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May 20th, 2009

Iowa Republicans Have Plenty of Opportunity in the State Senate

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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iowa-capitol1Now that some time has passed since the legislative session has adjourned and the Republican gubernatorial primary has started to take shape, it’s time to start looking at legislative races in which Republicans could pick up seats in both chambers in the 2010 elections.

Today we delve into the State Senate. Currently, Republicans hold 18 of the 50 seats in the State Senate. While only half of those seats are up for election in 2010, 19 of those 25 seats are currently held by Democrats. On one hand, it shows just how lopsided the Democrat majority is in the Senate, but on the other hand, it provides Iowa Republicans plenty of opportunity to pick up seats in this chamber in the next election.

In each of the six Republican senate seats that are up in 2010, GOP incumbents have voter registration numbers in their favor. That is good news for Republicans since there is nothing that should prevent them from going on the offensive. Any dollar that is used defending an incumbent is a dollar that can’t be spent to help pick up a new Senate seat.

There are also three seats that are currently held by Democrats that Republicans should be able to win. Those seats are currently held by Sen. Rich Olive of Story County, Sen. Bill Heckroth of Bremer County, and Sen. Becky Schmitz of Jefferson County. All three of these Democrats represent districts that have a Republican voter registration advantage. Making these seats even more appealing for Republicans is that Olive, Heckroth, and Schmitz are all just completing their first term in office.

Picking up those three senate seats would get Republicans to 21 seats, meaning they would still need four more seats to force split control of the Iowa Senate. To win additional seats that could potentially lead to split control or a Republican majority, they need to recruit outstanding candidates who can overcome the Democrats’ registration numbers in their district.

These candidates either need to be tireless campaigners, grassroots organizers, and well-respected members in their communities like a county supervisor, mayor, well known doctor, etc., or they have to have the ability to raise large amounts of money for their campaign. Fortunately, candidates like this do exist in some of these districts.

Below are seven districts that could come into play if the right candidate is recruited. The number one ranked district is the most likely to switch from being represented by a Democrat to a Republican. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section. Since we are 18 months away from the election, there are bound to be some changes.

7. Senate District 7(Cerro Gordo County)
: Most people will be surprised to see Sen. Amanda Ragan’s seat on this list. With Democrats having a 3500 voter edge on registrations in the district, it would take a monumental effort for a Republican to win this seat. That means Republicans would have to find a candidate who’s not afraid of long odds – enter Bill Salier. Salier turned a lot of heads when he garnered more than 40% of the vote in the 2002 Republican U.S. Senate primary. Salier was critical of some Republican legislators following the Court’s decision that allowed gay marriage in Iowa. They always say, if you want to make sure something gets done right, you’d better be willing to do it yourself.

6. Senate District 1(Woodbury County): State Sen. Steve Warnstadt had no problems defeating Barbara Blanchard in 2006, but he should take little comfort in his 2006 victory. In 2008, the two Democrat incumbents who also represent his district in the House chamber both were almost defeated, despite these two House districts having favorable voter registration numbers for Democrats. Jeremy Taylor lost to Rep. Wes Whitead by only 55 votes, and Rick Bertrand lost to Rep. Roger Wendt by just 280 votes. Both Taylor and Bertrand proved to be strong candidates in a difficult year for Republicans at the polls. Either would be a credible candidate in this Senate district that could very well swing to the Republican column with the right effort.

5. Senate District 47(Wapello, Wayne, Appanoose, Davis Counties)
: There is no doubt that this has been a difficult part of the state for Republicans, except one – Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. While Miller-Meeks could never find the votes to make up the 19,000 vote margin that Congressman Loebsack was able to generate in Johnson County, she did very well in every county in this Senate district in a general election. It is obvious that Miller-Meeks wishes to remain active in Republican politics, and the State Senate might just be the perfect fit. As the former President of the Iowa Medical Society, Miller-Meeks would give Republicans a credible conservative voice on health care issues. Having just run for Congress also gives Miller-Meeks some built in advantages. She has a current donor file and high name ID in the district, and she’s well respected throughout the district.

4. Senate District 37(Warren and Madison Counties): Despite raising massive amounts of money for her senate campaign in 2006, Sen. Staci Appel was only able to defeat her opponent in by 772 votes. She is also the wife of Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel, adding a unique twist to her re-election campaign. If Appel is feeling comfortable, she shouldn’t, especially if Rep. Kent Sorenson decides to run against her rather than seek re-election to his House seat. Sorenson pulled the upset of the cycle when he defeated Rep. Mark Davitt. The House District that Sorenson won is the more difficult part of that Senate district for Republicans. An Appel/Sorenson race would be ground zero for the debate on gay marriage in Iowa.

3. Senate District 5(Wright, Hamilton, Story Counties)
: This is the Senate district formerly held by Stewart Iverson. The current Co-Chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, Jim Kurtenbach lost to Sen. Rich Olive by just 62 votes in 2006. The district has a favorable voter registration for Republicans, as they outnumber Democrats in the district by 2100 voters. I’m told that a number of potential candidates have expressed interest, but none have stepped forward yet. There is no doubt that this is a seat Republicans will fight to win back in 2010.

2. Senate District 45(Washington, Wapello, Jefferson, Van Buren Counties): Freshmen Senator Becky Schmitz defeated Sen. David Miller by 184 votes in 2006. The district also leans Republican in registration numbers. If Republican Senate leaders could convince former legislator Sandy Greiner to run for the seat, they would have a powerful candidate who would perform like an incumbent. Whether Greiner runs or not, she’s the first call that needs to be made. Nobody in that area has a better handle on politics than she does.

1. Senate District 9(Butler, Bremer, Black Hawk, Fayette Counties): Freshmen Senator Bill Heckroth will be in serious trouble if former State Representative Bill Dix decides to run for the seat. Dix, who ran for Congress in 2006, is rumored to be looking at running against Heckroth. Dix is a triple-threat type of candidate who not only is a good campaigner and well-known and respected in his district, but he also proved to be an outstanding fundraiser in his 2006 congressional primary. Republicans outnumber Democrats in this district by almost 3000 registered voters. It also doesn’t hurt that a candidate like Dix would share the ballot with two Grassleys. Senator Grassley’s grandson was elected to replace Dix in the Iowa House, and it has to help when a United States Senator from your home county is up for re-election.

About the Author

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country.

Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states.

Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site,

Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing.

Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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