Why Dave Loebsack's retirement makes IA-02 a toss-up race

All four Iowa Congressional districts will likely be competitive in 2020. Republicans were already targeting the first and third districts, where Representatives Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne defeated GOP incumbents last November. Democrats could make a play for IA-04, if Representative Steve King wins the GOP nomination again (as I expect).

Representative Dave Loebsack announced on April 12 that he will retire from Congress after completing his seventh term, rather than running for re-election in the second district. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report immediately changed their ratings on IA-02 from “likely Democrat” to “toss-up.”

A close look at Loebsack’s last two elections shows why that’s the right call.

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Democrats set to target Blum in IA-01; GOP will go after Loebsack in IA-02

Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting system has given our state an unusual number of competitive Congressional districts. Major-party candidates and outside groups spent millions of dollars last year in Iowa’s first district race pitting GOP Representative Rod Blum against Democratic challenger Monica Vernon, as well as in the third district, where Republican Representative David Young faced Democrat Jim Mowrer.

Not only are Democrats determined to go after IA-01 and IA-03 again in 2018, Iowa Republicans have signaled that they will try to defeat six-term Representative Dave Loebsack, who mostly got a pass in the second district during 2016.

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Election results thread: Dark days ahead

Polls just closed in Iowa. Considered a heavy favorite to win the electoral college, Hillary Clinton is in serious danger of losing the presidency. Results from swing states to the east suggest that Donald Trump is outperforming Mitt Romney in heavily white working-class and rural areas. That doesn’t bode well for our state, even if early vote numbers suggested Clinton might have a chance.

Most of the battleground state House and Senate districts are overwhelmingly white. Republicans have been able to outspend Democrats in almost all of the targeted races. We could be looking at a GOP trifecta in Iowa for the first time since 1998.

I’ll be updating this post regularly as Iowa results come in. The Secretary of State will post results here.

No surprise: the U.S. Senate race was called for Chuck Grassley immediately. He led all the late opinion polls by comfortable double-digit margins.

The rest of the updates are after the jump.

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IA-02 GOP nominee Christopher Peters joins #NeverTrump camp

Dr. Christopher Peters, the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district, announced today that he will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In a prepared statement, Peters said his “views don’t fully align with either party’s platform” and asserted that neither major-party nominee has exhibited the “character and judgment necessary to be president.” He rejected the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting, which in his view won’t “bring us closer to fixing” a “deeply flawed” political system.

Since launching his campaign in March, Peters has often promised to be an “independent voice” for Iowans, in contrast to five-term Representative Dave Loebsack, who “votes with the Democrats more than 90 percent of the time.” Up to now, he had avoided taking a clear stand on Trump’s candidacy. For example, speaking to Kevin Barry of KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids in May, Peters said, “The top of the ticket I can’t control, so I’m not going to worry about it. It’s kind of like taking the Serenity Prayer at a certain point. My focus is the second district, specifically Iowa, more broadly the country as a whole. […] I don’t think Mr. Trump cares whether I endorse him or not, because he’s rich, and I’m not that rich. So I think he’ll do just fine. […] I don’t think it affects this race too much, or in any way I can control.”

When Barry pressed Peters on whether he is behind Trump, Peters replied, “He’s got till November to earn my vote. We don’t know who all the candidates are going to be yet, and we don’t know all their policy positions. Again, if I’m an independent voice, and that’s who I am, I’ll vote [for] whoever I want to vote for in November, and I haven’t made that decision yet.”

Peters did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, nor has he appeared at any Trump campaign rally in Iowa. He spoke at U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride fundraiser in late August, but left that event before Trump’s featured speech and photo op with Iowa GOP leaders. A Libertarian candidate for Iowa Senate in 2010, Peters went to Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s rally in Des Moines over Labor Day weekend but didn’t endorse Johnson then or now.

In today’s statement, Peters said “Trump’s behavior and temperament are only a part of the problem. He has repeatedly demonstrated a poor grasp of constitutionalism, civil rights, the rule of law, the role of diplomacy versus military interventionism, and even fundamental economics. I should have spoken out against him much earlier, and regret that I failed to do so.” Scroll down to read the full commentary.

Peters and Loebsack are will attend their first candidate forum today at the Coralville Public Library, beginning at 2 pm. IA-02 leans Democratic, with a partisan voting index of D+4. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district’s 24 counties contain 171,027 active registered Democrats, 146,108 Republicans, and 172,729 no-party voters.

