What caused the big drop in Iowa Republican primary turnout?

Earlier this year, I would have predicted high Republican turnout for Iowa’s June 3 primary elections. The five-way race for the U.S. Senate nomination was highly competitive, as was the six-way contest in the open third Congressional district. Multiple candidates contested GOP primaries in the first and second Congressional districts too. The 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, which involved going out for an hour or more on a cold night in January, attracted a record turnout of roughly 122,000 people.

Yet according to unofficial results, just 158,031 Iowans cast ballots in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, and 156,275 cast ballots in the governor’s race, where Terry Branstad had a token challenger.

The 2010 midterm election saw much higher Republican turnout, with some 227,404 people voting for one of the three GOP gubernatorial candidates. There weren’t any high-profile statewide Republican primary contests in 2006, but in the 2002 midterm year, 199,234 Iowans cast ballots in the three-way GOP primary for governor, and 197,096 Iowans cast ballots in the two-way GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

In IA-03, five of the six Republican candidates raised enough money to run district-wide campaigns before this year’s primary. Yet only 42,948 Iowans voted in a Congressional district with 160,660 active Republican voters as of June 2014. The seven-way 2010 GOP primary in IA-03 attracted more than 46,000 votes in a district that included only one-fifth of the state’s population at the time and 118,850 active Republican voters. (Iowa lost one of its Congressional districts after the 2010 census).

A similar story took shape in IA-02, where about 30,500 people cast ballots in this year’s GOP primary, compared to nearly 40,000 who voted in the 2010 primary, at a time when the district covered one-fifth of the state’s population rather than one-fourth.

In this thread, please share your thoughts on why Republicans didn’t show up to vote in larger numbers this year. Julie Stauch, a veteran of many Democratic campaigns, speculated that the low turnout “is the cumulative result of every extreme and outrageous statement over the last four years. The current Republicans in Iowa are only talking to those who agree with them 100 percent, which creates a rapidly shrinking base as every outrageous statement drives away a few more people. We can see the effect of this from the loss of 40 percent of the 2010 participants. That’s a serious decline over any range of time, but very bad over four years.”

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New polls show Pat Murphy, Rod Blum favored to win IA-01 nominations

Loras College has released its latest polls of the Democratic and Republican primaries in the first Congressional district. On the Democratic side, not much has changed the first Loras poll in April: State Representative Pat Murphy has a big lead and is close to the 35 percent he would need to win the primary outright on June 3. The latest poll memo is here, and full results are here (pdf). Among 300 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed on May 14 and 15, 34.7 percent plan to support Murphy, with 28.7 percent undecided. The next three candidates are still bunched close together: Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon and former State Senator Swati Dandekar both have 11.3 percent support, State Representative Anesa Kajtazovic has 9.3 percent, and Cedar Rapids attorney Dave O’Brien has 3.3 percent. Some may argue that Loras doesn’t have a track record of Iowa polling. But it’s notable that first-quarter financial reports indicated that all of the Democratic candidates had paid for survey research, yet only Murphy’s campaign has released partial results from internal polling.

All five Democrats are running paid advertising and direct mail in the final weeks before the primary. Bleeding Heartland will survey the main messages from each candidate in a future post. The other candidates need to hope that no candidate wins 35 percent on primary day, though even in that scenario, I think the nomination would go to Murphy.

The latest Loras Republican poll in IA-01 shows a big shift toward Rod Blum since last month’s survey. Among the 300 Republican respondents surveyed on May 15, 48.7 percent are undecided, but Blum is knocking on the door with 31.4 percent support. Steve Rathje is far back at 15.6 percent, and Gail Boliver barely registers at 2.4 percent. For months, I haven’t doubted Blum’s ability to win the GOP nomination. He is the only candidate in  a position to run a strong district-wide effort, and the National Republican Congressional Committee recognizes that fact.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Most election forecasters, with one exception, see this open seat leaning Democratic. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the 20 counties in the Congressional district contain 158,580 active registered Democrats, 133,229 Republicans, and 192,921 no-party voters.

