that comment and various Republican posts on social media, the plan is for Lochman to win by playing up Bisignano’s drunk driving arrests and scandals from his previous term of service in the Iowa Senate during the 1990s.

It would be a historic upset for a Republican to win a state legislative seat here. The latest official figures show that Senate district 17 contains 16,388 active registered Democrats, 6,559 Republicans, and 9,792 no-party voters. Bisignano should have help from the Iowa Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, because other Democratic candidates (notably Hatch, U.S. Senate nominee Braley, and IA-03 nominee Staci Appel) are counting on good GOTV in strongholds like the south side of Des Moines.

Also on July 24, Polk County Republicans held a special convention to nominate Army veteran Tom Hess in Iowa House district 34, covering half of Senate district 17. Hess will challenge longtime Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter and has about the same chance of winning as Lochman (slim to none). As of July 1, House district 34 contained 8,404 active registered Democrats, 3,497 Republicans, and 5,114 no-party voters.

P.S. – I would have posted the full press release on Lochman’s campaign launch, but the “latest news” on the Iowa Senate Republicans website is a press release from mid-May.

UPDATE: Cityview’s Civic Skinny published a detailed account of Tony Bisignano’s drunk driving arrest and how the case unfolded from there. Many details were new to me, and I suspect that if they had been more widely known, Nathan Blake might have won the Senate district 17 Democratic primary.

The most surprising fact recounted by Civic Skinny is that Jennifer Jacobs apparently e-mailed her draft Des Moines Register story on the OWI to Bisignano before publishing. Double-checking quoted remarks is one thing, but I am not aware of any newspaper where it is standard practice to run a full draft by the public figure who is the subject of the article.

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