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.

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Republicans running negative radio ads in key Iowa Senate and House races

Radio commercials appeared in several competitive Iowa Senate districts during the last week of September, coinciding with the start of early voting. This week, the Republican Party of Iowa has launched the first negative radio spots I’ve heard in state legislative races this year. After the jump I’ve enclosed the transcript of the ad attacking Chaz Allen, the Democratic candidate in the open Iowa Senate district 15. Allen’s own positive ad, which Bleeding Heartland transcribed here, is still in rotation and promotes the former Newton mayor’s record of recruiting businesses. The new Republican spot blames Allen for high property taxes that allegedly discouraged companies from coming to Newtown after “Maytag pulled out on Chaz Allen’s watch.” The ad also plays up Governor Terry Branstad’s support for Crystal Bruntz, the Republican candidate in Senate district 15. While the ad asserts that Bruntz “understands job creation,” it fails to mention anything substantive she has ever done to create jobs.

In Iowa Senate district 41, a leading pickup opportunity for Democrats, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren’s new radio spot highlights flippant and sarcastic responses Siegel mailed in response to a survey Chelgren circulated in 2010. More details on that commercial are after the jump.

In the open Senate district 39, another seat targeted by both parties, a Bleeding Heartland reader tells me that the new Republican radio spot attacks Democratic nominee Kevin Kinney over his support for “Common Core” educational standards. I have not heard the ad yet and would appreciate any further details. It seems like an odd angle for an attack, but I guess Kinney’s background as a deputy sheriff and family farmer didn’t give them easy targets. Politics-watchers generally believe that education is a campaign issue favoring Democrats. As far as I can tell, fear-mongering over Common Core only resonates with social conservatives who would already be voting for Kinney’s opponent, Michael Moore.

I have not yet heard details on radio spots attacking State Senators Daryl Beall or Rita Hart, the Democratic incumbents in Senate districts 5 and 49, respectively. Nor have I heard of any attack ads against three-term Democratic incumbent Amanda Ragan in Senate district 27, although anecdotally, Republicans have supposedly given up on taking back that seat. I always appreciate tips from Bleeding Heartland readers, so please let me know if you’ve heard radio ads in the Fort Dodge, Clinton, or Mason City area.

In the open Iowa House district 55 (northeast Iowa), Republican Daniel Branhagen started running a commercial this week calling his Democratic opponent Rick Edwards a big spender. I haven’t heard attack ads against any Iowa House Democrats yet on Des Moines area radio stations.

Any comments about the state legislative races are welcome in this thread.

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Democracy for America getting involved in seven Iowa House races

The progressive political action committee Democracy for America announced this morning that it has endorsed seven Democratic candidates for the Iowa House: three incumbents, three challengers to Republican state representatives, and one candidate running in an open seat. Winning those seven races could flip the chamber to Democratic control–but only if Democrats do not lose any other Iowa House districts they currently hold. Republicans take a 53-47 Iowa House majority into next month’s election, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats.

I’ve posted Democracy for America’s full statement after the jump. The PAC will offer financial and organizational support to the following Iowa House candidates:

• Scott Ourth, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 26 (most of Warren County, including the Indianola area)

• Joe Riding, a first-term incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 30 (most of eastern Polk County)

• Curt Hanson, an incumbent seeking re-election in Iowa House district 82 (most of Jefferson County including Fairfield, plus Van Buren and Davis counties)

• Charlie McConkey, first-time candidate in Iowa House district 15 (western half of Council Bluffs plus Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County, open because Republican State Representative Mark Brandeburg retired)

• Dave Grussing, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Tedd Gassman in Iowa House district 7 (Emmet and Winnebago counties, plus part of Kossuth County)

• Teresa Meyer, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Sandy Salmon in Iowa House district 63 (Bremer County and parts of northern Black Hawk County)

• Kristi Keast, challenger to first-term GOP State Representative Quentin Stanerson in Iowa House district 95 (much of Linn County outside the Cedar Rapids metro area, plus part of Buchanan County)

Gassman, Salmon, and Stanerson won their 2012 Iowa House races by margins of 44 votes, 115 votes, and 200 votes, respectively.

Extra help for Riding and Hanson could have collateral benefits for Democrats hoping to maintain their Iowa Senate majority. Riding’s seat makes up half of the open Senate district 15, a Democratic-held seat that Republicans are targeting. Hanson’s seat makes up half of Senate district 41, a Democratic-leaning district now held by Republican Mark Chelgren (the biggest surprise winner of 2010).

In an upcoming series of posts, Bleeding Heartland will review these and other Iowa House districts targeted by one or both parties. Thanks to Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process, in any given election year more than a dozen of the 100 Iowa House races are competitive. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee considers the Iowa House one of its top opportunities in the country to flip a state legislative chamber. GOP Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has expressed confidence that his party will hold and possibly expand its majority.

UPDATE: The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee put two Iowa House districts and two Iowa Senate districts on its list of “2014 Races to Watch.” I’ve added that announcement to the end of this post.

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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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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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