New thread on competitive Iowa Senate races

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland posted a thread dedicated to the Iowa Senate races. Democrats go into the election with a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, where 25 of the 50 districts are on the ballot this year. Only a handful of those races appear to be competitive.

Carolyn Fiddler, who blogs about state legislative races here, has rated the Iowa Senate as a “Tossup/Tilt D” chamber on her list of state legislative chambers most likely to flip. In those terms, I consider the Iowa Senate a “lean D” chamber, as a lot has to break for Republicans to get them to 26 seats.

In theory, Democrats are defending six seats: five incumbents have challengers, and one Democratic-held seat is open. In reality, Republicans have failed to mount strong challengers against Amanda Ragan in Senate district 27 or Tod Bowman in Senate district 29. Moreover, the Iowa GOP is not putting significant money behind Jeremy Davis, its challenger in Senate district 23. Davis has just started running some positive radio ads in the Des Moines area, whereas radio commercials were launched more than a month ago in the targeted races.

The Democratic incumbent who appears to be most at risk is Daryl Beall in Senate district 5. His territory changed quite a bit with redistricting, and Mitt Romney carried it in the 2012 presidential election. Republicans are also making a strong play for the open Senate district 15. Both parties have been running radio ads since late September, but as of last week only Democrats were on television in Senate district 15, with a positive spot about Chaz Allen. To a lesser extent, Republicans have put money behind Brian Schmidt’s campaign in Senate district 49, but the demographics of that district favor incumbent Senator Rita Hart.

Republicans could win two of the Democratic-held Iowa Senate seats, but that won’t get them to the magic 26 unless they hold all of their current seats. Two of those are heavily targeted. In the open Senate district 39, both parties have been advertising on the radio for more than a month. Democrats have invested far more in television ads (all positive for Kevin Kinney) than Republicans have for Mike Moore.

The other Republican-held Senate seat most at risk appears to be Senate district 41. By voter registration and top of the ticket performance, this should be a Democratic seat. The best thing going for State Senator Mark Chelgren is that Mariannette Miller-Meeks is the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district. She’s an underdog against Representative Dave Loebsack, but a strong turnout for her in the Ottumwa area would benefit Chelgren, as it did in 2010.

Carolyn Fiddler encouraged readers to keep an eye on Senate district 47, but even though Barack Obama carried that district in 2012, it would be an upset for Maria Bribriesco to defeat incumbent Roby Smith. That said, Democrats have hit SD-47 with quite a bit of direct mail.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that surrogates have gotten involved with many of these races. Senator Tom Harkin headlined an October 27 rally in Fort Dodge for Beall. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did an event earlier this month for Steve Siegel in Senate district 41. On the Republican side, Governor Terry Branstad has been in Ottumwa recently to help Chelgren and plans events for the GOP candidates in Senate districts 15 and 39 soon.

SECOND UPDATE: Tim Kraayenbrink, the GOP challenger to Beall in Senate district 5, has just started running a positive television commercial in the Des Moines market. The gist is that he’s a small business owner, unlike “career politicians in Des Moines.” I haven’t caught it on tape yet but am fairly certain he did not mention Beall by name.

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Both parties targeting Iowa Senate district 15 race between Chaz Allen, Crystal Bruntz

In recent weeks, I’ve heard from various sources that Republicans were shifting resources toward the race in Iowa Senate district 15. The longtime Democratic seat covering most of Jasper County and eastern Polk County is open because of Senator Dennis Black’s retirement. A district map is after the jump.

Confirming that Senate district 15 is a priority for both parties, positive ads for both candidates are now running on Des Moines area radio stations. Forty days before the election is relatively early for paid advertising to begin in an Iowa state legislative campaign, but with more Iowans voting by absentee ballot, candidates can’t afford to wait.

After the jump I’ve posted the transcript of the radio spot promoting Republican Crystal Bruntz and what I could remember from the Democratic ad promoting Chaz Allen. I’ll update this post with a full transcript if I can catch it on tape. UPDATE: Added the transcript below.

