Where things stand in Iowa's Senate, Congressional races

Labor Day traditionally marks the beginning of the most intense phase of campaigning in election years. This holiday is also a good time to review the state of play in races for federal offices in odd-numbered years. Though new candidates could emerge at any time before Iowa’s March 2020 filing deadline–Patty Judge was a late arrival to the Democratic U.S. Senate field in 2016–it’s more typical for federal candidates here to kick off their campaigns by the end of summer the year before the election.

Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting system, all four U.S. House races here could be competitive in 2020, and our Senate race is on the map–in contrast to 2016, when Senator Chuck Grassley’s re-election was almost a foregone conclusion.

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IA-01: Strong fundraising for Abby Finkenauer and Ashley Hinson

Iowa’s first Congressional district will be among the country’s top-targeted U.S. House races next year. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate this district a toss-up, for good reason. Although voter registration numbers slightly favor Democrats, voters in northwest Iowa swung heavily to Donald Trump and to Republicans for down-ballot offices in 2016.

Three Republican candidates have announced plans to challenge first-term U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer, but at this writing, only State Representative Ashley Hinson appears relevant to the conversation. Thomas Hansen announced his candidacy on May 1, but his first Federal Election Commission filing shows just one donation from the candidate and one expenditure for gas, leaving $18.36 cash on hand. (FEC staff have already dinged Hansen for not filing his campaign’s statement of organization on time.) The third GOP candidate, Darren White, filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC last month but has not filed a July quarterly, indicating that he has not raised or spent any significant sum.

Former U.S. Representative Rod Blum, who lost to Finkenauer in 2018, raised nothing during the second quarter and spent only a token amount to keep campaign e-mail accounts working. Blum paid for some polling during the first quarter and has not ruled out running for Congress again. Republican insiders appear to prefer Hinson, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed in detail here.

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IA-01: First thoughts on a possible Rod Blum-Abby Finkenauer rematch

Thomas Nelson of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier was first to report last week that former U.S. Representative Rod Blum’s campaign has spent $11,365 on polling this year. Blum’s quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission showed two disbursements to the candidate’s longtime pollster in early January.

The payments exceeded the $4,119 Blum for Congress owed The Polling Company at the end of December, indicating that Blum commissioned new surveys in the first district and wasn’t merely settling debts left over from the 2018 campaign.

While I have not been able to find details about the questions asked, his campaign likely tested voters’ views on key issues as well as approval and favorability numbers for himself and Representative Abby Finkenauer. Blum hasn’t ruled out running for office again. Nelson noted that he appeared at a Jones County GOP event on April 11.

No Republican has confirmed plans to run against Finkenauer. I see Blum as a weaker challenger than State Representative Ashley Hinson, who has said she’s considering the race and will make her intentions known after the legislative session ends.

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Republicans are worried about Iowa Senate district 30, with good reason

Voters in Cedar Falls, Hudson, and part of Waterloo will elect a new state senator on March 19. Three candidates are on the ballot for Iowa Senate district 30: Republican Walt Rogers, Democrat Eric Giddens, and Libertarian Fred Perryman.

Republicans took some advantages into this campaign, which is on a shortened timetable because Senator Jeff Danielson resigned during the legislative session. Rogers was better-known than Giddens, and Governor Kim Reynolds scheduled the vote during spring break for the University of Northern Iowa and Cedar Falls public schools, when many people in Democratic-leaning constituencies would likely be out of town.

But since Bleeding Heartland previewed this race in late February, Giddens has emerged as the favorite. Republicans tacitly acknowledged their weaknesses by launching a second over-the-top negative television commercial on March 15, rather than closing on what was supposed to be Rogers’ selling point: giving Black Hawk County and UNI a voice in the Iowa Senate majority caucus.

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IA-01: How would Ashley Hinson match up against Abby Finkenauer?

UPDATE: Hinson filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on May 13.

“I am considering my options and hope to make a decision in the next few weeks,” State Representative Ashley Hinson told WHO-TV’s Dave Price on January 18 regarding a possible campaign for Congress in 2020.

Since former state lawmaker Abby Finkenauer defeated U.S. Representative Rod Blum in November, insiders in both parties have speculated that Hinson could be the GOP’s best chance for winning back the first Congressional district. Both parties will certainly target this race, rated a toss-up by Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report.

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