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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Frank Wood, Ross Paustian rematch coming in Iowa House district 92

Via John Deeth’s blog I learned that former Republican State Representative Ross Paustian announced plans last week to run for the Iowa House again in 2014. Paustian fell short in his 2008 challenge to Democratic State Representative Elesha Gayman. When she did not seek re-election in 2010, he defeated Democratic opponent Sheri Carnahan by more than 1,500 votes. Former Democratic State Senator Frank Wood defeated Paustian last year by more than 700 votes, despite being outspent heavily during the campaign. In fact, Wood was the only Iowa House Democratic candidate who won in 2012 despite having unanswered television commercials run against him.

Wood confirmed this morning by telephone that he plans to seek re-election in House district 92. His rematch against Paustian will likely be among a dozen or so races that determine control of the Iowa House in 2015 and 2016. Neither party has a strong voter registration advantage. As of September 2013, House district 92 contained 6,563 registered Democrats, 5,993 Republicans, and 9,813 no-party voters. President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in the district by roughly 54 percent to 45 percent. On the other hand, midterm election year turnout often favors Republicans.

Given Paustian’s success in 2010, I expect House GOP leaders to invest heavily in recapturing this seat. As a “fifth-generation farmer and past president of the Scott County Farm Bureau and Scott County Pork Producers,” Paustian should receive plenty of conservative interest group funding too.

Wood has strong ties in the community as a former mayor of Eldridge and an associate principal at North Scott High School. He is also a district director in one region of the Iowa High School Athletic Directors Association and a past “Athletic Director of the Year” for the Mississippi Athletic Conference. This year Wood served as the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

A detailed map of House district 92 is after the jump. The redistricting plan adopted in 2011 only slightly changed the configuration of the district, which covers part of Davenport, several rural townships in western Scott County, and the towns Eldridge, Blue Grass, and Walcott.

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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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