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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Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa legislative races in 2019

I’ve always enjoyed writing about legislative happenings and campaigns, since my first year on the job as an analyst covering Russian domestic politics during a parliamentary election year.

While most political reporters were understandably assigned to follow the many presidential candidates visiting Iowa in 2019, I made it a priority to keep an eye on down-ballot races. The 2020 Iowa House and Senate elections may affect our daily lives more than whether Donald Trump or the Democratic nominee wins our state’s electoral votes. For one thing, breaking the GOP trifecta is the only way to guarantee that Iowa preserves nonpartisan redistricting for the coming decade.

I’m proud that Bleeding Heartland provided more in-depth coverage of potentially competitive state legislative races than any other Iowa news source this year. All of those stories are linked below.

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Iowa Senate district 32 preview: Craig Johnson vs. Pam Egli

Republicans won six Democratic-held Iowa Senate districts in 2016. All of them were among the eighteen Iowa Senate districts where voters had favored President Barack Obama in 2012 but Donald Trump four years later.*

Some of the largest swings toward Trump occurred in northeast Iowa. Parts of four counties make up Senate district 32, where Democrat Pam Egli recently announced that she will challenge first term State Senator Craig Johnson.

While this race does not currently appear to be among the best 2020 pickup opportunities for Democrats in the upper chamber, it could become competitive. Either way, state legislative elections in this part of Iowa will be important to watch for signs of whether Republicans are able consolidate their 2016 gains.

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The truth about that so-called "trolley for lobbyists"

Iowa Republicans have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this fall on television commercials and direct mail highlighting supposedly wasteful spending by Democratic state lawmakers. For the fourth election cycle in a row, many of these attacks repeat zombie lies from the 2010 campaign about money spent on “heated sidewalks” and a “trolley for lobbyists.”

As Bleeding Heartland explained here, Iowa House and Senate Democrats never approved money for heated sidewalks. They simply rejected a GOP amendment to a 2010 appropriations bill, which would have prohibited using state funds for “geothermal systems for melting snow and ice from streets or sidewalks.” The amendment was pointless, because planners of the award-winning streetscape project in question had already ruled out heated sidewalks in favor of porous pavement.

What about the Republican hit pieces claiming Democrats spent money on a “trolley for lobbyists”?

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Iowa Senate district 32 preview: Brian Schoenjahn vs. Craig Johnson

To win control of the Iowa Senate, where Democrats have held a 26 to 24 majority for the last six years, Republicans will need to beat at least two Democratic incumbents. One of their top targets is Senator Brian Schoenjahn, who is seeking a fourth term in Senate district 32.

Follow me after the jump for a map and details on the political makeup of this northeast Iowa district, along with background on Schoenjahn and his challenger Craig Johnson, the key issues for each candidate, and a look at Johnson’s first television commercial.

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