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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How not to retire from the Iowa legislature (revisited)

A few months ago, Bleeding Heartland criticized the practice of longtime Iowa legislators announcing their retirements within a day or two of the filing deadline for primary candidates. Too many incumbents in both parties have pulled that stunt over the years. Respect for one’s constituents demands giving people outside a small circle of party activists a few weeks, or ideally a few months, to consider running for the Iowa House or Senate.

Yesterday, State Representative Henry Rayhons demonstrated an even worse way to retire from the Iowa legislature. Just eleven days before the deadline for getting a candidate on the general election ballot, the nine-term Iowa House Republican announced that he would not seek re-election, citing “ongoing family and health matters.” Rae Yost reported for the Mason City Globe-Gazette that the Rayhons family “has been dealing with issues regarding appointment of a guardian and conservator” for the 78-year-old lawmaker’s wife.

Rayhons should have announced his retirement earlier this year, anticipating that he would be unable to serve another two-year term. Then other Republicans could have competed in a primary to represent Iowa House district 8, covering part of Kossuth County and all of Hancock and Wright counties. Now only a handful of GOP activists will have a say in choosing Rayhons’ successor. They need to convene a nominating convention in the middle of vacation season and the Iowa State Fair. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Nancy Huisinga in a district that strongly favors Republicans in voter registrations and presidential voting in 2012.

Arguably, Rayhons should have stepped aside gracefully three years ago, after Iowa’s new map of political boundaries threw him and two House GOP colleagues into House district 8. Instead, House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer moved to the Clear Lake area to run in House district 52. It made no sense for Upmeyer to defer to an eight-term backbencher like Rayhons when doing so meant bigfooting Gabe Haugland, the ambitious young Republican who was already planning to run in HD-52. Everyone could see that Rayhons didn’t have a long political career ahead of him and wasn’t a key member of the House GOP caucus. We haven’t seen the last of Haugland, who was elected to the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee earlier this year. But he could be seeking a second term in a safe Iowa House seat by now if Rayhons had allowed Upmeyer to stay in HD-08.

I’m glad there is no mandatory retirement age for Iowa legislators, but sometimes our older incumbents are too reluctant to step aside for a younger generation.

UPDATE: I was sorry to hear that Donna Lou Young Rayhons passed away on August 8.

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58 Iowa House seats uncontested, including a dozen in competitive Senate districts

In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.

Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it’s rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)

After the jump I’ve enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.

A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.

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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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