Iowa Senate District 3 held their special election last week on December 12 to replace State Senator Bill Anderson (R-Pierson) who resigned after accepting the executive director position with the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation. State Representative Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City) defeated Democrat Todd Wendt 54 percent (3591 votes) to 46 percent (2,988 votes).
Carlin, recently elected to the Iowa House in 2016, won Iowa House District 6 by over 30 points. Wendt recently retired as a long-time superintendent of LeMars Community Schools. He is the son of the late Democrat lawmaker Roger Wendt.
Only 603 votes separated the two making the race much, much closer than most expected. Republicans hold a 17,677 to 8,719 voter registration edge over Democrats in the Senate District that includes the western two-thirds of Plymouth County and northern and western areas of Woodbury County. There are 13,170 independent voters in the district.
While the race was much loser than expected, Democrats may be reading too much into this particular race.
I don’t think this special election demonstrates inroads into Northwest Iowa for two reasons.
1. Turnout was dismal.
The Senate District had between 16-17 percent of registered voters in Senate District 3 participate. A couple of things to consider. This special election was a compressed. Governor Kim Reynolds announced the special election date on November 1 giving candidates just shy of six weeks, and it occurred two weeks out from Christmas. Those are not normal circumstances.
In 2014, when Anderson ran unopposed in Iowa Senate District 3, he won 17,176 votes. That was a gubernatorial election year. In 2018, when Carlin will have to run for a full-term will also be a gubernatorial election year. Turnout will be higher.
I suspect the result will be much the same as what Carlin experienced when he won Iowa House District 6 – it won’t be remotely close.
Since Carlin was expected to win handily in the district, I suspect there was also some apathy on the part of Republican voters.
2. Democrats ran a well-known candidate.
The fact that Wendt had high name ID isn’t to say Carlin isn’t known but had Democrats fielded someone other than Wendt I doubt the results would have been as close. Because of his father’s reputation among Democrats in the area, they turned-out for Wendt, and he won 2988 votes. Considering they didn’t run anybody against Anderson in 2014, it’s hard to say what an average turnout is for Democrats in the district.
While I’m not sure what to expect in 2018 I am confident there will not be a Democrat wave across Northwest Iowa. The lesson Republicans should learn from this race, however, is that they can’t take any seat for granted, especially for special elections. Overconfidence nearly cost them the election. Republicans have to up their turn-out game for special elections. They are currently 1-3 since Election Day 2016. Democrats will be gunning for Iowa House District 6 that is now open due to Carlin’s victory. Will Republicans be ready?