With the tremendous wave Republicans experienced with federal races many Iowans are asking what in the world happened with the Iowa Senate? Why did we not see any traction? All we had to do was flip two seats for a majority which is not mission impossible.
Other states didn’t see this happen. Fox News reported that the Republican Party had record gains at the state level as well. The Washington Post had a rundown on how big of a night it was for state-level races.
- Net gain of 8 legislative chambers, increasing from 59 to 67 out of a total of 98 (Nebraska is technically unicameral, but it is dominated by Republicans as well).
- This sets a record for the modern era, breaking the one in 2012.
- Republicans now have total control of 24 states, controlling legislative chambers as well as the governor’s office.
- Republicans have supermajority status in 8 states.
- Control is split in 17 states (3 of whose governors flipped from Democrat to Republican).
- Republicans now have four lieutenant governorships due to defeating Democrat incumbents.
- Democrats have total control in 6 states.
That wave didn’t reach the Iowa Senate where the Democrats still have a 26 to 24 majority. What happened? Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican gave some analysis which I mostly agree with. While there 14 seats up for grabs only a handful were competitive, and Republicans had to defend seats that many didn’t think they’d keep after redistricting. Also with State Senator Sandy Greiner’s retirement her seat was going to be very difficult to keep. The primary target seats – Senate District 15 and Senate District 27 were going to be difficult as well. Crystal Bruntz in Senate District 15 was at a disadvantage with voter registration, and Newton Mayor Chas Allen won by 1300 votes. Democrats had 1200 more registered voters in that district than Republicans.
State Senator Amanda Ragan in Senate District 27 and was able to beat Dietz by 3,000 votes when Republicans had a 2,000 voter registration edge. Robinson attributes that to Ragan being popular, I’m not sure that is entirely the reason. He doesn’t mention that Dietz identifies with the liberty wing of the Republican party and I can’t help but think that caused some wallets to stay closed with some establishment Republicans voting for Ragan. I don’t know that for certain, but it’s hard to explain otherwise.
Robinson points out that winning the Iowa Senate simply wasn’t a priority.
I agree, and that is simply unacceptable. That should have been one of the primary focuses, but everything was vested in the U.S. Senate race which is important as well. Robinson pointed out that Governor Terry Branstad spent an inordinate amount of money to win Lee County because he never won it before. Why? If the intent was to help Mariannette Miller-Meeks that failed, she lost Lee County by almost the same margin that he won the county. Those resources could have gone elsewhere.
Not only was it not a priority for Governor Branstad it wasn’t a priority, as far as I can see, for the Republican Party of Iowa. They seemed hyper-focused on the U.S. Senate race, I saw relatively little in comparison for other races. With the Republican National Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee investing heavily in the race you would think they would have been able to split some resources. That said, I do commend the state party for their GOTV efforts and early voting push which certainly would help down ballot races.
With Senate District 15 resources could have made a huge difference, Democrats invested heavily in advertising. Republicans didn’t start advertising for Bruntz until the last minute. When there is a voter registration disadvantage and the seat is in the Des Moines market some advertising would have been very helpful. Allen was a good candidate for Democrats and his messaging was solid staying focused on job creation. He was still beatable and it was a missed opportunity through its lack of resources.
Some suggest, and I think it’s plausible, that Branstad prefers a split legislature which explains why he didn’t focus on it, and he had the most cash to spend. It keeps him from having to deal controversial bills on social issues, school choice, Common Core, marriage, etc. He could possibly get a gas tax increase passed (that needs to be a separate post altogether). A split legislature is a moderate legislature and that is something Branstad is likely more comfortable with. Good for him perhaps, but bad for Iowa.