Historically, if minority parties are going to make any headway, then midterm elections are the time to do it. So can we expect a giant blue wave in 2018? A wave similar to what we saw for Republicans in 2016?

Here are five reasons Democrats have hope.

1. President Donald Trump’s approval ratings tank in Iowa.

National approval/disapproval polls do not mean a whole lot to me. His polling in Iowa should cause some concern among Iowa Republicans. The Des Moines Register and Mediacom’s Iowa Poll in December showed that only 35 percent of Iowans approved of the President’s performance while 60 percent disapproved. In July of 2017, his approval rating in Iowa was 43 percent who approved while 52 percent disapproved. So he went from a gap of only nine points to 25.

Granted, it’s one poll, and it may or may not impact how Iowans vote in other races, but it isn’t a good sign for Republicans either.

2. Great turnout for February’s Iowa Caucuses.

Turn out at the Iowa Caucuses last month should cause concern among Republicans. Mid-term caucuses always have less attendance since it the die-hard party faithful are the only ones who attend. The inclement weather we had throughout the state the night of the caucus certainly did not help.

Even so, the Iowa Democratic Party reported that attendance this year surpassed 2010 and 2014.

“Based on preliminary results with only two-thirds of precincts reporting, we’re excited to announce that tonight’s turnout beat both 2010 and 2014 – making this one of our most successful mid-term caucuses,” IDP Chairman Troy Price said a released statement at the time.

“We know the weather kept some people from coming out, and for those that weren’t able to attend, they will still be able to engage in this conversation at the county level. But tonight demonstrated that, in spite of the challenges of the weather, Democrats are still energized about the future of our party.  In all 99 counties, Iowans gathered across the state to engage in a conversation about the future of our party and our state,” he added.

The Republican Party of Iowa could not make a similar statement. In fact, in my social media feeds, posts I saw from my Republican friends who caucused noted that attendance was down.

While it is impossible to discern potential turnout by a mid-term caucus, we should get a clearer picture after the primary on June 5th.

3. A competitive gubernatorial race.

With former Governor Terry Branstad’s resignation to become the U.S. Ambassador to China, Democrats also believe Iowa will have a competitive gubernatorial race. While Governor Kim Reynolds enters the race as an incumbent, she’s likely to face a tougher challenge in 2018.

The Des Moines Register released the only poll thus far in the Iowa Gubernatorial race. Reynolds led all of the prospective Democrat nominees. Her closest potential challenger (with the caveat that she has to beat Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett in the GOP primary first) is State Senator Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines). Reynolds leads him 41 percent to 37 percent. She has a five-point edge over real estate developer Fred Hubbell 42 percent to 37 percent. Twenty-two percent of Iowans said they were undecided or were voting for someone else.

That is not a poll that I would get excited about if I were in the Reynolds camp. She doesn’t break 44 percent against any opponent and that underperforms a favorable rating of only 49 percent and a job approval rating that is only 47 percent.

Again, I’ll emphasize, it’s one poll, and it’s early. Reynolds campaigns hard and is energetic, likable, and has a HUGE war chest (She had $4 Million cash on hand at the start of the year). And she still has the benefit of the incumbency.

She’s not Branstad, however, so Democrats see an opportunity.

4. Republican hold of Iowa’s 1st Congressional District is tenuous.

Congressman Rod Blum (R-Iowa) who first won in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District in 2014 competing for an open seat when former Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) ran for U.S. Senate and lost to then State Senator, now U.S. Senator, Joni Ernst. In 2014, Blum defeated former Iowa Speaker of the House Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque) by 6,617 votes. He won reelection in 2016 by defeating former Cedar Rapids Councilwoman Monica Vernon by 29,500 votes.

In 2016, Blum outperformed President Donald Trump by almost four points. The district had voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Because Democrats have a voter registration advantage in the district, this will probably always be considered a toss-up district. The DCCC considers Iowa 1st a target district. Cook Political Report says the district is a toss-up. Out of the three Congressional Districts held by Republicans in Iowa, this seat is the one most likely to flip.

“No party” voters make up the largest group in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District which has hovered between 185,000-190,000 over the last few years. This fact is why Republicans have been able to compete in a district where Democrats hold a considerable voter registration advantage.

It is an advantage that is shrinking. I looked back at past registration numbers. I did not want to compare November 2014 or 2016 numbers to March 2018 because I think that is comparing apples to oranges since both Republicans and Democrats will ramp up voter registration drives over the next few months. Comparing the district now to where voter registration stood in March 2014 and March 2016, and you can see the voter make-up in the district is changing.

In 2014, the Blum campaign in March before the primary faced a voter registration deficit of 25,070 voters compared to the Democrats. In March of 2016, they were still in the hole, but they shrunk the deficit to 20,158 registered voters. In March of this year that deficit is even smaller – 16,345 voters.

So while Democrats may smell blood in the water, the voter registration data is headed the opposite direction for them.

Regarding fundraising, according to Open Secrets, Blum outraised all of the Democratic candidates combined during the last reporting period. Comparing his numbers with State Representative Abby Finkenauer (D-Dubuque) who is the DCCC-backed candidate and, I think, the person most likely to win the Democratic nomination in June. Blum outraised Finkenauer by just over $473,000 and spent $95,463 less (the benefit of not having a contested primary). Regarding cash on hand, Blum has $995,247 compared to Finkenauer who has $379,066.

Also, and this is a good indicator of support, Blum has far outraised Finkenauer among in-state individual donors.

Courtesy of Open Secrets

Just like in 2014 and 2016, outside money will pour in. Certainly, a lot can happen between now and November, but I’m not sure Congressman Blum is as vulnerable as Democrats think he is. In Blum’s favor, however, is that Iowa loves its incumbents.

5. Lots of Republican legislator retirements.

2018 brings the most Republican legislative retirements that I can remember. Here is a list of legislators who have said they are not running for re-election:

  • State Senator Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) in Senate District 7
  • State Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) in Senate District 41.
  • State Representative Chuck Holz (R-LeMars) in House District 5
  • State Representative Ralph Watts (R-Adel) in House District 19
  • State Representative Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield) in House District 20
  • State Representative Greg Heartsill (R-Chariton) in House District 28
  • State Representative Rob Taylor (R-West Des Moines) in House District 44
  • State Representative Kristi Hager (R-Waukon) in House District 56
  • State Representative Ken Rizer (R-Marion) in House District 68
  • State Representative Dawn Pettengill (R-Mount Auburn)
  • State Representative Guy Vander Linden (R-Oskaloosa) in House District 79
  • State Representative Larry Sheets (R-Moulton) in House District 80
  • State Representative David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant) in House District 84

So there are two retirements in the Iowa Senate and at least 11 in the Iowa House. There may be a 12th, State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa (R-Council Bluffs) in House District 16 at the time of publication still has not filed her candidacy for reelection. The deadline for filing for the primary is tomorrow at 5:00p.

Then there is the unexpected resignation of former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) this week. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds set the special election for his district, Iowa Senate District 25, for Tuesday, April 10, 2018. Whoever wins this special election will have to turn right around and be elected again in November as his seat was up for reelection. This district is safe Republican territory with registered Republicans outnumbers registered Democrats almost 2 to 1.

I’m going to follow-up this piece with a look at key legislative races.

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