By Craig Robinson
It’s only human nature that we tend to focus on the top of the ticket in presidential years. While I would love nothing more than to make President Obama a one-term president, there is a lot more at stake in this election that just who occupies the White House.
I would suggest that the most immediate and significant political change in Iowa would come from Republicans gaining control of the Iowa Senate, not the White House. I also believe that if Iowans remove another Supreme Court Justice from the bench, the ramifications will be farther reaching than when they removed three of them in 2010.
Why am I so confident on Election Day?
Because no matter what the polls and the talking heads tell us, we already know one thing is abundantly clear – President Barak Obama is nothing like candidate Obama was in 2008. That sentiment will be even clearer after the results in Iowa’s 99 counties are known.
There are 20 counties in Iowa that George W. Bush won in 2004 that John McCain lost in 2008. These mostly rural Republican counties may not hold the secret to Romney carrying Iowa, but they will be a major factor in the presidential race as well as other contests on the ballot.
President George W. Bush won the state of Iowa in his 2004 re-election campaign by a margin of just 10,059 votes over John Kerry. Bush won that election with 292 electoral votes. Four years later, Barack Obama easily defeated John McCain in the Electoral College and in Iowa. Obama won Iowa by a 9.5 percent margin, or over 140,000 votes.
Seventeen of those 20 counties described above have a registered voter advantage for Republicans. These are not counties that you would think would award a Democrat the most votes, but that’s exactly what happened in 2008. And that’s how Obama won in places like Hardin County.
In 2004, Bush was able to win these counties by a combined 10,315 votes. That’s more than the margin by which he won the entire state. In a close election like the one we are expecting to see today, the difference between winning and losing can come down to counties like these, not just the big urban population centers.
I expect Romney to win most, if not all, of these counties, but what’s important is the margin by which he wins them. The 2004 results show how Bush was able to win the state by winning these counties with a reasonable margin. These counties also performed well for Terry Branstad’s 2010 comeback campaign. In fact, Branstad was able to build a 21,440-vote margin in these same twenty counties that Bush won and McCain lost. That means there is a big opportunity to rack up a significant margin over a Democrat opponent in counties that many might otherwise be considered inconsequential in a statewide contest.
These 20 swing counties also may determine whether Republicans take control of the Iowa Senate. Six of the most contested Senate Districts include all or portions of these counties. Four of those races are contests where there is no incumbent seeking re-election. The other two districts include a challenger race and an incumbent running for re-election. Simply put, control of the senate can be won or lost in these six districts.
I have long believed that the 2012 presidential race in Iowa is a rural vs. urban battle. As mentioned above, Democrats have basically eliminated the registered voter advantage Republicans once had, but their gains are limited to just four counties that are Democrat strongholds. That further supports the theory that Obama might do well in urban areas, but has the potential to get crushed in the more rural parts of Iowa.
In recent weeks Democrats have clung to various polls showing President Obama leading in states like Iowa with more fervor than small town Iowans cling to their guns and religion. I believe the reason why the polls continue to show Obama in the lead is that its difficult, or almost impossible, for the polls to accurately forecast the intensity of the Republican votes outside of Iowa’s major communities.
If the election is as close as we think it is in Iowa, then the rural vote will carry Romney to victory tonight. Even if Romney comes up short, I think the rural advantage for Iowa Republicans is going to win them control of the Iowa Senate and Iowa House to go along with the governor’s office.
I think things are looking pretty good for Iowa Republicans.
The Iowa Swing Counties:
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