When Governor Terry Branstad appoints State Senator Swati Dandekar to the Iowa Utilities Board this afternoon, he not only appointed Dandekar to a well-paid full time position, but in doing so, he created an opportunity for Republicans to claim partial control of the Iowa Senate.
In order to take the position Dandekar will resign from her State Senate seat immediately, which means a special election looms. It is not out of the realm of possibility that when the legislature reconvenes next January, the chamber could be divided evenly with 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans.
Democrats currently hold 26 of the 50 Senate seats. While the Democrats’ two-seat advantage is a far cry far cry from the 32 seats they held before the 2010 election, Mike Gronstal runs the chamber with an iron fist. With Republicans now able to capture partial control of the Senate before the next legislative session, Iowa Republicans are bound to do what it takes to win the seat, while Democrats will stop at nothing to maintain control of Dandekar’s district.
The upcoming special election will dominate the political landscape in Iowa. It’s hard to believe that a State Senate race could over shadow the Republican caucus campaigns, but that’s what is going to happen since Iowa Republicans can wrestle control away from Mike Gronstal and Senate Democrats if they win.
Here is what you need to know about the upcoming special election:
Senate District 18 does not include the city of Cedar Rapids, but does contain the communities of Marion, Hiawatha, Fairfax, Robins, Palo, Alburnett, Center Point, Central City, and a few other small communities in Linn County. The district has a slight registered voter advantage for Republicans. The most recent voter registration numbers show that Republicans outnumber Democrats 15,945 to 15,752. Still, no party voters out number both Republicans and Democrats.
Dandekar is a reasonable and fairly conservative Democrat. She has represented the district since 2008. Mary Lundby, a moderate Republican held the seat until January 2009. Lundby retired due to health reasons. She passed away in January of 2009 after a long battle with cervical cancer.
Republicans currently hold the two House seats that together comprise Senate District 18. Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen represents the north and west portion of the district, while State Representative Nick Wagner represents the part of the district that contains Marion. Linn County has proven to be difficult for Republicans as of late. Branstad lost the county to Chet Culver in the 2010 election, but this is a an area that Republicans should be able to win.
What a Split Senate Would Mean
If Republicans are able to win the Dandekar seat, it wouldn’t be the first time that the chamber would be deadlocked in a 25/25 split. After the 2004 elections, the Iowa State Senate was split evenly at 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats. During that session of the legislature, each party had a floor leader and the committees had equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Each committee was led by co-chairs, one Republican and one Democrat.
While an evenly split Senate will not give Republicans control of the chamber, it would eliminate Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal’s ability to block legislation from even being debated. That means issues that were never allowed to be debated in the senate, like the marriage amendment, various abortion bills, and even tax cuts, could now see the light of day. Gronstal’s heavy-handed ways also will ensure that activists from all across the state will be willing to help the Republican effort to win the seat.
Will the Caucuses Give Republicans an Advantage?
There have been a couple occasions where the presence of presidential campaigns in Iowa has played a role in winning special election or pivotal city election. In 1999, Republican Speaker of the House Ron Corbett resigned his seat to take a position with the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns helped their party’s nominee. Republicans held the seat that year, but it wasn’t easy. In 2004, Democrats provided the necessary boost that allowed Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie pull an upset of sorts in the Des Moines mayoral race that year. Christine Hensley, a moderate Republican, was the favorite to win that election.
The presidential campaigns will have their hands full in organizing for the caucuses, but helping Republicans swing the balance of power in the State Senate would build a lot of good will. The presidential campaigns will look for ways to be helpful in the areas of boots on the ground as well as campaign contributions.
Can Republicans Win?
Yes. Absolutely. And they should win it.
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