Throughout most of the last decade, there have been almost as many registered Republicans as there were registered Democrats in Iowa. During the first part of the decade, Iowa Republicans held a slight advantage in registration over the Democrats. Their advantage fluctuated between a 20,000-voter advantage in January of 2000, to a 50,000-voter advantage in January of 2003.
More recently, Iowa Democrats have held a big advantage over the Republicans. Following the 2008 general election, Democrats had an 111,000 advantage in registered voters. A margin of that magnitude seemed insurmountable, but the registration numbers following the June 8th primary seem to indicate that Iowa Republicans are finally moving in the right direction by cutting that number in half.
Secretary of State Michael Mauro held a press conference yesterday to announce a significant change in party registration. Mauro said, “As of July 1, there are just over 55,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. One month prior to that, Democrats maintained an advantage of over 100,000.”
Mauro said he held the press conference in an attempt to add a little context to rapid swing in voter registrations towards Republicans. While Mauro provided some good information about the 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial primaries, he failed to explain just how Iowa Democrats were able build such a large voter registration advantage in just two election cycles.
A quick look at the voter registration data from the Secretary of State’s office shows that Iowa Democrats were able to build their massive voter registration advantage in just one phenomenal year – 2008. In January of 2008, there were 606,209 registered Democrats. Just one month later there were 664,658 registered Democrats.
What caused the massive shift was the epic battle between Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. However, Democrats were not finished adding to their advantage after the caucuses. They then added 34,000 more registered voters that fall, and another 10,000 on Election Day. At the end of 2008, an outstanding year for Democrats across the county, they had a huge lead in registered voters.
What has Republicans excited about this fall is that they were able to create the same size voter registration bump in a statewide primary that the Democrats got during the media frenzy over Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.
It was good that Secretary of State Mauro wanted to add context to the registration numbers, but he should also be sounding the alarm to his fellow Democrats that a likely Republican tsunami is headed their way, and it could make landfall on November 2nd.
The improved voter registration numbers are welcome news to Republican candidates running for statewide office, but the area in which these numbers will have the greatest impact is in legislative races.
In the State Senate, two districts that previously had a Democrat registration voter advantage now favor Republicans. Before the June primary, Senate District 41 (Scott County) had a few more Democrats than Republicans. Now District 41 favors Republicans by around 1000 voters, a significant change. District 41 is currently represented by David Hartsuch, who was defeated in a bitter primary by Roby Smith. The registered voter advantage should help Smith keep the seat in Republican hands.
Another Senate District that saw a vast improvement was District 37, where Kent Sorenson is challenging Democratic incumbent Staci Appel. District 37 got considerably better for Republicans. Before the primary, Democrats held a 34 percent to 30 percent advantage over Republicans, but now Republicans have a narrow 33 percent to 32 percent advantage.
While only two Senate Districts flipped from favoring Democrats to Republicans, Republicans made gains in every district. The three seats that already had a Republican voter advantage but are currently held by Democratic incumbents each got better for the Republican challenger. Bill Dix now has a ten-point Republican voter advantage his race against Sen. Bill Heckroth. Sandy Greiner has a three-point advantage over Sen. Becky Schmitz, and Rob Bacon now has an eight-point advantage over Sen. Rich Olive.
The improved registration numbers in the Senate should help Republicans put more seats into play as Election Day nears. There is no reason why Senate Republicans shouldn’t pick up the four seats that they now have an advantage in. Yesterday’s news also probably allows them to look at other areas of the state where they could possibly make gains.
If things look promising in the Senate, House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen has to be outright giddy about how these numbers affect races for the Iowa House. Twelve House seats went from having a Democrat voter registration advantage to a Republican registration advantage. There are now 51 seats in the House where Republicans either have a registered voter advantage or are within one percent of the Democrats.
The House seat that made the largest gain was district 51, which is the seat that Rod Roberts has held for the past decade. Aided by Roberts’ gubernatorial run, Republicans improved their voter registration in the district by nine percent. On average, Republicans gained 2.6% in each district across the state.
In addition to Roberts’ seat, Republicans took the lead in voter registration in House District 73, which is being vacated by Republican Jodi Tymeson, and they also gained an advantage in District 8, where Democrat Dolores Mertz is retiring. Additionally, two Republican incumbents, Betty De Boef and Chris Hagenow, both saw their districts get remarkably better. Both now have a significant registered voter advantage headed into their fall campaigns.
For Republicans to win back the majority in the Iowa House, they are going to have to beat a number of incumbents this fall. The new voter registration numbers also give them reasons to be optimistic in that department. Republicans gained an advantage in five districts that currently are held by Democrat incumbents. Those districts are District 79 (Rep. Palmer), District 90 (Rep. Hanson), District 24 (Rep. Thomas), District 80 (Rep. Reichert), District 90 (Rep. Reasoner). Even better for House Republicans is that they have outstanding candidates in each of those races.
While Republicans still have a long way to go to overcome the Democrats in voter registration across the state, they have plenty of reason to be optimistic heading into their fall campaigns. The most promising sign for Republicans is that their gains came from all across the state, not just in certain areas where one particular candidate did well in the primary.
Republicans now need to continue to chip away at the Democrats’ register voter advantage throughout the fall. They also need to communicate to these newly registered Republicans in a way that will keep them engaged in the campaigns this fall and beyond.
If any one doubts that 2010 is going to be a good year for Republicans, the new voter registration numbers should tell them otherwise.
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