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September 16th, 2011

Branstad’s Appointment of Dandekar Puts Iowa Senate in Play

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:

The District

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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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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