Incumbents retiring in two battleground GOP-held Iowa Senate districts

During the last week before the filing deadline, Republican State Senators Mark Chelgren and Rick Bertrand announced that they will not seek re-election in 2018. Iowa Senate districts 41 and 7 were already the best Democratic pickup opportunities on a difficult midterm election map. Of the 29 Republicans now serving in the upper chamber, only four–Chelgren, Bertrand, Dan Dawson, and Tom Greene–hold seats where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans (barely in Dawson’s district). Dawson and Greene won’t be up for re-election until 2020.

Winning an open seat is usually easier than defeating a legislative incumbent, and Bertrand’s retirement clearly improves Democratic chances in Senate district 7.

But Republicans have likely increased their odds of holding Senate district 41 by swapping out Chelgren for Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

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Iowa Democrats face incredibly difficult path back to legislative majorities (part 1)

Many Iowa Democrats expect to have the wind at their backs for the 2018 elections, due to surging progressive activism, an unpopular Republican president, and backlash against GOP lawmakers who used their power this year to take rights away from hundreds of thousands of workers, lower wages for tens of thousands more, and undermine protections for those who suffer workplace injuries.

It’s too early to predict the political climate next fall, but Democrats need to hope for favorable external conditions as well as strong recruits and well-run campaigns. New calculations of last year’s presidential election results by state legislative district point to a very steep climb back to 51 seats in the Iowa House and 26 seats in the Senate. This post will survey the terrain in the upper chamber.

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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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Iowa caucus hopefuls eager to serve as campaign surrogates

With the 2016 caucuses only a bit more than a year away, many potential presidential candidates have been paying their dues in Iowa this fall. On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is headlining events for Bruce Braley in Cedar Rapids and Davenport on Wednesday, while her husband, President Bill Clinton, will campaign with Braley in Des Moines and Waterloo this Saturday. Vice President Joe Biden was in Davenport today with Braley and Representative Dave Loebsack.

Others who might run for president (if Hillary Clinton opts out) have been here lately too. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts got large crowds of Democrats going in Iowa City and Des Moines last weekend. This past Saturday, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota gave the keynote speech at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently visited Iowa for the fourth time since June, headlining events for Braley, Loebsack, gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch, and Steve Siegel, the Democratic candidate in Iowa Senate district 41.

On the Republican side, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did an event for Representative Steve King before headlining Governor Terry Branstad’s “birthday” bash in Des Moines on Saturday. (King helped Christie out of a jam once.) The New Jersey governor will be back later this week to campaign with Branstad, Senate nominee Joni Ernst, and IA-02 nominee Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Burlington. Last week, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky came to Cedar Falls for an event with IA-01 GOP nominee Rod Blum, and Texas Governor Rick Perry made stops in Des Moines and the Cedar Rapids area for attorney general nominee Adam Gregg, Blum, and Ernst. Former Senator Rick Santorum did an event for King last week too, and Donald Trump did earlier in October. Senator Marco Rubio is coming back to eastern Iowa tomorrow to raise money for the Scott County Republicans and for Blum.

I’ve heard that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee have recorded radio ads for Sam Clovis, the social conservative favorite who is running for state treasurer. However, I haven’t heard those spots on the radio yet. Speaking of social conservative heroes, Dr. Ben Carson (possibly the new “flavor of the month” for Iowa Republicans) is slated to keynote the FAMiLY Leader’s fall fundraiser on November 22.

Any comments about the next presidential race in Iowa are welcome in this thread. P.S. Imagine if any Democratic candidate or elected official followed Branstad’s lead and moved his “birthday party” up from November 17 to October 25 for political reasons. There would be a chorus of outrage from pundits: Phony! Not acting like a real Iowan!  

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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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