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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Democracy for America getting involved in seven Iowa House races

The progressive political action committee Democracy for America announced this morning that it has endorsed seven Democratic candidates for the Iowa House: three incumbents, three challengers to Republican state representatives, and one candidate running in an open seat. Winning those seven races could flip the chamber to Democratic control–but only if Democrats do not lose any other Iowa House districts they currently hold. Republicans take a 53-47 Iowa House majority into next month’s election, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats.

I’ve posted Democracy for America’s full statement after the jump. The PAC will offer financial and organizational support to the following Iowa House candidates:

• Scott Ourth, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 26 (most of Warren County, including the Indianola area)

• Joe Riding, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 30 (most of eastern Polk County)

• Curt Hanson, an incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 82 (most of Jefferson County including Fairfield, plus Van Buren and Davis counties)

• Charlie McConkey, first-time candidate in Iowa House district 15 (western half of Council Bluffs plus Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, open because Republican State Representative Mark Brandeburg retired)

• Dave Grussing, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Tedd Gassman in Iowa House district 7 (Emmet and Winnebago counties, plus part of Kossuth County)

• Teresa Meyer, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Sandy Salmon in Iowa House district 63 (Bremer County and parts of northern Black Hawk County)

• Kristi Keast, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Quentin Stanerson in Iowa House district 95 (much of Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, plus part of Buchanan County)

Gassman, Salmon, and Stanerson won their 2012 Iowa House races by margins of 44 votes, 115 votes, and 200 votes, respectively.

Extra help for Riding and Hanson could have collateral benefits for Democrats hoping to maintain their Iowa Senate majority. Riding’s seat makes up half of the open Senate district 15, a Democratic-held seat that Republicans are targeting. Hanson’s seat makes up half of Senate district 41, a Democratic-leaning district now held by Republican Mark Chelgren (the biggest surprise winner of 2010).

In an upcoming series of posts, Bleeding Heartland will review these and other Iowa House districts targeted by one or both parties. Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, in any given election year more than a dozen of the 100 Iowa House races are competitive. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee considers the Iowa House one of its top opportunities in the country to flip a state legislative chamber. GOP Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has expressed confidence that his party will hold and possibly expand its majority.

UPDATE: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee put two Iowa House districts and two Iowa Senate districts on its list of “2014 Races to Watch.” I’ve added that announcement to the end of this post.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Can Josh Byrnes escape a GOP primary challenge in Iowa House district 51?

Since last summer, many Iowa politics watchers have had Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes on retirement watch. However, he announced this week that he will seek a third term in Iowa House district 51. After the jump I’ve posted a district map and Byrnes’ re-election statement.

Democratic candidate Laura Hubka has been actively campaigning for months. She’s facing a relatively strong incumbent in this district, which covers Howard, Mitchell, Worth, and part of Winneshiek Counties along Iowa’s northern border. Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. The latest totals from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district contains 5,765 registered Democrats, 6,470 Republicans, and 8,643 no-party voters.

Although I have not heard of any Republican planning to challenge Byrnes, three factors make me suspect he will not get a free pass in the GOP primary.

1. Byrnes is the leading Iowa House proponent of raising the gasoline tax, a popular view among some rural constituencies but not in the Republican base. He even taunted the advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief after this year’s subcommittee hearing, where the gas tax bill advanced.

2. While many Iowa House Republicans are quietly satisfied to see a constitutional amendment on marriage die in the funnel for two years running, to my knowledge Byrnes is still the only person in his caucus who openly supports same-sex marriage rights.

3. Last year Byrnes was one of just two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid in Iowa. (The other one, Brian Moore, represents the most Democratic-leaning Iowa House district Republicans now control.)

It will be a St. Patrick’s Day miracle if no anti-tax zealot, social conservative, or “Liberty” activist steps up to challenge Byrnes by the March 14 filing deadline.  

UPDATE: Amazingly, no other Republican filed papers to seek the GOP nomination in House district 51.

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Laura Hubka challenging Josh Byrnes in Iowa House district 51

Democrats have a candidate in what could become one of next year’s battleground Iowa House races. Depending on the outcome of a special election in House district 25, Democrats need a net gain of three or four seats to win control of the lower chamber. Laura Hubka announced her plans to run for House district 51 two weeks ago on the SiriusXM program “Make It Plain.” The Iowa House Democrats made the campaign official yesterday. Hubka went to high school in Decorah and returned to live in northeast Iowa nearly 20 years ago, after completing 10 years of service in the U.S. Navy. She has worked at several health centers in the area. She became involved in Democratic politics in 2007, volunteering for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. After Iowa’s new map of political boundaries was approved in 2011, Hubka helped form the “Tri County Democrats” collaboration among activists in Mitchell, Howard, and Worth Counties. She volunteered for State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm’s successful re-election bid against Senator Merlin “Build My Fence” Bartz in 2012.

After the jump I’ve posted background on Hubka and two-term Republican incumbent Josh Byrnes, along with a detailed map of House district 51. The district runs along the Minnesota border, including Worth, Mitchell, and Howard Counties, plus part of Winneshiek County. As of November 2013, House district 51 contained 5,794 registered Democrats, 6,463 Republicans, and 8,522 no-party voters.

Byrnes was comfortably re-elected in 2012 even as President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote in House district 51. So he would be favored to win a third term. I sought comment from Byrnes after hearing rumors that he might retire next year. Notably, he did not say he will definitely run again. Rather, he indicated that he will decide after the legislative session is over. He’ll need to make up his mind before then, because the filing deadline for major-party candidates is March 14, 2014.

Byrnes has occasionally looked like the odd man out in the Iowa House Republican caucus. He is on the record supporting same-sex marriage rights and an increase in the state gasoline tax. He was one of only two GOP legislators to support the Democratic position on expanding Medicaid. For those reasons, I would not be surprised to see a primary challenge against him from the right.

Regardless of whether Byrnes seeks re-election, Hubka is unlikely to face competition in the Democratic primary. According to Kurt Meyer, Byrnes’ Democratic opponent in 2010, the Tri-County Democrats are strongly behind Hubka. UPDATE: Hubka’s campaign is on Facebook here and has not yet launched a website.

LATE UPDATE: Added further information about Hubka below.

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Analysis of the Obama-Romney vote in the Iowa House districts

The Daily Kos Elections team has been compiling 2012 presidential election results by state legislative district as well as by Congressional district, state by state. Last week the Iowa numbers were added to the database. I took a first stab at previewing the battle for control of the Iowa Senate next year, using data including the raw vote totals and percentages for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in each district.

The Daily Kos database includes Obama and Romney vote totals and percentages for each Iowa House district here. After the jump I’ve incorporated that information and other factors to predict which Iowa House districts will be competitive in 2014. Writing this post has been challenging, because every election cycle brings surprises, and many more seats in the lower chamber will be in play. Unlike the Iowa Senate, where only half of the 50 members are on the ballot in each general election, all 100 Iowa House members are on ballot in every even-numbered year. Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber.

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