Sixteen Iowa Senate races to watch, with ratings

Iowans will elect 25 state senators today. Those races have attracted far less attention than this year’s Iowa House races, because Republicans have a lopsided 32-18 majority in the upper chamber and only a 53-47 advantage in the House.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep an eye on the Senate races, because this year’s outcome will influence Democratic prospects under the new map coming in 2021.

This overview covers five districts where both parties are spending six-figure amounts, seven districts where Republicans spent a significant amount, and four more districts where the results could shed light on political trends in various parts of the state, even though neither Democrats nor Republicans targeted the race.

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Iowa Senate district 8 preview: Dan Dawson vs. Steve Gorman

Every election, a handful of Iowa legislative races turn out to be far closer than expected. One of the sleepers in 2018 was Steve Gorman’s rematch against Republican State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa in House district 16, covering part of Council Bluffs.

Hanusa was a four-term incumbent and had defeated Gorman by 6,847 votes to 5,120 (57.2 percent to 42.8 percent) in 2016. Last year, Republicans spent about $83,000 on direct mail, radio, and digital advertising for Hanusa (see here and here), far less than they spent in districts they worried about losing. By the same token, Democrats spent at least $100,000 in more than a dozen Iowa House races during the 2018 campaign, including $128,000 defending the other Council Bluffs-based seat. Gorman had to raise all of the $24,405.45 the party spent on his behalf.

Nevertheless, Gorman nearly pulled off an upset, losing to Hanusa by 4,949 votes to 4,835 (49.5 percent to 48.4 percent), with 208 votes going to Libertarian Steve Sechrest. Now Gorman’s the first announced Democratic candidate for a Republican-held Iowa Senate seat. Both parties will surely take his challenge seriously in 2020.

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