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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Even in defeat, Peter Cownie's better off than Iowans with bad shoulder injuries

Ninth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

Money couldn’t buy a sixth term for State Representative Peter Cownie. Republicans spent more trying to hold his district than on any other Iowa House race, by far. Nevertheless, Democratic challenger Kristin Sunde defeated Cownie by nearly 1,200 votes in House district 42.

The loss must sting. Cownie would have led the House Ways and Means Committee next year, a powerful position as Republicans in full control of state government plan more tax cuts skewed toward corporations and wealthy people.

But in this season of giving thanks, Cownie can be grateful he will continue to be well-compensated. In contrast, Iowans with career-altering shoulder injuries are experiencing tremendous hardship under a 2017 law Cownie introduced and fast-tracked.

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Lessons of 2018: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

Third in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

At least three and possibly four newly-elected members of the Iowa House had campaigned unsuccessfully for the same seats in past election cycles. Three newly-elected members of the Iowa Senate lost elections for other offices in recent years.

They join a long list of Iowa politicians–including Tom Harkin and Kim Reynolds–who did not win the first time they sought a legislative office.

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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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