Adrian Dickey, Mary Stewart to face off in Iowa Senate district 41

Republican Adrian Dickey will face Democrat Mary Stewart in the January 26 special election to represent Iowa Senate district 41. Activists from both parties selected the candidates at nominating conventions on January 7. Dickey prevailed over former State Senator Mark Chelgren, who represented this part of southeast Iowa for two terms before retiring in 2018. Stewart, the most recent Democratic candidate in this district, competed for the nomination with former Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel, who ran for the seat in 2014.

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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.

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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