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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Chad Behn, Todd Rasmussen running in Iowa Senate district 24 (updated)

The longest-serving Iowa Senate Republican will not seek re-election, he announced on January 24.

State Senator Jerry Behn has represented districts including Boone County in the Iowa Senate for 24 years. Behn briefly ran for governor in 2009 and served as Senate minority leader from late 2011 until shortly after the 2012 election. He currently holds the positions of Senate president pro-tem and vice chair of the chamber’s Ethics Committee.

The senator’s son Chad Behn, a farmer and Boone County supervisor, launched his campaign on January 27 (news release enclosed below). Plenty of family legacy candidates have successfully run for the Iowa legislature, including House Speaker Pat Grassley (grandson of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley), former House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (daughter of onetime House Speaker Del Stromer), and State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, who represents the district that previously elected his father, current Iowa GOP state chair Jeff Kaufmann.

However, Behn will have serious competition for the GOP nomination. Boone County Republicans co-chair Todd Rasmussen created a Facebook page to promote his state Senate campaign only hours after Jerry Behn made his plans clear.

Rasmussen already has support from State Representative Phil Thompson, who was elected in House district 47 in 2018, and his brother John Thompson, a former member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee. In this photo posted on the Todd Rasmussen for Iowa Facebook page, Phil Thompson is on the far right, Rasmussen is second from right, U.S. Representative Steve King is in the center, and John Thompson is standing behind him. CORRECTION: John Thompson is not pictured here, but he has endorsed Rasmussen for Senate district 24.

No Democrats have declared in Senate district 24. Greg Piklapp told Bleeding Heartland on January 27 that he has ruled out this race to focus on his Boone City Council work and the boards and committees on which he already serves. David Weaver, the 2018 Democratic nominee in House district 47, also told me he’s not running for the Senate this year.

Tim Winter, who ran for House district 48 last cycle, said he is focused on chairing the Boone County Democrats and organizing the February 3 caucuses.

Other Democrats are said to be considering this race. It would be a long shot, given recent political trends.

Senate district 24 covers Boone, Greene, and Hamilton counties, plus some rural areas and small towns in Webster and Story counties.

Although Barack Obama narrowly outpolled Mitt Romney in this district by 50.0 percent to 48.4 percent in 2012, Behn defeated his Democratic challenger Shelly Stotts by nearly 3,000 votes (54.7 percent to 45.2 percent) the same year.

Like many other Iowa Senate districts, this area swung heavily to Donald Trump in 2016, giving him 56.0 percent of the vote to 37.4 percent for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Behn won his sixth term against Democratic challenger Keith Puntenney by more than 8,000 votes, taking 63.8 percent of ballots cast. Neither party spent significant money on this race. (Puntenney is better known for being one of the Iowa landowners who sued unsuccessfully to block the use of eminent domain to seize farmland for the Bakken pipeline.)

Even in 2018, a better year for Democrats in much of Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds gained 53.8 percent of the vote in Senate district 24, while Democratic candidate Fred Hubbell won 44.0 percent.

Republicans have represented both state House seats that are part of this Senate district for the past decade. Chip Baltimore defeated Democratic State Representative Donovan Olson by a hair in 2010, then held House district 47 until his retirement in 2018. Rob Bacon has held House district 48 since 2012; he moved down from the Iowa Senate that year after redistricting paired him up with a more senior Republican.

I will update this post as needed when other candidates emerge.

UPDATE: Kim Weaver told me on January 28 that she is considering running for this Senate seat. Weaver recently moved to Boone and is familiar with all the counties in the area, having been the 2016 Democratic nominee in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district.

LATER UPDATE: As of March 3, three Republicans had filed for the GOP nomination: Rasmussen, Joshua Dyer, and Jesse Green. The filing period ends on March 13.

FINAL UPDATE: Four Republicans and two Democrats submitted nominating papers here. The GOP primary will feature Chad Behn, Joshua Dyer, Jesse Green, and Todd Rasmussen. Keith Puntenney and Cynthia Paschen will compete for the Democratic nomination. Paschen ran for Iowa Senate district 23 in 2014, unsuccessfully challenging State Senator Herman Quirmbach in the Democratic primary.

January 27 news release:

Chad Behn Announces Candidacy for Iowa Senate District 24

BOONE – Today, Chad Behn is announcing his run Iowa Senate District 24.

