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March 22nd, 2010

House Republicans Poised to Take Back the Majority

Iowa CapitolThe 2010 elections appear as if they are going to be a good for Republicans nationally and here in Iowa. Now that candidates have submitted the necessary petitions to place their name of the ballot, we can look to see how well Iowa Republicans are positioned to pick up seats in the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate. To win the majority in the Iowa House, Republicans would need to pick up seven seats in November. They would need eight seats to win control of the State Senate.

Before we break down the Republicans’ ability to win majorities, we first need to define what a good year looks likes for both political parties. With large majorities in the Iowa House and Iowa Senate, a good year for legislative Democrats would be any scenario in which they keep control of their respective chambers. For Republicans, a good year probably means picking up four to five seats in each chamber, a great year would be winning a majority.

A bad year for Democrats would be losing control of one or both chambers, while a bad year for Republicans would be gaining only a couple of seats. If Republicans lose seats in the fall or underperform, expect wholesale changes in Republican leadership. There are simply no excuses for not doing well in this environment. Simply put, Republicans need to be aggressive and win a number of seats this November, while Democrats can simply play defense and try to limit their losses.

Today we will look at the Republicans’ chances to win control of the Iowa House of Representatives. Currently, Republicans hold 44 seats, which is seven short of a majority in the chamber. With the retirements of Representatives May, Roberts, Rants, Tymeson, Sorenson, and Struyk, their goal of winning the majority in the Iowa House has been made more difficult.

While Republican insiders feel optimistic about holding those open seats, there is a strong possibility that they could lose as many as three of them to the Democrats this fall. Roberts, Sorenson, and Struyk’s districts will all be difficult to hold onto as Democrats have a registered voter advantage in each. Republicans only make up 24% of registered voters in Roberts’ district, and Struyk and Sorenson’s seats are only slightly better. After the November elections, House Republicans might look back and wonder what might have been had Rod Roberts and Doug Struyk not retired.

Even with six retirements, House Republicans are well positioned to make gains in November. There are 38 incumbent Republicans running for re-election this fall, and only 13 of them have opponents. That’s outstanding news for Republicans. Of those 13 incumbents, three or less of them will likely face serious challengers. The one incumbent House Republican who will probably have the most difficult race is Renee Schulte from Cedar Rapids.

There are almost 1,000 more registered Democrats in Schulte’s district than Republicans. She won the seat in 2008 by just 44 votes. The improved political environment should help Schulte for her re-election bid. She is also arguably one of the hardest working Republican candidates in the House, which should also help.

Yet, Republicans will probably have to spend a lot of financial resources to keep this seat. In 2008, Republicans and conservative groups probably poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into that race. Those same groups will not want to funnel that sort of money into a race to protect an incumbent. If Schulte can take care of herself, Republicans will be able to go on offense elsewhere.

There are good odds that Republicans bring back all 38 incumbents next spring. If you take a pessimistic view of their retirements and give them only three of the six seats, that takes them to 41 seats, meaning they will have to win ten seats that are currently controlled by Democrats. Republican insiders have told me that they feel confident in winning five of the six Republican open seats. They have a better grasp on these candidates than I do, and that could very well be the case. While Roberts’ house seat has a big voter registration disadvantage, it has performed well for Republicans, so there is a good chance for Republicans to hold that seat.

On the Democratic side, they have eight open seats. Representatives Whitead, Wendt, Frevert, Mertz, Kuhn, Bukta, Ford, and Gayman are all retiring. Of those eight seats, Republicans should be able to pick up the Mertz and Gayman seats as both are rural seats that Republican almost won in 2008. If the Republicans are going to have a chance at winning the majority this fall, they must perform well in Woodbury County. With three open seats, two of them Democratic seats, a lot of money and attention will be given to this part of the state.

