# SD-39 2014

New thread on competitive Iowa Senate races

It’s been a while since Bleeding Heartland posted a thread dedicated to the Iowa Senate races. Democrats go into the election with a 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber, where 25 of the 50 districts are on the ballot this year. Only a handful of those races appear to be competitive.

Carolyn Fiddler, who blogs about state legislative races here, has rated the Iowa Senate as a “Tossup/Tilt D” chamber on her list of state legislative chambers most likely to flip. In those terms, I consider the Iowa Senate a “lean D” chamber, as a lot has to break for Republicans to get them to 26 seats.

In theory, Democrats are defending six seats: five incumbents have challengers, and one Democratic-held seat is open. In reality, Republicans have failed to mount strong challengers against Amanda Ragan in Senate district 27 or Tod Bowman in Senate district 29. Moreover, the Iowa GOP is not putting significant money behind Jeremy Davis, its challenger in Senate district 23. Davis has just started running some positive radio ads in the Des Moines area, whereas radio commercials were launched more than a month ago in the targeted races.

The Democratic incumbent who appears to be most at risk is Daryl Beall in Senate district 5. His territory changed quite a bit with redistricting, and Mitt Romney carried it in the 2012 presidential election. Republicans are also making a strong play for the open Senate district 15. Both parties have been running radio ads since late September, but as of last week only Democrats were on television in Senate district 15, with a positive spot about Chaz Allen. To a lesser extent, Republicans have put money behind Brian Schmidt’s campaign in Senate district 49, but the demographics of that district favor incumbent Senator Rita Hart.

Republicans could win two of the Democratic-held Iowa Senate seats, but that won’t get them to the magic 26 unless they hold all of their current seats. Two of those are heavily targeted. In the open Senate district 39, both parties have been advertising on the radio for more than a month. Democrats have invested far more in television ads (all positive for Kevin Kinney) than Republicans have for Mike Moore.

The other Republican-held Senate seat most at risk appears to be Senate district 41. By voter registration and top of the ticket performance, this should be a Democratic seat. The best thing going for State Senator Mark Chelgren is that Mariannette Miller-Meeks is the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district. She’s an underdog against Representative Dave Loebsack, but a strong turnout for her in the Ottumwa area would benefit Chelgren, as it did in 2010.

Carolyn Fiddler encouraged readers to keep an eye on Senate district 47, but even though Barack Obama carried that district in 2012, it would be an upset for Maria Bribriesco to defeat incumbent Roby Smith. That said, Democrats have hit SD-47 with quite a bit of direct mail.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that surrogates have gotten involved with many of these races. Senator Tom Harkin headlined an October 27 rally in Fort Dodge for Beall. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley did an event earlier this month for Steve Siegel in Senate district 41. On the Republican side, Governor Terry Branstad has been in Ottumwa recently to help Chelgren and plans events for the GOP candidates in Senate districts 15 and 39 soon.

SECOND UPDATE: Tim Kraayenbrink, the GOP challenger to Beall in Senate district 5, has just started running a positive television commercial in the Des Moines market. The gist is that he’s a small business owner, unlike “career politicians in Des Moines.” I haven’t caught it on tape yet but am fairly certain he did not mention Beall by name.

Republicans left Iowa House seats uncontested in nearly every battleground Iowa Senate district

The filing period for general-election candidates closed on August 15. You can view the full candidate list for federal and state offices on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website. John Deeth briefly reviews all 100 House races here. Next month, I’ll be posting on the most competitive Iowa House races.

For today, I’m interested in what appears to be a pattern of Republicans letting Iowa House seats go in battleground Iowa Senate districts. I suspect a strategy is in play to depress GOTV in the more Democratic halves of these districts.  

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Martin O'Malley: Presidential candidate? Maybe. Clinton rival? No way.

