Lessons of 2020: Every Iowa Congressional district favors Republicans

Seventh in a series interpreting the results of Iowa’s 2020 state and federal elections.

Hawaii became the 50th state to certify its 2020 election results this week. The Cook Political Report’s national popular vote tracker shows Joe Biden received 81,282,376 votes (51.3 percent) to 74,222,576 votes for Donald Trump (46.9 percent).

With the books closed on the popular vote for president, we can fill in some details on a reality that came into focus last month: Iowa no longer has any Democratic-leaning U.S. House districts.

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Messaging matters in political campaigns

Bruce Lear: Iowa Democrats trying to appeal to independent voters fell victim to messaging from safe Democratic districts, where slogans only have to appeal to one party. -promoted by Laura Belin

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Democratic strategists should read and re-read this quote before every campaign.

The election corpse isn’t cold and the autopsy knives are sharpened and poised to attack. What happened in Iowa? I’ve no ambitions to become a full-time paid pundit, but here are some thoughts.

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First thoughts on another disastrous election for Iowa Democrats

Bleeding Heartland will analyze the Iowa election results from many perspectives in the coming weeks. For now, let’s review the big picture: just like in 2016, the outcome was more devastating than any Democrat’s worst nightmare.

Turnout set a new record: Iowans cast at least 1,697,102 ballots, roughly 107,000 more than the high water mark of 1,589,951 people voting in the 2012 presidential election.

But as we learned in November 2018, high turnout doesn’t only help Democrats.

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The art of showing up: J.D. Scholten in Iowa's fourth district

Susan Nelson: If J.D. Scholten goes to Washington, he will carry with him thousands of stories told by rural people struggling to keep their heads above water. -promoted by Laura Belin

The conventional wisdom about the congressional race in Iowa’s fourth district is that Republican Randy Feenstra is going to win, not because he’s Randy Feenstra, but because he’s a Republican. That conventional wisdom about IA-04 was nearly proved wrong in 2018, when Democrat J.D. Scholten lost to Representative Steve King by a little more than three percentage points. The near-miss helped the Republican congressional leadership decide to defenestrate King from congressional committees because he was a little too obvious about being a white supremacist. Four conservative candidates went after him in the primary, and Feenstra won.

Is IA-04 still a rural red district where Democratic ambitions go to die, or is Scholten going to finish the job he started two years ago? Without King on the ballot, will he still attract 25,000 Republican crossover votes? We will not know the answer until at least election night, or later. But Scholten has a lot going for him.

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Top Iowa Republicans dare not distance themselves from Trump

President Donald Trump’s unhinged and at times frightening behavior during his first televised debate “worried” and “alarmed” some of his most influential allies. The next day, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Washington Republicans criticized the president’s failure to condemn white supremacists. Former Republican National Committee chair Marc Racicot even revealed that he had decided to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, after concluding Trump is “dangerous to the existence of the republic as we know it.”

True to form, Iowa Republicans offered no hint of dissent from the president this week. They either said nothing about Trump’s debate performance or put a positive spin on it.

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Iowa absentee ballot numbers in the 2020 general election

Early voting won’t begin in Iowa until October 5, but signs already point to a high-turnout election, with many more Iowans casting early ballots than in the past. By September 25, more than five weeks before this year’s election, 583,944 people–more a quarter of Iowa’s 2 million active registered voters–had requested an absentee ballot. That number doesn’t include anyone planning to vote early in person next month.

Just before the 2016 presidential election, 693,709 Iowans had requested absentee ballots, and county auditors had received 653,438 completed ballots. We should surpass that number well before November 3. About 41 percent of Iowans voted early in 2016, but the COVID-19 pandemic will surely push that percentage higher.

I will update this page every weekday with the latest absentee ballot numbers released by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, presented in two tables.

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