Republican State Representative Josh Byrnes will not run against Democratic State Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm in Iowa Senate district 26 next year. The Iowa House Transportation Committee chair has thrown his hat in the ring to replace Kraig Paulsen as House speaker. Regardless of how the speaker contest goes, Byrnes confirmed to Bleeding Heartland, "I am not running for Senate."
The news will lift Democratic spirits, as Byrnes would have been the obvious GOP recruit for this competitive Senate district. Democrats hold a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, and Republicans will almost certainly target Wilhelm next year.
First elected to the upper chamber in 2008, the former Howard County supervisor was the Iowa Senate incumbent re-elected by the narrowest margin in 2012. Redistricting pitted Wilhelm against GOP State Senator Merlin "Build my fence" Bartz, whom she defeated by just 126 votes in a district where Barack Obama carried 55.6 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Byrnes was re-elected to the Iowa House by more than 4,000 votes in 2012, even as Obama carried 55.2 percent of the vote in House district 51. Only two other Republican-held House seats went to Obama by a larger margin: House district 91 (Muscatine area) and House district 58 (Maquoketa). Byrnes easily won re-election in 2014 as well. He disagrees with his more conservative House colleagues on some high-profile issues, giving him potentially strong crossover appeal.
I haven't heard of any other Republicans taking a close look at Senate district 26. I encourage Bleeding Heartland readers who know differently to contact me. Since December 2012, Bartz has run Representative Steve King's district office in Mason City. I will be surprised if he runs for the Iowa Senate again.
Senate district 26 includes all of Worth, Mitchell, Floyd, Howard and Chickasaw counties, part of Cerro Gordo County (but not Mason City or Clear Lake) and part of Winneshiek County (but not Decorah). A detailed map is after the jump. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office, Senate district 26 contains 11,202 active registered Democrats, 11,101 Republicans, and 16,899 no-party voters.