It makes perfect sense for potential Democratic presidential candidates to visit Iowa, meeting activists and keeping their options open. That doesn’t mean any of them would run against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Case in point: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Having keynoted the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention last month, he’s coming here again this weekend, headlining events for State Senator Rita Hart and state Senate candidate Kevin Kinney on Saturday, then Council Bluffs and Sioux City events for gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch on Sunday. Politico’s Maggie Halberman notes that O’Malley “has said he’s exploring a 2016 presidential run.” A Des Moines Register headline writer termed him a “possible rival” to Clinton. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post speculated, “O’Malley is term limited out as governor at the end of this year and undoubtedly thinks a credible run for president might bolster his chances of a spot in a Clinton Administration.”

I just don’t see it. Laying the groundwork for a potential campaign is not the same thing as preparing to embark on a suicide mission. O’Malley doesn’t come across as a guy like Senator Bernie Sanders, who knows he will never be president but might run to shine a light on issues important to him. O’Malley goes way back with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He stuck with Hillary for president even after Barack Obama dominated the 2008 Maryland primary. From where I’m sitting, CNN’s Dan Merica had it exactly right when he described O’Malley as an “understudy,” “angling to be the person who could step in” if Clinton does not run for president for whatever reason. Maryland’s term limits for governors make 2016 an ideal time for O’Malley to run for president, but he’s only 51 years old–young enough to wait until 2020 or 2024 if necessary.

Meanwhile, I hope all of this weekend’s events are successful, because Hatch, Hart, and Kinney are very worth supporting.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. – Hart’s re-election bid in Senate district 49 is a must-hold for Democrats. Kinney’s running in the open Senate district 39, and if he wins, it would virtually guarantee a Democratic majority in the state legislature’s upper chamber for the next two years.

Prospects for increasing diversity in the Iowa legislature

Forty men and ten women currently serve in the Iowa Senate. No senators are African-American, Latino, or Asian-American.

Seventy-five men and 25 women currently serve in the Iowa House. Five state representatives are African-American and none are Latino or Asian-American.

Time for a look at how those numbers might change after the November election, now that primaries have determined the major-party nominees in all state legislative districts. Click here for the June 3 unofficial election results and here for the full list of candidates who filed to run in the primaries.

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Labor union endorsements in contested 2014 Iowa Democratic primaries

With less than two weeks remaining before June 3, interest groups with a preference in competitive primaries have presumably made their views known by now. On the Democratic side, labor unions are most likely to get involved in primaries, so I wanted to compile in one place the full list of candidates in competitive Democratic races who have been endorsed by one or more organized labor group. None of the Democrats seeking statewide office in Iowa this year has a primary opponent, and I’ve omitted county-level races. The list below includes candidates running for Congress in the first district and seeking various Iowa House and Senate seats.

I will update this post as needed if I learn of other labor union endorsements. Note that many other Democratic candidates already have or will have organized labor’s official support for the general election campaign. Blog for Iowa posted all of the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO’s endorsements for 2014 here. A complete list of candidates who will appear on primary ballots is on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

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58 Iowa House seats uncontested, including a dozen in competitive Senate districts

In any given general election, roughly a dozen or two of the 100 Iowa House districts are in play. A first look through the list of candidates who qualified for the primary ballot suggests that this year, fewer Iowa House districts will be competitive than in 2010 or 2012. Republicans have failed to field a candidate in 32 of the 47 Democratic-held House districts. Democrats have failed to field a candidate in 26 of the 53 Republican-held House districts.

Although a few of these districts may see major-party candidates nominated through special conventions after the primary, it’s rare for late-starting candidates to have a realistic chance to beat an incumbent. (That said, two Iowa House Democrats lost in 2010 to candidates who joined the race over the summer rather than during the primary campaign.)

After the jump I’ve enclosed a full list of the Iowa House districts left unchallenged by one of the major parties. I highlighted the most surprising recruitment failures and what looks like a pattern of uncontested House seats in Senate districts that will be targeted by both parties, which may reflect a deliberate strategy. House incumbents with no fear of losing may slack off on GOTV in one half of a Senate district where every vote may count.

A future post will focus on the ten or fifteen Iowa House races likely to be most competitive this fall.

