Iowa Senate Chamber
Photo Credit: Samir Luther (CC-By-SA 2.0)

**See updates below**

The Iowa Democratic Party anticipates a blue wave this fall, one that will win them the Governor’s office and possibly take back the majority in one or both chambers of the Iowa Legislature. Cook’s Political Report calls the Governor’s race between Republican Governor Kim Reynolds and Democrat businessman Fred Hubbell a toss-up.

What about the Iowa Legislature?

Democrats could see some gains, but taking back the majority I believe is an unrealistic expectation for them. In this article, I want to look at the Iowa Senate. I will look at the Iowa House in a later article.

Iowa Senate Republicans currently enjoy a 29 to 20 majority won in 2016. Out of the 25 Senate Districts that have elections in 2018 only ten are currently held by Republicans and Democrats would need to win six of those to win a majority. Let’s take a look at each race.

Iowa Senate District 1 (No Party)

Status: Safe Republican

This seat is held by State Senator David Johnson (I-Ocheydan) who left the Republican Party over President Donald Trump. Had he decided to run for re-election it may have been a competitive race, but he announced he would not run for re-election clearing the way for Zach Whiting, the Republican primary winner, who is unopposed in the heavily Republican district.

Iowa Senate District 3 (Republican)

Status: Likely Republican

State Senator Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City) won his seat in a special election held on December 12, 2017, to replace former 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).

Turn-out was abysmal with less than 17 percent of the registered voters participating. This special election was 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 were not normal circumstances.

In 2014, Anderson ran unopposed in the district, and there is a reason for that. Currently, Republicans have an almost 9,000 voter registration advantage – 17,624 registered voters compared to the Democrats’ 8,947 registered voters. There are 12,819 independent voters. In 2014, when Anderson won he did it with he won 17,176 votes. Since 2018 is a gubernatorial election year, as was 2014, turnout will be much higher.

Also for the special election, Carlin’s opponent was the recently-retired long-time superintendent of LeMars Community Schools who is the son of the late Democrat lawmaker Roger Wendt. Carlin’s opponent this fall is Dave Dawson who is currently a prosecutor with the Woodbury County Attorney’s office. He also served in the Iowa House of Representatives for two terms representing Iowa House District 14.

Dawson is better known in the district he served and in Woodbury County, but very little of his former House District is represented in Iowa Senate District 3. Carlin prior to winning the special election also served in the Iowa House representing Iowa House District 6 that has more overlap with this Senate District.

Because of Dawson’s name ID and if there is lower Republican turnout this race could be closer than it would be otherwise, but this seat will be incredibly difficult for Democrats to win.

Iowa Senate District 5 (Republican)

Status: Leans Republican

State Senator Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Ft. Dodge) faces a challenge from John O’Brien who worked for Manson Northwest Webster School District where he was the administrator for a school designed for at-risk students. He has been a resident of Ft. Dodge for 12 years. He’s an Army veteran, and before becoming an educator and moving to the district, he owned a construction company for 33 years.

Republicans currently have a 13,438 to 10,229 voter registration edge. There are 14,618 registered independent voters in the district. In 2014, Kraayenbrink defeated the incumbent State Senator, Daryl Beall 55.8 percent (12,383) to 44.2 percent (9,801) with a much smaller voter registration advantage.

This race could be a close if turnout among Republicans is low.

*Update* Iowa Senate District 7 (Republican)

Status: Toss-Up Leans Republican

Update 8/21/18: Steven Stokes, the Republican nominee dropped out of the race. State Senator Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) decided to run again and was nominated by special convention. This gives the Republicans the advantage as I explain here.

Original: This seat is an open seat since State Senator Rick Bertrand (R-Sioux City) decided not to run for re-election. Bertrand won re-election to a second term after his redistricting in 2014. He defeated his Democratic challenger, Jim France, 57.1 percent (8766) to 37.4 percent (5738). Heading into the race, Bertrand faced a voter registration edge of 2,475.

Currently, Democrats still hold a slightly smaller voter registration edge over Republicans in this district. Democrats have 11,139 voters compared to 9,109 Republicans. 10,022 independent registered voters will be the wild card in this race.