“Living and farming in this area for many years, I know what rural communities have to offer and know what they need to grow,” said Behn. “My goal in the Iowa Senate will be to fight for smaller government, job growth, and ensuring our communities have what they need to prosper and succeed.”

Chad is son of Senator Jerry Behn, who announced his retirement last week.

Chad grew up in the Boone and attended Boone High School, graduating in 1996. From there went on to DMACC and graduated. Then he went to Presentation College in South Dakota, graduating in 2000 and receiving a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Chad has served as a county supervisor since 2016. Chad has been farming row crops full time for over 18 years. He is a member of the Central Iowa Community Services Mental Health Board, the Emergency Management Association Board, 911 board, and a member of the Farm Bureau. He currently lives in Boone and has two sons.

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Landowners challenge use of eminent domain for Bakken pipeline

Pipes intended for use in the Dakota Access pipeline being stored in Jasper County, Iowa during 2015. Photo provided by Wallace Taylor, used with permission.

The Iowa Utilities Board issued a permit for the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline on April 8, after declaring that Dakota Access LLC “has substantially complied with the requirements” of the board’s March 10 order. The same day, a group of agricultural landowners filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s use of eminent domain for the pipeline, intended to carry oil roughly 400 miles across eighteen counties from northwest to southeast Iowa. Litigation grounded in environmental concerns about the pipeline is expected later this year.

Follow me after the jump for more details on the land use lawsuit and ongoing efforts to block the pipeline at the federal level.

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The case for Jim Mowrer to run in Iowa Senate district 24

A lot of talented, hard-working Democrats lost last night. I can only imagine how exhausted and disappointed they feel. Among others, I’m thinking of Jim Mowrer. He fought the good fight against Representative Steve King, arguably better than King’s previous challengers, but the fourth Congressional district is too conservative for any Democrat to have a chance–especially in a Republican wave election.

Mowrer is so bright and capable, many Democrats will want him to stay involved in public service. Even Tom Harkin needed two tries to get elected the first time.

It occurred to me recently that Iowa Senate district 24 will be on the ballot in 2016. The district includes Boone, Greene and Hamilton counties, plus some areas in Webster and Story counties. A detailed map is after the jump. Boone County, where Mowrer grew up and now lives with his wife and children, contains more registered voters than Hamilton and Greene counties combined. Republicans outnumber Democrats in Senate district 24, but no-party voters outnumber both groups, and a lot more of them show up in a presidential year. Both Barack Obama and Christie Vilsack carried Boone County in 2012. Mowrer fell just short of matching King’s vote total in Boone yesterday, but he outperformed the top of the ticket by a lot in his home county. He also outpolled Bruce Braley in Hamilton and Greene counties.

Jerry Behn currently represents Iowa Senate district 24. Nancy Boettger’s retirement this year leaves Behn as the longest-serving Republican in the Iowa Senate, having won his first race in 1996. For about a year, he was minority leader, but he stepped aside shortly after failing to lead Republicans back into the majority in 2012. Stuck in the minority and locked out of caucus leadership for the foreseeable future, Behn may retire in 2016. His former right-hand man, Brad Zaun, has reportedly been telling people he won’t run for re-election again. Even if Behn seeks another term, Mowrer’s skill set and background would make him a stronger challenger than anyone Democrats have fielded against Behn lately. I’ve enclose Mowrer’s official bio below.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. – I know it’s “too early” to be talking about 2016, but you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a political junkie.

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Four strategies for interest group Iowa legislative endorsements

Many candidates for the Iowa House and Senate tout endorsements by outside groups in their campaign communications. Some of those groups pay for direct mail, phone calls, or even advertising supporting their endorsed candidates.

Iowa’s influential political action committees and advocacy groups have very different ways of getting involved in the state legislative campaign. Follow me after the jump for examples of four distinct strategies.

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Vander Plaats group on radio in two races, conspicuously absent in one

Three-time candidate for Iowa governor Bob Vander Plaats has made news this fall primarily on the “No Wiggins” campaign trail. However, the social conservative group he runs is supporting some Republican Iowa Senate candidates as well.

Last week the FAMiLY Leader launched radio advertising campaigns in two competitive Senate races–but notably, not in the district where Vander Plaats’ longtime right-hand man Matt Reisetter is running.  

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