First look at the Iowa Senate district 41 special election

UPDATE: Republicans selected Adrian Dickey and Democrats selected Mary Stewart at special nominating conventions on January 7. Original post follows.

Voters in a battleground southeast Iowa Senate district will soon choose a successor to Republican State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed on December 30 that the House will seat Miller-Meeks, who was certified the winner by six votes in Iowa’s second Congressional district. The same day, Miller-Meeks confirmed that she is resigning from the Iowa legislature, effective January 2.

To my knowledge, no candidate has announced plans to run in Senate district 41 early next year. During a December 30 telephone interview, Democrat Mary Stewart said she was considering the race but had no timetable for deciding. Miller-Meeks defeated Stewart in 2018 by 11,460 votes to 10,652 (51.7 percent to 48.1 percent).

Former Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren represented the district for eight years, retiring in 2018. He hadn’t heard about Miller-Meeks’ resignation before speaking to Bleeding Heartland by phone on December 30. Chelgren said he would consider running for the Senate again but wasn’t ready to give a formal statement, since he hadn’t discussed the matter with his family or Republican colleagues.

Though recent voting patterns in the area favor Republicans, turnout for a mid-winter special election is a question mark.

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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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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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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2020

The Iowa House opened its 2020 session on January 13 with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, a change from last year’s 54-46 split due to State Representative Andy McKean’s party switch shortly before lawmakers adjourned last year.

The House members include 67 men and 33 women (23 Democrats and ten Republicans). Although 34 women were elected to the chamber in 2018 (a record number), State Representative Lisa Heddens stepped down last summer, and Ross Wilburn won the special election to serve out her term in House district 46.

Five African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Wilburn) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber; the other 95 lawmakers are white. No Latino has ever been elected to the Iowa House, and there has not been an Asian-American member since Swati Dandekar moved up to the state Senate following the 2008 election. Democratic State Representative Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the lower chamber. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

After the jump I’ve posted details on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted significant changes since last year.

Some non-political trivia: the Iowa House includes two Smiths (both Democrats), while the other 98 members have different surnames. As for popular first names, there are six Davids (four go by Dave), four Marys (one goes by Mary Ann), three Roberts (a Rob, a Bob, and a Bobby), three men named Thomas (two go by Tom), three Johns and two Jons, and three men each named Gary and Brian. There are also two Elizabeths (a Beth and a Liz) and two men each named Bruce, Chris, Jeff, Michael (one goes by Mike), Ross, and Charles (a Chuck and a Charlie).

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