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Mike Gronstal sees eight competitive Iowa Senate races

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is “fairly confident” going into this year’s state legislative elections, he told Mike Glover in a recent interview. He cited a “pretty good message” to take to voters as well as a “a slight advantage on the map” that will allow Democrats to play “a little less defense and a little more offense,” compared to 2012.

I agree with Gronstal that Democrats are better positioned now to hold their 26 to 24 majority in the upper chamber than they were at the same point two years ago. Follow me after the jump for a quick look at the eight districts the Senate majority leader expects to be targeted this fall.

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Kevin Kinney is second Democratic candidate in Iowa Senate district 39

Didn’t take long for news to force me to update last week’s post on Iowa Senate races to watch in 2014. Today Johnson County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Kinney announced his candidacy in Iowa Senate district 39. After the jump I’ve posted a district map and Kinney’s press release. He is also a corn and soybeans grower and a cattle producer on a century farm. Republican State Senator Sandy Greiner is not seeking re-election in Senate district 39, and the seat should be competitive. The latest numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that Senate district 39 contains 13,294 registered Democrats, 13,320 Republicans, and 16,452 no-party voters.

Richard Gilmore was the first Democrat to announce in this district in September. I would consider Kinney the favorite to win the nomination, because as John Deeth points out, Democratic primaries in Johnson County have relatively high turnout, and Johnson County has gained more residents than other parts of the district since Iowa’s redistricting plan was adopted in 2011. Gilmore is from Washington County.

FEBRUARY UPDATE: Kinney’s campaign is on the web here.

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Five Iowa Senate races to watch in 2014

It’s the time of year for blog posts about notable candidates and upcoming elections. Every politically engaged Iowan knows already that 2014 will be an unusually exciting year. We haven’t seen an open U.S. Senate race since 1974. The last time Iowa’s first Congressional district was open was in 2006. The last time Iowa’s third Congressional district was open was in 2002, but it wasn’t a wide open seat, since incumbent Representative Leonard Boswell moved into Polk County to run. Amazingly, 1940 was the “last time there was a Congressional race in Polk County without an incumbent seeking re-election.” All of Iowa’s statewide elected officials are up for re-election as well this year, and the secretary of state’s position may become open if Matt Schultz decides to go for the Republican nomination in IA-03.

Since Bleeding Heartland readers already know about the big Iowa races to watch, I want to focus today and tomorrow on the elections that are likely to determine control of the Iowa House and Senate in 2015 and 2016.  

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Democrat Richard Gilmore launches Iowa Senate district 39 campaign

After laying the groundwork over the last couple of months, Richard Gilmore formally launched his campaign in Iowa Senate district 39 today. He is the first Democratic candidate in what will likely be among the most competitive Iowa Senate races in 2014. Gilmore previously ran for Washington County supervisor in 2012.

After the jump I’ve posted a map of the district and Gilmore’s announcement, containing background information. As of September 2013 (pdf), Iowa Senate district 39 contained 13,323 registered Democrats, 13,340 Republicans, and 16,276 no-party voters. Two candidates are seeking the Republican nomination for the open seat: Michael Moore and Royce Phillips. Longtime Johnson County GOP activist Bob Anderson is considering the race but has not announced his decision, to my knowledge. UPDATE: Anderson filed papers as a candidate for state Senate in September.

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GOP primary likely in Iowa Senate district 39

A competitive Republican primary seems likely in Iowa Senate district 39, an open seat that will be one of the most important statehouse races in 2014. Michael Moore of Washington County has already launched his campaign, and two Republicans in Johnson County are thinking about the race. Royce Phillips is a former mayor and current City Council member in Tiffin. He is also pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Coralville. At a fundraiser for Johnson County Supervisor John Etheredge earlier this month, Phillips spoke publicly about a possible candidacy in Senate district 39. He confirmed by telephone today that he is familiarizing himself with the district and has had a “positive response” so far. Phillips added that he is more familiar with the House district 77 half of the district (which is in Johnson County) than with House district 78 (all of Keokuk and most of Washington Counties). I’ve posted a district map after the jump. Phillips has been active in local Republican politics for many years. He endorsed Mike Huckabee before the 2008 Iowa caucuses and Rick Santorum during the last election cycle.

Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee member Bob Anderson has also been mentioned as a possible candidate in Senate district 39. He told me today that he is “analyzing” and “considering it seriously” but did not specify a timetable for announcing a decision. Anderson has also been active in Republican politics for a long time and chairs is the past chair of the Johnson County GOP Central Committee. He is one of the few GOP State Central Committee members who did not publicly endorse a presidential candidate before the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

No Democrat has yet announced plans to run in Senate district 39. State Senator Joe Bolkcom told the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Adam Sullivan recently, “We’re working on recruitment there now. It’s on our list of likely opportunities to pick up a seat.”

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Michael Moore running in Iowa Senate district 39

Via John Deeth’s blog I saw that Republican Michael Moore has announced his candidacy in Iowa Senate district 39, a swing seat being vacated by Senator Sandy Greiner.

I had expected GOP State Representative Jarad Klein to step up for this race, but he quickly took himself out of contention. You can’t blame him for wanting to stay where he’s safe and warm. Iowa House district 78, which Klein currently represents, has a Republican voter registration advantage of more than 2,000, while Senate district 39 contains 13,342 registered Democrats, 13,341 Republicans, and 16,194 no-party voters.

Moore has a long record of civic involvement in Washington County. I’ve posted his official bio and first press release after the jump. His campaign is on the web here. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Republican from the party’s “Liberty” wing ends up competing against Moore in the June 2014 primary.

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Sandy Greiner retiring, leaving Iowa Senate district 39 open

Democrats hoping to retain the Iowa Senate majority got good news this afternoon, as State Senator Sandy Greiner confirmed that she will retire next year. Her decision isn’t a big surprise, as Greiner didn’t join the Senate Republican leadership team last year, even though she was an early backer of Bill Dix’s campaign to become minority leader and is among the most experienced GOP lawmakers.

Greiner represents Senate district 39, which contained 13,335 registered Democrats, 13,352 Republicans, and 16,127 no-party voters as of June 2013. Half of this swing district lies in Johnson County, where Democrats need strong GOTV to prevail in next year’s statewide races. I’ve posted a detailed district map after the jump.

First-term Democrat Sally Stutsman represents Iowa House district 77, the Johnson County part of Senate district 39. Two-term Republican Jarad Klein represents House district 78, the other half of the Senate district, covering all of Keokuk County and most of Washington County. I would consider them strong potential candidates for the open Senate seat, though others may take a crack at this swing district.

UPDATE: Added the press release announcing Greiner’s retirement after the jump. Environmentalists will be surprised to learn that she allegedly “worked diligently” to improve water quality.  

SECOND UPDATE: John Deeth says Democrats had recruited a challenger for this seat from Washington County. He also comments, “This is a must-win for both parties and good logistically for Democrats; sure, the Iowa City-Coralville folks can’t VOTE in this race but we can sure doorknock North Liberty.” I would say it’s more of a must-win for Republicans, because they need a net gain of one for shared power and two for control of the Iowa Senate. Status quo is ok for Democrats, if not ideal.

THIRD UPDATE: Here’s one good example of why I won’t miss Greiner. She has repeatedly co-sponsored constitutional amendments to overturn marriage equality in Iowa, most recently this year. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has joined the Iowa Supreme Court in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act on equal-protection grounds, Greiner pretends that she opposed equality because gay marriage will allegedly increase health care costs. Jon Trouten dismantles that intellectually dishonest argument here.

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Iowa Senate district 39: Could Sandy Greiner be primaried from the right?

I’ve been watching for signs that Republican State Senator Sandy Greiner might retire rather than run for re-election in 2014. Although she has more legislative experience than most of her GOP colleagues and was an early backer of Bill Dix’s effort to become minority leader, she didn’t join the Republican leadership team after Dix became head of the caucus last November.

If Greiner seeks another term in the Iowa Senate, I believe she would be favored to hold what looks like a swing district on paper. But in the last few days I’ve been wondering whether she might run into trouble during a Republican primary. I’ve posted some thoughts on this scenario after the jump, along with a map and the latest voter registration totals from Senate district 39.

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