Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Steve King cruises past Rick Bertrand in the Iowa 4th Congressional District Republican primary
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

With the presidential race it’s easy to overlook the down ballot races, and the Iowa Primary held on Tuesday gets overshadowed by the Iowa Caucus with its presidential preference poll. Now that the primary is in the can I wanted to make six observations.

1. Republican enthusiasm outweighed Democrat enthusiasm.

Granted the primary election always has lower turnout than the general election, but I would be concerned if I were an Iowa Democrat.

Here’s a key statistic.  In 2014 there were 162,633 GOP Senate Primary voters. The Democrats had a very competitive primary, and they only had 96,906 voters turn out. In fact they only had 5,000 more voters than Republicans had for their Senate primary this year which was uncontested.

Also if you consider voter turnout in Congressional Districts that had contested primaries…. The Iowa 4th Congressional District had more Republican voters participate – 44,624 voters than the Iowa 1st and 3rd Congressional District had Democrat voters participate – 31,080 and 26,113 respectfully.

2. Steve King took on Big Ethanol and won.

I should say Big Ethanol took on Congressman Steve King in the Iowa 4th Congressional District Republican primary and lost. King wasn’t picking a fight, but Big Ethanol was unhappy with King’s endorsement of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign because he wanted to eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard.

King himself has not advocated for that, but did defend Cruz’s position.

They recruited State Senator Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) who has to have run one of the worst Congressional campaigns I’ve seen in awhile. Bertrand raised just over $52,000 to King’s $150,000. However, according to Open Secrets, $71,265 was spent by outside groups in favor of Bertrand, and $18,566 was spent opposing King. Gun Owners of America dropped $26 to support King.  All the outside money favored Bertrand. $84,24o was spent by Progress Project. Open Secrets also didn’t account for the advertising run by American Future Fund against King.

King beat Bertrand 64.7% (28,861) to 35.2% (15,715). Some have opined that the margin should have been wider because King is an incumbent. They say it indicates a weakness.

Hogwash. King beat Bertrand in all 39 counties. The closet that Bertrand came to beating King was in Cherokee County where he lost by five points. There were only six counties where he broke 40%. He earned his highest percentage in Cherokee County – 47.1%. Otherwise he was kept in the 28-36% range. Not exactly a nail biter here folks.

Also, we have no data showing how King has historically performed in a contested primary beyond the first one he won before he was first elected to Congress (it had to be later decided at convention). Why is this? Because he has never been challenged before.

Moderate Republicans have always complained about him, and I suspect there has always been a group within Republican registered voters who would vote against him if given the opportunity.  Perhaps it could have been closer with a better candidate to run against Congressman King. There wasn’t a better candidate who wanted to.

This is a safe district for him.

His most difficult challenge was in 2012 in a newly redrawn district running against Christie Vilsack who was first lady of Iowa being married to former Iowa Governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Vilsack had the most name recognition of any other challenger he faced. There was lots of money spent against him. Voter turnout was high with 77% of the registered voters in the district going to the polls. It wasn’t close. King beat Vilsack 53% (200,063) to 44.9% (169,470).  Vilsack only won seven counties in the district. The only county where she won big was in Story County.

In 2014, Jim Mowrer (who is the Democrat nominee to run in the Iowa 3rd Congressional District race), lost to King 61.6% (169,834) to 38.3% (105,504).

Since 2012 Republicans have increased their registration edge in the district. Currently there are 185,655 registered Republicans compared to 123,108 registered Democrats. There are 166,054 registered independents. Let’s put this into perspective. Say there was 100% turnout – Kim Weaver, the Democrat nominee running against King, would have to win 70% of the independent vote in order to beat King by under 4000 votes if all Republicans voted for King and all Democrats voted for Weaver.

Since winning 70% of the independent vote is a pipe dream, she would have to win big among independents and have a significant number of Republicans peel away and vote for her in order to win. That’s a tall order. I would even say it’s mathematically improbable. If Christie Vilsack couldn’t do it in 2012 with the turnout the district saw I don’t see Weaver pulling that off come November.

