A close look at Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races

Republicans are testing potentially damaging messages about Iowa House Democratic candidates, along with statements that might increase support for GOP candidates in battleground legislative districts. After listening to several recordings of these telephone polls and hearing accounts from other respondents, I have three big takeaways:

• Republicans are seeking ways to insulate themselves from voter anger over inadequate education funding and the Branstad administration’s botched Medicaid privatization;
• The time-honored GOP strategy of distorting obscure legislative votes is alive and well;
• The Iowa Democratic Party’s platform plank on legalizing all drugs may be used against candidates across the state.

Read on for much more about these surveys.

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Iowa House district 51 preview: Tim Hejhal vs. Jane Bloomingdale

Among the dozens of potentially competitive Iowa House and Senate races (a collateral benefit of our state’s non-partisan redistricting process), the contest in House district 51 will be one of the most closely watched. GOP State Representative Josh Byrnes immediately put this northeast Iowa seat on the top tier of Democratic pickup opportunities when he decided not to run for re-election. The district covers Worth, Mitchell, and Howard counties, plus a small area in Winneshiek County, not including Decorah. Scroll down to view a map.

Democrat Tim Hejhal, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Air National Guard and principal of Osage High School (Mitchell County), is running against Republican Jane Bloomingdale, an accountant and tax preparer who is mayor of Northwood (Worth County), where she previously served 17 years on the city council. Hejhal and Bloomingdale were unopposed in their respective party primaries. A former Iowa GOP State Central Committee member who had declared plans to run in district 51 did not file for the seat. I enclose more background on Hejhal below; I was unable to find an official campaign biography for Bloomingdale.

House district 51 is a must-win seat for Democrats hoping to gain control of the state House, where the party currently holds 43 of the 100 seats. Though the GOP has a registration advantage, the plurality of voters are affiliated with neither party. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 51 contains 5,139 active registered Democrats, 6,418 Republicans, and 7,811 no-party voters. President Barack Obama received 55.19 percent of the vote among the district’s residents in 2012. Only two Iowa House districts currently held by Republicans voted to re-elect the president by a larger margin. One of them was House district 58, another open seat in eastern Iowa likely to be targeted by both parties.

Whether either party’s presidential candidate will have coat-tails here is hard to guess. In the February 1 caucuses, Donald Trump narrowly won Mitchell and Howard counties, nearly tying Ted Cruz in Worth. Hillary Clinton carried Mitchell County, while Bernie Sanders won Howard and Worth.

Intensifying the focus on this part of the state, House district 51 makes up half of Senate district 26, where Republican Waylon Brown is challenging State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm. Both parties and a number of interest groups are heavily involved in that Senate race, which could determine control of the upper chamber. Democrats have had a campaign office up and running in Osage since early May. Iowa House districts are small enough for candidates to reach a significant percentage of voters in person, and Hejhal has been working the doors here, as have volunteers on his behalf. Bloomingdale has done some canvassing too and has had a campaign presence at various summer parades and festivals.

Neither candidate has raised much money for this race. Hejhal reported $2,650.00 in contributions through early May, and Bloomingdale took in $3,700 during the same period, loaning her campaign $500 as well. Through early July, Hejhal brought in another $5,020.00 and Bloomingdale raised another $5,825. (All contributions to both candidates came from individuals rather than political action committees.) The bulk of the money spent on this race will come from Democratic and Republican leadership committees.

Any comments on this or other state legislative campaigns are welcome in this thread.

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Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline to compete in the Democratic or Republican primaries has passed, the field of candidates is set in most of the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that will be on the ballot this fall.

It’s time for a first look at chances to increase diversity in the state legislature for the next two years. The proportion of white lawmakers is unlikely to change, while the proportion of women could move in either direction.

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Republican Brian Moore retiring, opening up Iowa House district 58

One of the best pickup opportunities for Democrats in the Iowa House got better on Thursday, as three-term Republican State Representative Brian Moore told KMAQ Radio in Maquoketa that he will not run for re-election in House district 58. After an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in an Iowa Senate district, Moore switched parties, filed in a House seat where there was no Republican challenger, and pulled off one of the most shocking Iowa state legislative upsets in 2010. He won a re-match against Tom Schueller in the next election cycle and defeated challenger Kim Huckstadt by a comfortable margin in 2014.

House district 58 is among the most Democratic-leaning legislative seats currently held by a Republican. In 2012, Barack Obama received 55.6 percent of the vote here; only residents of House district 91 in the Muscatine area gave a higher percentage of their votes to the president while electing a Republican to the Iowa House. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, House district 58 contains 6,968 active registered Democrats, 4,726 Republicans, and 9,151 no-party voters.

Moore has not always fallen in line with House Republican leaders. In late December, he told William Garbe of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald that he may break with his caucus during this year’s session to support a larger funding increase for K-12 schools. Fellow GOP State Representatives Quentin Stanerson and Ron Jorgensen are also retiring this year and are known to have been dissatisfied with the final compromise on education funding last year. Moore’s announcement will increase speculation that State Representative Josh Byrnes may not seek a fourth term in House district 51. He challenged Linda Upmeyer for the speaker’s chair last summer. After losing that contest, Byrnes criticized excessive partisanship and the failure to meet deadlines for approving school funding. In 2013, Byrnes and Moore were the only two House Republicans to vote with Democrats to expand Medicaid as foreseen under the Affordable Care Act.

Democrat Peter Hird launched his campaign in House district 58 in October. I enclose below some background on Hird and a map of the district, which covers all of Jackson County, a large area in Jones County and two rural Dubuque County townships. Pat Rynard profiled Hird at Iowa Starting Line last month. I would not be surprised to see another Democrat file to run for this seat, since the winner of the primary will have a good chance of being elected in November.

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