Iowa Senate district 20 preview: Brad Zaun vs. Rhonda Martin

What a difference a few years makes.

Democrats did not field a candidate against State Senator Brad Zaun in 2008 or 2012. The party provided no financial assistance to Senate district 20 nominee Miyoko Hikiji in 2016. That year, the Senate Majority Fund spent almost nothing on offense, as six-figure sums went toward trying to save Democratic-held seats around the state. Zaun won a fourth term by more than a 7,000 vote margin.

With central Iowa’s suburban voters trending toward Democrats, Zaun has emerged as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans for the 2020 cycle. As of May 15, he has a top-tier challenger: Johnston City Council member Rhonda Martin.

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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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Pie in the sky or possible? Flipping a tough district

N. Kelly managed Karin Derry’s 2018 campaign in Iowa House district 39. Derry was one of five Democratic candidates to win Republican-held seats in the suburbs of Des Moines. -promoted by Laura Belin

Very difficult but not impossible. That was what we knew about getting Karin Derry elected.

In 2016, the Republican incumbent Jake Highfill won with 57 percent of the vote. Going into 2018, 36 percent of voters in our district were registered as Republicans, compared to 25 percent registered as Democrats.

Bleak numbers, but when you believe that what you want is what most people want – a strong public education system, accessible and affordable healthcare, reasonable environmental protections, sensible policies to make taxation fair and the economy grow – then it simply becomes a matter of getting the word out. Talking to voters. Being real. Karin would speak of how her wonderful father had been a Reagan Republican, but that party is not today’s party. I think that fact resonated with many people across the political spectrum.

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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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