Four ways to resolve Iowa Senate district 16 incumbent pairing

Iowa’s new legislative maps create many more match-ups between Republican incumbents than Democrats. But two first-term Democratic senators, Claire Celsi and Sarah Trone Garriott, live in the new Iowa Senate district 16. Celsi announced in early November she’ll seek re-election in the district, which covers a blue-trending portion of Des Moines’ western suburbs.

Trone Garriott hasn’t decided how to proceed and told Bleeding Heartland in a recent telephone interview that she hasn’t ruled anything out. She has “lots of options,” she said, but “none of them are easy.”

Trone Garriott’s choice may depend in part on how Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman responds to being placed in a competitive district for the first time. Will the chamber’s second-ranking Republican stay in a district Joe Biden carried, or flee to safer nearby territory?

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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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Mark Costello will represent Iowa Senate district 12

Republican State Representative Mark Costello easily won yesterday’s special election to represent Iowa Senate district 12. The seat became vacant after Joni Ernst’s victory in the U.S. Senate race. According to unofficial results posted on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, Costello received 3,068 votes, to 924 votes for Democrat Steve Adams and 131 votes for Libertarian Don Brantz. Adams deserves credit for stepping up to give voters a choice in the second- or third-most Republican Iowa Senate district. Although the Libertarians were smart to nominate a candidate here, they didn’t have anything like the Iowa GOP’s resources for voter turnout, and their nominee got the worst kind of publicity a candidate can have when he was charged with several crimes earlier this month.

Democrats retain a 26 to 24 majority in the Iowa Senate, but Costello told Radio Iowa he’s optimistic and hopeful Republicans will win a majority after the 2016 elections. They certainly will have better opportunities to gain Iowa Senate seats in the coming cycle than they did in 2014. Blowing the chance to defeat GOP State Senator Mark Chelgren this year could prove costly for Iowa Democrats.

Costello’s victory will force a special election in Iowa House district 23, which he has represented for the last two years. Like Senate district 12, the House district should be safe for Republicans, allowing them to maintain a 57 to 43 majority in the Iowa House next year.

I expect another crowded GOP nominating convention when House district 23 delegates meet to choose a new candidate. Several people who sought the GOP nomination in Senate district 12 live in communities Costello has represented. Republicans would do well to nominate a woman. It’s embarrassing that Amy Sinclair is the only woman left in their Iowa Senate caucus, and the Iowa House GOP caucus includes 51 men (including Costello) to just six women.

Iowa Senate district 12 special: Mark Costello vs. Steve Adams and Don Brantz

Republicans nominated State Representative Mark Costello for the December 30 special election to replace Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12. The district covers Mills, Fremont, Montgomery, Page, Taylor, and Ringgold counties in southwest Iowa. This post includes a map.

Seven candidates sought the GOP nomination in this strongly Republican district, containing more than twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats. Besides the five candidates Bleeding Heartland discussed here, David Sieck and Charla Schmid joined the GOP race. Sieck is a Mills County farmer who has been active on Missouri River management issues. Schmid has served several terms on the Montgomery County School Board and is active in Business and Professional Women/Iowa. She also serves on the board of directors of 50/50 in 2020, a bipartisan group encouraging more Iowa women to run for office.

The Iowa Republican’s Craig Robinson wrote up last night’s nominating convention, where Costello led from the beginning and secured the nomination on the fourth ballot.

A Democratic district convention will meet this weekend to nominate Steve Adams of Red Oak. He is a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension.

Earlier this week, Libertarians nominated Don Brantz for the Senate district 12 special. He is “a longtime Mills County supervisor and southwest Iowa social worker” who is running on a platform of increasing funding for rural schools and abolishing the state Department of Education. It’s smart for Libertarians to compete here. Odds are long, but anything can happen in a low-turnout environment, and how many people will show up to vote on December 30?

Costello is the heavy favorite. If he wins, a special election will be needed in Iowa House district 23, covering Mills and Fremont counties, plus most of Montgomery County. House Republican leaders did not assign any committee chairmanship to Costello, perhaps expecting that he would soon leave for the Iowa Senate.

Regardless of who wins the Senate district 12 special, the number of women in the Iowa Senate will drop from ten the past two years to seven for the next two years. First-termer Amy Sinclair will be the only woman in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus.  

At least five Republicans seeking to represent Iowa Senate district 12

At least five people are openly seeking the GOP nomination in Iowa Senate district 12, where a special election will be held on December 30 to replace U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst. In addition to State Representative Mark Costello and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan, Clarinda School Board member Seth Watkins, Montgomery County GOP Chair Margaret Stoldorf, and Ringgold County GOP activist Tracee Knapp have all announced their candidacies. Watkins is a grain and livestock farmer as well as a 14-year incumbent on the school board. Stoldorf is a former Montgomery County supervisor and has managed a family farm as well. Knapp works for Children and Families of Iowa and operates a cattle farm, along with her husband.

KMA Radio 99.1 has invited all the candidates to take part in a one-hour radio forum at 7 pm on Monday, December 8.  Other candidates may declare before the GOP special nominating convention on December 11. I have not yet heard of any Democratic candidate in this overwhelmingly Republican district. Ernst ran unopposed in 2012.

Special election in Iowa Senate district 12 coming on December 30

Late last week, U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst finally sent Governor Terry Branstad a letter resigning her seat in the Iowa Senate. The governor announced today that the special election to replace Ernst in Iowa Senate district 12 will take place on December 30. The district covers six southwest Iowa counties; a detailed map is after the jump.

From a voter turnout perspective, it’s not ideal to hold an election between Christmas and New Year’s, when many people are out of town. However, the real competition in Iowa Senate district 12 will be at the GOP special nominating convention. Even in a low-turnout environment, there is almost no conceivable way Democrats could win a district containing more than twice as many registered Republicans. Just one state Senate district has fewer registered Democrats than Senate district 12, and only three contain more registered Republicans.

At least two Republicans will seek the nomination for the coming special election: State Representative Mark Costello, who was first elected to the Iowa House in 2012, and Fremont County Supervisor Cara Morgan. I expect more people to throw their hats in. A few years ago, a special election in an Ankeny-based Iowa Senate district drew six GOP candidates.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I was surprised it took Ernst so long to resign her state senate seat. Her predecessor Kim Reynolds resigned more quickly after being elected lieutenant governor in 2010.  

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