Brent Hoffman, a former Sioux City Councilman told TheIowaRepublican.com that Republicans can absolutely win all three seats in his area. Hoffman said, “In House District 54, I expect Ron Jorgensen will hold Rant’s seat easily. Though he’s generally regarded as a moderate, he’s a hard worker and prolific fundraiser.” Rants’ seat has a Republican voter registration advantage, while the other two seats do not. “In House District 2, two of the three Republicans are very bright and conservative, and one will emerge stronger and well-prepared to beat the Democrat, who is a 24-year old gay issues activist, and worked for Chet Culver. In House District 1, Jeremy Taylor will probably face the toughest test against a bright Democrat who can raise money. But Jeremy is the strongest candidate of the field, and I’d favor him to win as well,” Hoffman added.

While the gubernatorial race will likely be decided in eastern Iowa, control for the Iowa House of Representatives will mostly be determined in central and western Iowa. While there are some eastern Iowa seats that Republicans desperately need to pick up, the bulk of their retirements and pick up opportunities are located in the western part of the state.

Republicans also have fielded candidates to run against 36 Democratic incumbents, meaning only 12 Democrats are without opponents this year, another encouraging sign. In southeast Iowa, Jared Klein and Stephen Burgmeier are both making second attempts to win their seats, which they narrowly lost in 2008 and 2009. Rematches are not always successful, but there are a couple of factors that could help both of these candidates.

As mentioned before, the political environment is favoring Republicans, but more importantly, both candidates could benefit from Sandy Greiner running for the Senate seat that that is comprised of both of these House Districts. This could especially help Klein in his rematch with Larry Marek. Republican leaders are confident about winning back this seat, and with a 1000 person Republican voter advantage, you can understand why.

In addition to Klein and Burgmeier, House Republicans see a pickup opportunity in House District 9, which is held by McKinley Bailey. Bailey has proved himself to be hard campaigner, and his votes against the labor unions will help him in his Republican leaning district. Bailey is being challenged by Stu Iverson. Iverson is well known in the district and will force Bailey to be on the top of his game. If Iverson is successful in his come-back campaign, Republicans could very well find themselves back in the majority.

It will also be interesting to see if Iowa Democrats are willing to invest financial resources in protecting Bailey. Ken Sagar, the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, is also the treasurer of the Iowa Democratic Party. Sagar has encouraged pro-labor Democrats to primary Democrats like Bailey. While that didn’t happen, it’s doubtful that Democrats will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at trying to save incumbents like Bailey and Marek, when they could instead use those funds to keep control of districts that have a Democratic registered voter advantage.

Republicans have recruited quality candidates who have a shot at beating enough Democrat incumbents to win them the majority in the fall. In addition to Klein in HD 89 and Iverson in HD 9, former State Representative Dan Rasmussen is running for his old seat. Other impressive candidates include Cedar Falls businessman Darin Beck in HD 19, Guy Vander Linden in HD 79, and Walt Rogers in HD 20.

Republicans also have a shot at unseating Rep. Mike Reasoner. Reasoner recently gave up his leadership position in the House, and he also authored a marriage amendment but refused to vote with Republicans to force a vote on it in the House. There is a Republican primary in his district, HD 95, but the candidate to keep an eye on down there is Joel Fry. If Fry wins the primary, Reasoner could be in trouble.

Another Democrat incumbent who could be in trouble is Rep. Ray Zirkelbach. Zirkelbach is an Iraqi war veteran, and his service to his country should be commended, but his recent behavior has been a little odd. Apparently, he has been seen wearing jeans at the Capitol and was chewing tobacco and spitting into a spittoon while sitting in the Speaker’s chair. Zirkelback has drawn a formidable opponent in Lee Hein, a respected farmer and former school board president.

The difference between winning the majority in the House verses the Senate is that there are more routes to take in getting there in the House. House Republicans start out with 38 incumbents that should win re-election. Next they add three or four of their open seats. Then they pick up four of the Democrats’ open seats, which puts them at 45 or 46 seats. That means they need to be able to pick off six incumbents or win a couple more of their open seats.

Winning a Republican majority in the Iowa House is possible, but will not be easy. It never is. While Iowa Republicans would like to see a clearer path to a majority in the House, I can’t think of another year in which they have had more opportunities to pick up seats.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, 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 TheIowaRepublican.com 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, TheIowaRepublcian.com. 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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