Although dozens of GOP members of Congress have joined the #NeverTrump ranks, Peters is the only federal candidate in Iowa willing to repudiate the party’s nominee. To my knowledge, only two other Iowa Republicans on the ballot this year have said publicly they will not vote for Trump: Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara and State Representative Ken Rizer. State Senator Jack Whitver, who is up for re-election in 2018, has called on Trump to step aside without saying whether he would vote for Trump, assuming he remains the nominee. State Senator David Johnson, whose term also runs through 2018, left the Republican Party in June to express his opposition to Trump.

Final note: While numerous Republicans cited their concern for daughters or granddaughters when denouncing the explosive Trump videotape from 2005, I applaud Peters for condemning Trump’s “character deficiencies” as a father of three teenage sons: “if I ever learned that any of them grew up to be men who conduct themselves like Trump, I would be deeply disappointed.”

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Thoughts on Gary Johnson's Des Moines rally and Iowa prospects

Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson made his first Iowa campaign stop this year over the holiday weekend. His September 3 rally in Des Moines attracted hundreds of people, making it possibly the largest Libertarian event in Iowa history. You can watch his full speech at C-SPAN or Caffeinated Thoughts.

Johnson will qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and is consistently polling far better than the Green Party’s Jill Stein, the only other minor-party candidate routinely included in public opinion surveys. I continue to hear the Libertarian’s radio ads on various Des Moines-based stations and have seen pro-Johnson television commercials by the Purple PAC on some cable networks.

The four most recent Iowa polls measured Johnson’s support at 8 percent (Emerson College), 12 percent (Quinnipiac), 6 percent (Suffolk), and 12 percent (Marist). Polls have historically overstated support for third-party candidates. Nevertheless, if the competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump remains very close here, even a 2-3 percent showing for Johnson could determine who wins Iowa’s six electoral votes.

Though I wasn’t able to attend Saturday’s rally, listening to Johnson’s stump speech reinforced my view that he is on track to outperform all previous Libertarian presidential candidates in Iowa by a considerable margin.

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Ten presidential candidates qualify for the Iowa ballot

The filing deadline to run in Iowa’s general election ended at 5 pm today, and the Secretary of State’s Office has updated the list of candidates who submitted nominating papers and petitions with enough signatures. The following ten presidential tickets will appear on Iowa ballots:

2016 presidential candidates in Iowa
Names Party affiliation
Donald J. Trump/Michael R. Pence Republican
Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine Democratic
Darrell L. Castle/Scott N. Bradley Constitution Party
Jill Stein/Ajamu Baraka Iowa Green Party
Dan R. Vacek/Mark G. Elworth Legal Marijuana Now
Gary Johnson/Bill Weld Libertarian
Lynn Kahn/Jay Stolba New Independent Party
Gloria La Riva/Dennis J. Banks Party for Socialism and Liberation
Rocky Roque De La Fuente/Michael Steinberg Nominated By Petition
Evan McMullin/Nathan Johnson Nominated By Petition

The last three public polls in Iowa put Johnson at 12 percent, 6 percent, and 12 percent in a four-way race against Clinton, Trump, and Stein. Although those surveys probably overstate Johnson’s support, the unusual unpopularity of this year’s major-party nominees gives the Libertarian a good chance to improve on all of his party’s previous showings in Iowa. Click here to view results for Libertarian presidential candidates going back to 1976. At a Polk County Democratic event last night, a number of activists were concerned that Johnson’s name was not yet on the Secretary of State’s candidate list, because Johnson is presumed to draw more support from traditionally Republican-leaning voters. Libertarian activists cut it close by submitting nominating papers today, but all’s well that ends well.

Others who filed on the last possible day included Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who launched his presidential campaign only last week, and the candidates for the New Independent Party and Legal Marijuana Now, which seem like decent names for picking up protest votes.

Five candidates qualified to run for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat: Republican Charles E. Grassley, Democrat Patty Judge, Libertarian Charles Aldrich, Jim Hennager of the New Independent Party, and Michael Luick-Thrams, “Nominated By Petition.”

Only major-party candidates will appear on the ballot in three of Iowa’s four Congressional districts: Republican Rod Blum and Democrat Monica Vernon in IA-01, Republican Christopher Peters and Democrat Dave Loebsack in IA-02, Republican Steve King and Democrat Kim Weaver in IA-04.

The field will be more crowded in IA-03, with Republican David Young, Democrat Jim Mowrer, Libertarian Bryan Jack Holder, and two candidates to be listed as “Nominated By Petition”: Claudia Addy and Joe Grandanette.

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