I do have to wonder if Nick Ryan, Progress Iowa and American Future Fund disdain King enough to spend money against him in the general election.  I doubt we’ll see the amount of Democrat money spent in the district when races in the Iowa’s 1st Congressional District and 3rd Congressional District will be far more competitive.

3. Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District race is in play.

Congressman David Young had a contested Republican primary. He beat Joe Grandanette handily 84.7% (17,852) to 14.9% (3,134). His Democratic challenger, Jim Mowrer (whom we mentioned earlier) won the three-way Democratic primary 49.6% (12,949) finishing ahead of Mike Sherzan 36.4% (9,502) and Desmund Adams 13.9% (3,624).

The reason why I’m concerned is due to the Republican interest in this race. Only 21,071 ballots were cast in the Republican primary. This could be partly due to Young’s challenger being so weak. It also could be due to Young not being as popular among grassroots Republicans. In the 2014 Republican primary Young finished in 5th place. That race had to be decided at convention since Brad Zaun who finished 1st failed to reach the 35% threshold in order to prevent the decision being made at a special convention.

Looking back to the 2012 primary former Congressman Tom Latham ran unopposed and he received 27,757 votes.

That said the Democrats only had slightly more than 5,000 voters participate in their primary compared to the Republicans. Also, while the Democrats had 26,113 people vote in their hotly contested primary this year. In 2014 Republicans saw 44,628 people vote in their primary.

Republicans currently do have a registration edge. There are 170,623 registered Republicans compared to 159,133 registered Democrats. There are 153,589 registered independents.

Young beat the Democrat nominee, Staci Appel, in 2014, but that was a midterm election. Young’s predecessor, former Congressman Tom Latham won his election in 2012, but President Barack Obama won in the district. Boswell had problems with his base.

Mowrer is a better and smarter candidate than Appel was, and will probably be better funded as well.  He is going to be sharper having come out of a contested primary. It is ultimately going to boil down to voter enthusiasm and how the top of the ticket for both parties will impact voter turnout and which way independents go.

4. It was not a good primary for challenging incumbents.

Only one incumbent in the state and federal elections, lost his primary on Tuesday. State Representative Dan Kelley (D-Newton) lost his primary to Wes Breckenridge in Iowa House District 29, and he was stomped 65.3% to 34.6%. I’m not sure what he did to get creamed like that, but wow.  All of the other incumbents won their primaries by double digits.

5. Bid adieu to Pat Murphy.

The former Speaker of the Iowa House and the 2014 Democratic nominee in the Iowa 1st Congressional District race, Pat Murphy, got his clocked cleaned by Monica Vernon. Not. Even. Close.

She won 67.5% (20,971) to Murphy’s 32.4% (10,071).  That is a career-killing loss.

It should be mentioned that 33,241 Republicans participated in the 2014 Republican primary that Congressman Rod Blum won and then later winning the general election. Democrats this cycle had fewer participants, albeit not by much, 31,080.  This cycle Blum was unchallenged in the primary and only 13,488 Republicans participated.

Democrats have a 20,000 registered voter advantage over Republicans. Vernon will be well financed. As in 2014, the independents will be the wild card. There are more registered independents, 181,817, than Republicans or Democrats. Blum will have a fight on his hands to retain his seat.

6. Patty Judge is a weak challenger to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

Former Lt. Governor and Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge was the establishment’s choice to run against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Democrat activists appeared to favor State Senator Robb Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) however.

She under performed her polling. The Des Moines Register‘s poll had Judge leading Hogg by 17 points. She only beat him by less than nine points as he outperformed his polling.

Judge was not very accessible to the media or voters during the primary. It appears that she will keep that up going on into the general election offering little substance.

Judge during a campaign stop in Charles City earlier this week said she was going to offer little in the way of substance.

I’d like this to be about some lofty ideas of mine, things that I would like to see happen, but that’s probably going to have to wait until after November because I think what my job is going to be is holding his feet to the fire. I don’t know if that’s the answer you want but I think that’s the truthful answer,” Judge said.

So we’ll know what this candidate is about after we elect her?

She wants to make this about Grassley’s position on holding off hearings for the Supreme Court until after a new President is sworn in.

Good luck with that. A new poll has showed that he’s not been hurt by this, and more Americans want to wait than have one confirmed right away.

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