If Blum and Murphy win their respective party’s nominations, the Dubuque area would be sending its first resident to Congress since Republican Tom Tauke (coincidentally a Loras College graduate) represented the area from 1979 through 1990.

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Thoughts on the primary polls in IA-01, IA-02, and IA-03

Loras College in Dubuque released its first-ever set of polls on Iowa Congressional primaries this week. Click here for the polling memo and here (pdf) for further details, including the full questionnaires.

After the jump I’ve posted my thoughts on what these polls tell us about the front-runners (or lack thereof) in each primary. Unfortunately, a big methodological flaw makes it more difficult to interpret the results.

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NRCC picks Rod Blum in IA-01, not playing favorites in IA-02 or IA-03

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced its latest batch of candidates for the “Young Guns” program today. Dubuque-based business owner Rod Blum, one of three GOP candidates in Iowa’s open first Congressional district, is among 50 Republicans on the bottom rung, called “on the radar.” Candidates who meet certain benchmarks for fundraising and campaign organization have a chance to move up to “contender” status and perhaps eventually to “young gun” level, which entails more direct support from the NRCC.

During the 2012 primary in IA-01, the NRCC favored establishment candidate Ben Lange over Blum. At this point, Blum is the obvious favorite to win the GOP nomination, with State Representative Walt Rogers out of the race and the other contenders way behind Blum financially.

Last year, the NRCC put IA-02 on its long list of targets and indicated that it was ready to defend Tom Latham in IA-03. None of the three registered GOP candidates in IA-02 or the six registered candidates in the open IA-03 are on the NRCC’s radar yet. Depending on fundraising, the winner of the IA-03 primary has a strong chance to become a “contender” or a “young gun” by this fall. The NRCC will almost surely spend money to defend that seat. I am skeptical that IA-02 will become a serious target for Republicans, though.

Any comments about Iowa’s Congressional races are welcome in this thread.

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Walt Rogers exits IA-01 race, will seek third term in Iowa House district 60

I didn’t see this coming, but perhaps I should have, given his less than stellar fourth quarter fundraising report: State Representative Walt Rogers is ending his Congressional campaign in Iowa’s first district. Instead, he will seek re-election to Iowa House district 60. His official statement is after the jump.

Rogers has long been considered a rising star in the Iowa House Republican caucus. He won re-election in 2012 despite President Barack Obama carrying his district by a narrow margin. He hired campaign staffers while his Congressional bid was still in the exploratory phase and quickly gained support from former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and several state lawmakers. But he faced a tough race against Rod Blum in the GOP primary. In addition to almost winning the Republican nomination in IA-01 in 2012, Blum had support from activists on the party’s “Liberty” wing and a financial advantage over Rogers at the end of 2013.

Even if Rogers won the IA-01 primary, he would face an uphill battle in a Congressional district with 158,970 active registered Democrats, 133,746 Republicans, and 192,496 no-party voters as of February 2014.

Returning to the Iowa legislature looks like a safer bet for Rogers. I have not yet heard of a Democratic candidate in House district 60. I posted a district map below, along with the latest voter registration numbers.

I consider Blum overwhelmingly favored to beat Steve Rathje in the IA-01 primary now. Although I don’t agree with Blum about many things, I admire his campaign work ethic and discipline. he has now scared off two Republicans with much stronger establishment connections. I believe Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen chickened out of this race because he was afraid he would lose the primary. Blum had already started making a case against Paulsen.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that just last month, former U.S. Representative and gubernatorial nominee Jim Nussle had endorsed Rogers in the GOP primary. He really did look like the preferred establishment candidate. I also forgot to mention that Marshalltown-based attorney Gail Boliver joined the Republican field in December. It’s hard for me to see a social moderate and fiscal conservative winning a GOP primary, especially since Blum has been campaigning across the district for more than a year now.

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