Final look at the 2020 Iowa House landscape, with ratings

Politics watchers from around the country are watching Iowa’s U.S. Senate race today, but arguably the battle for the Iowa House is more important for our state’s future. Democrats need a net gain of four seats for a majority or three seats for a 50-50 chamber that would block the worst excesses of the Republican trifecta.

The 2020 playing field is even larger than usual, in part because Democrats finally have the resources to compete with Republicans in the battleground House districts.

I enclose below a brief final look at each House district, with the latest voter registration figures (as of November 2), absentee ballot totals (as of November 3), campaign spending by both parties, and recent voting history. This post from early October has more background on each campaign, which influenced my ratings.

Democrats have good prospects to win control of the chamber, with many potential targets. If Republicans cling to a majority, it will probably be with only 51 seats.

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A clear choice: Todd Prichard over Craig Clark in Iowa House district 52

Floyd County Democrat Susan Nelson reviews the campaign in the Iowa House minority leader’s district. -promoted by Laura Belin

An election is an opportunity for the two dominant political parties to show us their visions for the future, explain the policies they hope to enact, and present us with two competent people to choose from. In theory, the candidates representing the Republicans and the Democrats should be the best the parties can come up with for the districts they will represent.

That is the ideal, but then there is the real world. In the race for Iowa House District 52 Representative, the Republican candidate is so far from ideal that his own party tried to keep him off the ballot.

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New look at the 2020 Iowa House landscape (post-filing edition)

Now that the deadline for candidates to qualify for the June primary ballot has passed, it’s time to revisit the 2020 Iowa House landscape. (A separate overview of state Senate races is in progress.)

Republicans now hold a 53-47 majority in the lower chamber, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats for control. Thanks to our state’s nonpartisan redistricting system, more than a dozen House districts should be highly competitive. This post covers 22 House districts that could fall into that category. One or both parties spent significant funds on twenty Iowa House races in 2018, not counting House districts 82 or 16, where Republican candidates ended up winning by small margins.

Since Bleeding Heartland first reviewed the House landscape last May, both parties have had some recruiting successes, while other districts still lack a top-tier challenger. The Secretary of State published the full list of Democratic and GOP primary candidates here. In some races that are currently uncontested, major parties may get candidates on the ballot later by holding a special nominating convention.

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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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Dems contesting far more Iowa House, Senate seats than in 2010 or 2014

Democrats are fielding a nearly full slate of Iowa House and Senate candidates this year, leaving far fewer GOP-held seats unchallenged than in the last two midterm elections.

The improvement is particularly noticeable in the Iowa House, where Republicans have an unusually large number of open seats to defend. Twelve of the 59 GOP state representatives are retiring, and a thirteenth seat (House district 43) is open due to Majority Leader Chris Hagenow’s move to safer Republican territory in Dallas County.

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Labor Day weekend open thread

Happy Labor Day, Bleeding Heartland readers! If you are enjoying a three-day weekend, thank the labor activists from past generations who made it possible. In fact, go ahead and thank the organized labor movement for every weekend off.

The Iowa Policy Project’s latest report on the Cost of Living in Iowa found that “Nearly 114,000 Iowa families”–close to 19 percent of the state’s working households–“do not earn enough to provide for a basic standard of living without public supports, despite one or more full-time wage earners in the family.” Part 1 estimates how much a family needs to get by in Iowa, taking into account expenses for “rent, utilities, food prepared at home, child care, health care, transportation, clothing and other household necessities,” but not “savings, loan payments, education expenses, any entertainment or vacation, social or recreational travel, or meals outside the home.” Part 2 explores how many Iowa families aren’t earning enough to cover essentials, and shows that “rural regions have substantially higher shares of working families with incomes below self-sufficiency.”

For political junkies, Labor Day kicks off the most intense phase of the general election campaign. Candidates at all levels can use help identifying supporters and getting them signed up to vote early. Direct voter contacts are particularly important for state legislative races. I highly recommend Laura Hubka’s 15 tips for volunteers knocking on doors. Two years ago, I posted my own canvassing dos and don’ts.

One of my funniest door-knocking experiences happened on this day last year. I was canvassing in Beaverdale for Des Moines school board candidate Heather Anderson. Normally I would not be out on a holiday, but the school board election was scheduled for September 8, the day after Labor Day. One house on my walk list already had a Heather Anderson sign in the yard. I decided to knock anyway, in case the supporter needed extra literature to give to friends and neighbors, or a reminder about the polling place location and opening hours. During our conversation, the voter said, “You know who else is for Heather? Bleeding Heartland. She’s on our side.” Yeah, I heard that

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear at the Quad Cities Labor picnic later today. I’ll update later with a few links. I enclose below a video her campaign released this week featuring Ruline Steininger, a 103-year-old supporter in Des Moines. Echoing what I’ve heard from many women including former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and my mother-in-law, Steininger commented that when she was in high school, the only career options were to become a teacher or a nurse. She views Clinton as “more prepared” than anyone has ever been for the presidency, and also thinks her election would let “little girls know that you can be anything you want to be in this country. People won’t have to wonder whether they’re going to be a school teacher or a nurse. The sky’s the limit now. You can be president.”

I only knew one of my grandparents well. Although I didn’t get many chances to talk politics with my grandmother, I’m confident that if she were still alive, she also would be voting for Clinton. Having been active in the Sioux City Maternal Women’s Health League (later a founding organization in Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa) during the 1940s, she probably would not need to hear more than “defund Planned Parenthood” to turn her off voting for any Republican.

Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush reported for National Public Radio this week on the Donald Trump campaign’s “jaw-dropping gap in the ground game.” Clinton has “more than three times the number” of field offices in battleground states. In Iowa, Democrats have at least 25 “coordinated campaign” offices open around the state, possibly more by now. Trump and the Republican Party of Iowa have nine offices open, according to NPR’s data.

Speaking of jaw-dropping: Trump’s volunteers, including those participating online, are being asked to sign an absurdly broad and in some places illegal “non disclosure form.” Among other things, the volunteer must promise not to “demean or disparage” the Trump campaign or any member of Trump’s family or any Trump business, “during the time of your service and at all times thereafter.” Attorneys tell me this document probably would not be enforceable because of legal flaws such as lack of consideration. The illegal part: requiring volunteers to promise that none of their employees will volunteer for Clinton.

Thanks to all the readers whose accounts informed Thursday’s post on Republican message-testing in key Iowa House races. Democratic State Representative Todd Prichard posted on Facebook that his wife was a respondent on one of these calls. Good news: she’s still voting for him, even after hearing all the awful things he supposedly did. I am seeking details about similar telephone surveys that may be ongoing in battleground Iowa Senate districts. My e-mail address is near the lower right corner of this screen.

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