Allen’s commercial sounds more effective to me. For part of the time, the candidate speaks in his own voice, and the script connects him to economic development in the Newton area, where he was mayor and now heads the Jasper County Economic Development Corporation. The Republican ad for Bruntz wraps biographical information around a more generic “she’ll help grow the economy for our children” message. It does not give listeners any clue where the candidate is running for state Senate. The pro-Bruntz spot has one good feature: it doesn’t start out sounding like a political ad, which probably keeps some listeners from instantly changing the station.

I will be surprised if Bruntz pulls out a victory here. My sense is that Republicans are targeting Senate district 15 for lack of a better idea. Having failed to recruit a top-tier candidate in Senate district 27, they seem to recognize that beating three-term State Senator Amanda Ragan of Mason City isn’t in the cards. But Republicans need at least two pickups to gain an Iowa Senate majority (assuming they hold all their current seats, no easy task). Aside from Ragan’s seat, the only other Democratic-held district on the ballot where Republicans have a voter registration advantage is Senate district 5, now held by Daryl Beall of Fort Dodge. They will go all-out for Beall’s seat, but they need at least one more gain.

Not only is Senate district 15 an open seat, it looks fairly competitive on paper with 13,869 active Democrats, 12,632 Republicans, and 13,542 no-party voters according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. That’s more promising for the GOP than other seats they could shoot for. I can’t see a Steve King staffer winning Ames-based Senate district 23. The Republican nominee in Senate district 29 is an amateur who had $50 in the bank four months before the election. While Republicans have an experienced office-holder running in Senate district 49, the voter registration numbers favor Democrats more there, and Senator Rita Hart is a hard-working incumbent.

Any comments about the Iowa Senate races are welcome in this thread. I appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers on any direct mail, radio or television advertising for or against state legislative candidates. You can either post a comment on this site or send a confidential message to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

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Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I’ll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I’m interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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58 Iowa House seats uncontested, including a dozen in competitive Senate districts

In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.

Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it’s rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)

After the jump I’ve enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.

A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.

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Tom Shaw retiring from Iowa House, rules out running in Senate district 5

Republican State Representative Tom Shaw announced on Facebook last night that he will not seek re-election in Iowa House district 10. Defending his “no compromise” approach to serving in the legislature since his first election in 2010, Shaw quoted a retired California legislator as saying, “When we give in to liberals, even an inch, we’re not compromising; we’re abdicating our rights and our honor.” Shaw and his close allies, State Representatives Kim Pearson and Glen Massie, were perhaps best known for helping to block in committee and later voting against a 20-week abortion ban bill, on the grounds that it did not go far enough to end abortions. Pearson and Massie both retired from the Iowa House rather than seek re-election in 2012. Last year, Shaw could persuade only ten of his Republican colleagues to co-sponsor his more extreme version of a “personhood” bill declaring life to start at conception.

Iowa House district 10 covers Humboldt, Pocahontas, and Calhoun counties, plus portions of Webster County (but not Fort Dodge). I’ve posted a map after the jump. It leans strongly Republican, with nearly 3,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats as of January 2014.  

Shaw confirmed by telephone this morning that he is retiring from the state legislature and will not consider running against Democratic State Senator Daryl Beall in Iowa Senate district 5. Shaw’s retirement may be good news for Beall, as the open Iowa House seat comprising half the district should draw more Republican interest than taking on a three-term incumbent in a much more competitive Senate district. Beall currently has one declared challenger, Fort Dodge-based financial adviser Tim Kraayenbrink.

UPDATE: The first candidate to declare for Shaw’s seat was Mike Sexton, who was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1998 but retired after one term. I’ve posted background after the jump. I would guess that an experienced candidate and former legislator would have been a tougher challenger to Beall than Kraayenbrink. But not surprisingly, Sexton sees the open House seat as an easier path back to the statehouse. I would guess that at least one tea party oriented candidate will compete against Sexton in the House district 10 primary.

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Mike Gronstal sees eight competitive Iowa Senate races

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is “fairly confident” going into this year’s state legislative elections, he told Mike Glover in a recent interview. He cited a “pretty good message” to take to voters as well as a “a slight advantage on the map” that will allow Democrats to play “a little less defense and a little more offense,” compared to 2012.

I agree with Gronstal that Democrats are better positioned now to hold their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber than they were at the same point two years ago. Follow me after the jump for a quick look at the eight districts the Senate majority leader expects to be targeted this fall.

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