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November 2nd, 2010

Chasing Down 51: Republicans Have Multiple Routes to a Majority

Election Day is upon us.  Shortly after the polls close at 9 p.m. tonight, the results will begin to trickle in.  By the time the 10 o’clock news is over, some of the major races will be called.

Iowa Republicans are excited heading into the election, and for good reason.  For the first time in twelve years, it’s likely that the state will once again have a Republican governor.  They are also certain to re-elect U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

While the big statewide campaigns always seem to steal the spotlight, there are plenty of other races that Iowans care about.  The most difficult race to follow, and maybe the race that will take the longest amount of time to determine, is the race for control of the two legislative chambers at the statehouse.  In 2008, a number of these races were not decided until early in the morning, some even required recounts.

Most people believe that Republicans will make gains in both the House and the Senate.  Making gains is great, especially in the Senate where there are only 18 Republicans, but Iowa Republicans are looking for an outright majority in the Iowa House.  If they are able to accomplish that, plus elect Branstad as governor, Iowa Republicans should be able to advance some of their legislative agenda next year.

House Republicans are optimistic, but if you talk to State Representative Kraig Paulsen, the Republican Leader in the Iowa House, or those leading the House Republican campaign effort, they will only discuss one number – 51.

It takes 51 Republican seats to gain the majority in the Iowa House.  While it is possible that they will add more seats than the seven seats needed to win the majority, getting them to give you a prediction on how many seats they believe they can win is nearly impossible.

Republicans have 38 incumbents running for re-election.  None are in serious danger of being knocked off by Democrat challenger this year.  The most difficult task for House Republicans tonight will be holding on to the six Republican seats that are open due to retirements or Rep. Kent Sorenson running for the State Senate.

Republicans are in good shape in half of those districts.   In Mike May’s former seat, Jeff Smith is running uncontested.   It’s also safe to assume that Julian Garrett will hold Jodi Tymeson’s seat and Ron Jorgenson will hold Chris Rants’ seat.

Where Republicans might struggle is in Districts 51, 74, and 99.  Those three seats are traditionally are tough for Republicans.  District 51 is Rod Roberts’ old seat, which now has a slight Republican registered voter advantage.  Daniel Dirkx is the Republican candidate running to replace Roberts.  He trails in absentee requests by 300, which is not an insurmountable margin.

Glen Massie is the Republican candidate running to replace Kent Sorenson, who is running for the state Senate.  Massie is cut from the same cloth as Sorenson, so he should do well in attracting Sorenson supporters to his campaign.  Democrats are attacking Massie on comments he made with network television ads.  Democrats also have a healthy 1160 absentee advantage over him before the polls open.  Former Secretary of State candidate, Mary Ann Hanusa, is running to fill Doug Struyk’s seat in District 99.  Democrats have also built an absentee advantage in that district totaling 734.

Despite the Democrat early vote advantage in those three seats, House Republicans believe that there is a chance in this environment that they can hold all six of their open seats.  With the strong top of the ticket and the undecided voters breaking their way, they feel optimistic heading into Election Day. If Republicans hold all six, they will make big gains tonight.

Unlike previous election cycles, Republicans are not lagging behind Democrats in early voting in most races.  In fact, Republicans have the advantage in absentee requests in seven seats that are currently held by Democrats.  Republicans are well positioned to win a number of open Democrat seats, as well as pick off a handful of incumbents.

Here are the races to watch.

HD 7: (Open Seat) Lannie Miller (R) vs. John Witteben (D)

Reason to Watch: This is a district that doesn’t favor the Republicans, but they have a fighting chance in this rural district in a good Republican year.  Democrats have only submitted 280 more absentees than Republicans have, which means this district could be in play. 

HD 8 (Open Seat): Tom Shaw (R) vs. Susan Bangert (D)

Reason to Watch:  House District 8 is Dolores Mertz’s old seat.  Shaw campaigns hard and is expected to win tonight.  Republicans have an absentee advantage of 299 in the District.

HD 9: Stewart Iverson (R) vs. Rep. McKinley Bailey (D)

Reason to Watch: Like most things in politics, there are trends to be found, and this race is part of a developing story line.  Rep. Bailey is one of the six Democrats in the Iowa House who broke ranks with their party leadership and voted against the major labor bills that past two years.  Democrat leadership has abandoned Bailey, and it shows.

The District has a Republican registered voter advantage of almost 1500 votes.  There have also been 317 more Republican absentee requests than Democrat requests.  Bailey is also running against a well-known Republican who is no slouch on the campaign trail.  Iverson has had to overcome some obstacles in this race, but he has also put in the work it takes to be successful.

