Just over two weeks remain until Election Day. Across the state, Iowa Republicans are confident that they will be successful at the polls on November 2nd. There is little doubt that Republicans should easily be able re-elect their incumbent office holders. Republicans are also likely to gain control of the governor’s office for the first time since 1998.
However, for Republicans to be able to control the agenda in Des Moines, they must take control of at least one chamber of the legislature. Their best chance to gain a majority is in the Iowa House of Representatives. After traveling to eastern and western Iowa last week, it’s easy to see why Iowa Republicans are optimistic about their chances in House, and possibly even in the Senate.
At a lunch event in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, I was able to catch up with Rep. Renee Schulte, who is running for her second term. In the 2008 election cycle, Cedar Rapids featured a number of hotly contested contests. Nick Wagner was able to win an open seat, while Schulte defeated Democrat incumbent Art Staed by just 14 votes.
Just two years later, all is quiet in Cedar Rapids. Wagner is running unopposed, and Schulte, who many thought would face a tough challenge, has seen little from her opponent. In fact, the Iowa Democrat Party has moved two of its staffers from Linn County to Clinton County. If Democrats are moving staff to save seats in Clinton County, a long-time Democrat stronghold, House Democrats are in serious trouble this year.
While Cedar Rapids is eerily quite, Sioux City is bustling with political activity. Iowa’s fourth largest city boasts two open State Senate races and three open State House races. All five candidates attended the “Taking Back Tomorrow” rally on the Sioux City Riverfront this past Saturday, which was organized by Congressman Steve King’s campaign. The event also featured Brenna Findley, Terry Branstad, and special guest, Col. Bud Day, the most decorated living United States service member, who was born in Sioux City.
Rep. Wes Whitead, Rep. Roger Wendt, and Rep. Chris Rants vacated the three House seats that are now open. Republicans are expected to maintain control of Rants’ seat. Ron Jorgensen, the Vice President for Business and Finance at Morningside College, is Republican candidate in that district.
Democrats previously held the other two Sioux City seats, which have a significant Democrat register voter advantage. Still, Republicans have two young, dynamic candidates who are working hard. In District One, Jeremy Taylor, a high school teacher, is making his second run for office.
In 2008, Taylor challenged Whitead and almost knocked him off. Like so many Republican candidates, Taylor won on Election Day, but couldn’t overcome all of the absentee votes that Whitead received. Taylor lost by just 55 votes. Keep an eye on Taylor’s race on election night. With a better political environment and Democrats struggling at the top of the statewide ballot, Taylor might be able to overcome the Democrat voter advantage in his district and give Republicans a big pick up on November 2nd.
In District Two, Cate Bryan is attempting to get House Republicans another seat closer to the majority. Despite an almost 2000 person Democrat registered voter advantage, this district was competitive in 2008. Rick Bertrand came within 300 votes of ousting Rep. Wendt.
Bryan is the Director of Business Development for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. She is a Sioux City native and has not been shy about knocking on doors in the district. Iowa Democrats seem very interested in keeping this seat. Bryan has been the target for a lot of nasty campaign mail as of late. With a strong ticket around her, Bryan might be able to be successful, despite all the negative attacks.
As mentioned above, Rick Bertrand ran for the Iowa House in 2008 and came up about 300 votes short. For the past 14 years, Bertrand has worked in the healthcare industry marketing products and programs for the treatment of diabetes.
In his speech at the rally on Saturday, Bertrand described himself as a commonsense conservative who wants to get the state government out of the way. He also told the crowd that Republicans have lacked leadership in the State Senate. He then vowed that, once elected, he would travel the state to find other people like him who are willing to lead.
Bryan, Taylor, and Bertrand all will benefit from each other’s campaigns. If Bryan and Taylor do well on Election Day, it will help Bertrand, but the opposite is also true. Either way, Republicans in Des Moines will be ecstatic for a victory from any of these candidates.
The other open State Senate seat features long-time Republican activist Bill Anderson. Anderson has worked on Senator Grassley and Congressman King’s congressional staffs. He has also been a member of the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee. Anderson is well known and well liked in the area. Senate District 27 has a Republican registered voter advantage, and Anderson is expected to keep it under Republican control. He will be a great addition to the Republican caucus in the Senate.
After traveling the state last week, there are promising signs for Iowa Republicans everywhere you look – from the 250 people who gathered in the front yard of Rep. Jeff Kaufmann’s family farm for a fundraiser, to the 200 or so who showed up to rally in Sioux City on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Let’s not forget that the Hawkeyes were playing Michigan during the rally.
Yet, maybe the best sign for Republicans is that Iowa Democrats are on defense this year. With basically no legislative incumbent Republican being targeted, Iowa Republicans can focus on protecting their open seats and knocking off vulnerable Democrats. What a difference a couple years can make. With the final campaign push upon us, please do what you can to help your local legislative candidates. There are plenty of outstanding candidates who need all the help they can get. Who knows, you might just be able to help them win on Election Day.
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