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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28 Iowa House races to watch in 2020, with ratings

It’s been too long since Bleeding Heartland took a comprehensive look at the Iowa House landcsape. Democrats need a net gain of four seats to gain control of the chamber, where Republicans have held a 53-47 majority since they stopped ballots from being counted in the closest race from the last election cycle.

Thanks to our state’s nonpartisan redistricting system, at least a quarter of the House races could become competitive, and more than a dozen will be targeted by both parties and some outside groups. This post covers 28 House districts that could fall into that category. One or both parties spent significant funds on twenty Iowa House races in 2018.

The playing field has changed somewhat since Bleeding Heartland last reviewed the House landscape in March. A few new contenders have declared; click here for the full list of general election candidates. In addition, some races look less competitive or more competitive now than they did six months ago.

Forthcoming posts will examine themes in television advertising for or against Iowa House candidates and late spending in these campaigns.

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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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Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa legislative races in 2019

I’ve always enjoyed writing about legislative happenings and campaigns, since my first year on the job as an analyst covering Russian domestic politics during a parliamentary election year.

While most political reporters were understandably assigned to follow the many presidential candidates visiting Iowa in 2019, I made it a priority to keep an eye on down-ballot races. The 2020 Iowa House and Senate elections may affect our daily lives more than whether Donald Trump or the Democratic nominee wins our state’s electoral votes. For one thing, breaking the GOP trifecta is the only way to guarantee that Iowa preserves nonpartisan redistricting for the coming decade.

I’m proud that Bleeding Heartland provided more in-depth coverage of potentially competitive state legislative races than any other Iowa news source this year. All of those stories are linked below.

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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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Republicans are worried about Iowa Senate district 30, with good reason

Voters in Cedar Falls, Hudson, and part of Waterloo will elect a new state senator on March 19. Three candidates are on the ballot for Iowa Senate district 30: Republican Walt Rogers, Democrat Eric Giddens, and Libertarian Fred Perryman.

Republicans took some advantages into this campaign, which is on a shortened timetable because Senator Jeff Danielson resigned during the legislative session. Rogers was better-known than Giddens, and Governor Kim Reynolds scheduled the vote during spring break for the University of Northern Iowa and Cedar Falls public schools, when many people in Democratic-leaning constituencies would likely be out of town.

But since Bleeding Heartland previewed this race in late February, Giddens has emerged as the favorite. Republicans tacitly acknowledged their weaknesses by launching a second over-the-top negative television commercial on March 15, rather than closing on what was supposed to be Rogers’ selling point: giving Black Hawk County and UNI a voice in the Iowa Senate majority caucus.

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