HD 14: (Open Seat):  Josh Byrnes (R) vs. Kurt Meyer (D)

Reason to Watch: House Republicans are high on Byrnes.  Minority Whip Linda Upmeyer told recently that she was confident that Republicans would gain this seat, which Democrat Mark Kuhn has held since 1998.  Democrats have an absentee advantage of 283, which isn’t too much for Brynes to overcome.

HD 16: Bob Hager (R) vs. Rep. John Beard (D)

Reason to Watch: House District 16 is Chuck Gipp’s old seat.  The district has almost 1100 more Republicans than Democrats, and Republicans have an absentee advantage of 423 in it.  Beard won big in 2008, but with a favorable environment for Republicans this year, this is a race that could be in play if there is a strong Republican undercurrent tonight.

HD 18: Roger Arthur (R) vs. Rep. Andrew Wenthe (D)

Reason to Watch: District 18 has 550 more registered Republicans than Democrats.  While Democrats have an absentee advantage of 318, Arthur could overcome that if voter turnout favors Republicans today.

HD 20: Walt Rogers (R) vs. Rep. Doris Kelley (D)

Reason to Watch: Kelley is another one of the six Democrats to buck leadership on union bills.  Like Bailey, she is not getting support from leadership, and it shows.  Republicans have a registered voter advantage in the district of just over 300.  Republicans have also requested 20 more absentees than Democrats.  Kelley will be tough to beat, but Rogers is an experienced candidate who isn’t afraid of a little hard work.

HD 23: Dan Rasmussen (R) vs. Rep. Gene Ficken

Reason to Watch:  Ficken beat Rasmussen in 2008 by 663 votes.  Rasmussen is trying to win back his old seat.  Democrats have a 436 absentee advantage on Rasmussen, but that’s nothing compared to the advantage Ficken had in 2008.  This is one of the seats that Iowa Democrats are trying hard to hold on to.

HD 75: Guy Vander Linden (R) vs. Rep. Eric Palmer (D)

Reason to Watch: This might be the race that I’m most interested in.  Republicans lost control of this district in 2006 when Danny Carroll lost to Palmer.  In 2008, they had a re-match, which Palmer won by almost 1250 votes.  Vander Linden is an impressive candidate with a great Dutch name that fits the district well.  The district is split pretty evenly in regards to voter registration, and the Democrats’ absentee advantage is only 155 in the district.  That is a significantly low number since Grinnell College resides in this district.  It looks like the environment is favorable for Republicans to win back this seat.

HD 80: Mark Lofgren (R) vs. Rep. Nathan Reichert (D)

Reason to Watch: District 80 might be the best example of a swing district there is in the Iowa House.  Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage and have requested nine more absentees than the Democrats have.  Reichert’s family has been the subject of a local scandal, while Lofgren has put together an impressive campaign.  HD 80 should be a good indicator of how well House Republicans do tonight.

HD 84: (Open Seat) Ross Paustian (R) vs. Sheri Carnahan (D)

Reason to Watch: Paustian ran for this seat against Rep. Elesha Gayman in 2008.  The District has a Democrat voter registration edge, but Republicans only trail the Democrats in absentee requests by 316.  Democrats also don’t seem to be putting up much of a fight here either.

HD 89: Jared Klein (R) vs. Rep. Larry Marek (D)

Reason to Watch: District 89 is the most Republican District in the state that is currently held by a Democrat. The District has 1700 more registered Republicans than Democrats.  Republicans also have an absentee advantage of 212 there.  Marek is another one of the six Democrats who bucked leadership and is now not being helped.

HD 95: Joel Fry (R) vs. Rep. Mike Reasoner  (D)

Reason to Watch: Reasoner unexpectedly gave up his leadership position in the House last spring. He also authored a marriage amendment but refused to vote with Republicans to force a vote on it in the House. District 95 has almost 700 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Republicans have also requested 271 more absentees than Democrats.

There are also a number of other districts where Republicans have incumbent Democrats worried or are competing hard in open seats on Democrat turf.

Candidates giving incumbent Democrats a run for their money:  Darin Beck (HD 19 Kressig), Lee Hein (HD 31 Zirkelbach), Jane Jech (HD 43 Smith), Kim Pearson (HD 42 Huser), Chip Baltimore (HD 48 Olson).

Candidates working hard in open (but previously Democrat) seats: HD 1 Jeremy Taylor, HD 2 Cate Bryan, HD 26 David Rose.

With the favorable environment, House Republicans have numerous ways to get to majority status in the Iowa House.  The big question is, do they eek it out, or will the wave be so deep that they make huge gains?  We should know in 24 hours.

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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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