Democratic declines in key counties: A turnout or persuasion problem?

Twelfth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

One of the hottest debates in Democratic activist circles relates to strategy for winning statewide and national elections. Does the party need to fix a base turnout problem by nominating contenders who will inspire passionate support among progressives? Or is the more urgent task appealing to voters who used to back Democrats, but lately have favored Republican candidates?

This post doesn’t claim to settle that argument, but searches for clues in the results and turnout rates from key Iowa counties where Fred Hubbell underperformed in his bid to unseat Governor Kim Reynolds.

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How Iowa's 2018 Congressional hopefuls did compared to Clinton, Trump

Eleventh in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

David Wasserman, U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, planted the seed for this post when he observed last month,

Iowans Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) and Cindy Axne (IA-03) delivered two of those newly-Democratic House seats. I wondered: how did they and their opponents perform compared to their party’s last presidential nominee?

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Lessons of 2018: Three keys to Abby Finkenauer's win in IA-01

Tenth in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2018 state and federal elections.

Abby Finkenauer’s triumph over two-term U.S. Representative Rod Blum in the first Congressional district was one of this year’s most satisfying wins for Iowa Democrats.

The outcome wasn’t unexpected; leading forecasters saw IA-01 as a “lean Democratic” district for two months. Even so, the pick-up was hardly a given. Iowans tend to re-elect incumbents. Some of the 20 counties in IA-01 experienced the state’s biggest swings toward Republicans in 2016, and Blum ran about 5 points better than Donald Trump did in his district. Last month, Blum and his allies had claimed the incumbent was gaining on Finkenauer in internal polling.

But Blum’s campaign strategy–an aggressive mix of race-baiting television commercials, taxpayer-funded mailings that resembled electioneering, and Trump-like petty shots at journalists–couldn’t deliver the goods. Finkenauer received 170,342 votes to 153,442 for the incumbent (51.0 percent to 45.9 percent), according to official results.

Let’s take a closer look at how the second-youngest woman ever elected to Congress (after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York) assembled that margin of victory.

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Iowa and national 2018 election results thread

Polls just closed in Iowa, and I will update this thread frequently throughout the night as results come in. Separate posts on some of the statewide and Congressional races will be forthcoming once the outcome is clear. The Secretary of State’s website is compiling vote totals here. Anecdotal evidence suggests turnout far exceeded 2014 levels on election day.

Early voting already set a record for an Iowa midterm election. This post includes tables showing absentee ballots requested and returned in all four Congressional districts from October 9 through November 6. The numbers aren’t quite final; absentee ballots can be hand-delivered to county auditors today, and ballots arriving by mail later this week can be counted with a postmark dated November 5 or earlier.

What we know: at least 538,043 Iowans voted before election day this year. The total early vote in 2014 was 465,166. Iowa Democrats cast 186,269 early ballots in 2014. As of this morning, 230,294 Democrats had already voted. Republicans cast 178,653 early ballots in 2014 and were at 189,961 this morning. Turnout among no-party Iowa voters typically drops sharply in non-presidential years. Four years ago, 99,491 independents cast ballots; the comparable number today is 114,878.

Earlier today, I reviewed the nine Iowa Senate races most likely to be competitive and 20 Iowa House races that will likely decide control of the lower chamber.

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