Four takeaways from the Iowa House district 37 special election

Republican Mike Bousselot won the September 14 special election in Iowa House district 37 with 51.6 percent of the vote to 48.3 percent for Democrat Andrea Phillips, according to unofficial results from the Polk County elections office. Those numbers should change very little, since late-arriving absentee ballots mailed before the election can no longer be counted under the voter suppression law Republicans enacted this year.

Once Bousselot is sworn in to represent this district covering part of Ankeny and northern Polk County, the GOP will again hold 59 of the 100 Iowa House seats. Democrats currently hold 40 seats, and an October 12 special election will fill the vacancy in House district 29.

I’ll have more to say about today’s race once more details become available on the partisan breakdown of the electorate. For now, a few quick hits:

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Iowa House district 37: Mike Bousselot banks on false ads

The short special election campaign in Iowa House district 37 has been a costly affair, as expected. Disclosures filed last week show the Iowa Democratic Party has spent $306,470.21 on behalf of Andrea Phillips, while the Republican Party of Iowa has spent $234,327.12 supporting Mike Bousselot.

As is typical for targeted Iowa legislative races, the bulk of the spending has gone toward television and digital advertising: roughly $285,000 on the Democratic side and just under $230,000 from Republicans.

Bleeding Heartland analyzed the introductory ads for Phillips and Bousselot here. During the last two weeks of the campaign, I’ve seen more negative advertising about both candidates on Des Moines-based broadcast and cable television. The difference is that the Democratic ads highlight truthful claims about Bousselot’s past work, whereas the Republican ads are wholly false–much like the spots they ran against Phillips in 2020.

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Four thoughts about Iowa House district 37 early vote totals

Two weeks before voters will elect a new state legislator to represent parts of Ankeny and northern Polk County, Democrats living in Iowa House district 37 had requested more than five times as many absentee ballots as Republicans.

Polk County Elections Office staff told Bleeding Heartland that 2,818 residents of House district 37 had requested an early ballot by 4:00 pm on August 31. Of those, 2,261 were Democrats, 398 were Republicans, and 159 were affiliated with neither party.

The vast majority of absentee ballots sent to voters have not yet been returned. As of August 31, the Polk County auditor’s office had received 375 completed ballots from registered Democrats and 36 from Republicans.

Four caveats:

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COVID-19 as backdrop for Iowa House special election tv ads

Early voting has begun in Iowa House district 37, where voters in parts of Ankeny and northern Polk County will choose a new state representative on September 14. Bleeding Heartland previously covered the recent voting history of this suburban area, as well as background on Democrat Andrea Phillips and Republican Mike Bousselot.

Both candidates and many of their supporters (including other Iowa House Democrats and U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer) have been knocking doors in the district. Direct personal contact has long been considered one of the most effective ways to drive turnout in a state legislative race.

Phillips and Bousselot are also advertising in the Des Moines market on broadcast and cable television. Both introductory ads tap into voters’ feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation policies.

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First thoughts on the Iowa House district 37 special election

Voters in Ankeny will soon choose a successor to State Representative John Landon, who passed away last month. Governor Kim Reynolds scheduled the Iowa House district 37 special election for Tuesday, September 14.

I’ll have more to say about this race once the field is set. Democrats nominated Andrea Phillips at a special district convention on August 7; Republicans have not yet selected a candidate.

For now, I want to touch on the opportunities and challenges this short campaign presents.

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Rest in peace, John Landon

State Representative John Landon passed away on July 29, his family announced. He was serving his fifth term representing Iowa House district 37, covering part of Ankeny. In tributes posted publicly, many Republican colleagues commented on Landon’s kindness and work ethic, including Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, House Speaker Pat Grassley, and Garrett Gobble, who now represents the other Ankeny House district.

Landon had chaired the House Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee since 2015, and also served this year on the Commerce and Transportation committees. Although he missed much of the 2021 legislative session while being treated for the illness that claimed his life, he was able to floor manage the bill setting the fiscal year 2022 budget for a number of state agencies and the offices of the governor, secretary of state, and state auditor.

Democratic State Representative Bruce Hunter, who served on the budget panel Landon led, told Bleeding Heartland on July 30 that Landon was “the nicest guy in the House” and someone who reached across the aisle when bills or amendments were being considered.

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