President Donald Trump won this district in 2016 by five percent.

Steven Stokes is the Republican nominee running in this district. He is a small business owner in Sioux City. He faces Jackie Smith, a former Woodbury County Supervisor, who was defeated in 2016 by her Republican challenger Keith Radig in Supervisor District 1 55 percent to 45 percent. Her supervisor district overlaps with much of the Senate district.

The Sioux City Journal reports:

People from the entire county vote for supervisor seats. Smith said she is positioned to perform well in the senate race, since she got 11,273 votes and Radig got 10,358 in territory that lies in the senate district.

Had Bertrand run for re-election I think Republicans would have an advantage, but with an open seat, I would consider this district a toss-up.

Iowa Senate District 9 (Republican)

Status: Safe Republican

State Senator Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig) is running unopposed in this heavily Republican district in Western Iowa.

Iowa Senate District 11 (Republican)

Status: Safe Republican

State Senator Tom Shipley (R-Nodaway) is running for his second term. He was unopposed in the general election in 2014 after winning the Republican primary. Sarah Ramsey of Corning, who currently works as a psychiatric technician in Omaha, is his Democrat challenger.

Shipley enjoys a voter registration edge of over 10,000 voters compared to Democrats.

Iowa Senate District 13 (Republican)

Status: Likely Republican

State Senator Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) is running for his second full-term in the Iowa Senate after winning the seat in 2013 in a special election. He won re-election in 2014 by 61 percent (15,326) to 35.4 percent (8,900). President Donald Trump won this district by 20 points in 2016.

Republicans enjoy slightly over 3000 more registered voters (15,429) than Democrats (12,340) which is a wider gap than Garrett experienced in 2014. There are also 14,997 independent registered voters in the district.

Garrett’s Democrat challenger is Vicki Brenner, a retired teacher and small business owner from Winterset.

*Update* Iowa Senate District 15 (Democrat)

Status: Leans Democrat Leans Republican

Update 8/21/18: This race has been turned on its head. The second Democrat candidate nominated after Allen dropped decided not to run. Tim Shay decided not to run and Republicans nominated State Representative Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant) who is very popular to replace him.  Democrats only have a 707 voter registration edge currently. Donald Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016. With Nunn’s entry into the race and the Democrats currently without a candidate, this race shifted in the Republicans’ favor.

Update 7/20/18: State Senator Chaz Allen (D-Newton) announced he is not running for re-election. Being an open seat this district is much, much more competitive for Republicans. Democrats will have to nominate a candidate through a special nominating convention. At this time, I’m not changing the status, but this news could very well move this district into toss-up territory.

Donald Trump won this district in 2016 by 15 points.

Democrats hold a voter registration edge of less than a 1000 people (14,495) over Republicans (13,739) which is slightly less than the voter registration advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2014. There are 14,835 registered independent voters in the district as well.

Tim Shay, a retiree from Southwestern Bell who moved to Newton in 2014, is the Republican nominee.

Iowa Senate District 17 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) is running unopposed for his second term in this heavily Democratic district.

Iowa Senate District 19 (Republican)

Status: Leans Republican

State Senator Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) is the Iowa Senate Majority Leader. He has served in the Iowa Senate since 2011 after winning a special election. He won re-election in 2014 by defeating independent candidate Brett Nelson 81.4 percent (16,742) to 18.4 percent (3,802). Nelson challenged Whitver in the Republican primary in 2014 and did so again in 2018. It’s unclear whether he plans to also run as an independent in the general election in 2018.

This election cycle, Whitver has drawn a Democrat challenger, Amber Gustafson. Gustafson is a small business owner, as well as, a health and fitness coach who lives in Ankeny.

Republicans have a 3000 registered voter edge (17,626) over Democrats (14,507) in the district which is slightly less than what Whitver enjoyed in 2014. Currently, there are 15,686 independent registered voters in the district.  In 2016, President Trump beat Hillary Clinton in this district by 8 points.

This race looks like it will be tougher for Whitver than what he experienced in 2014. Should Nelson decide to run as an independent again causing a three-way race and if turnout is low for Republicans that could cause problems for Whitver.

Iowa Senate District 21 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Matt McCoy’s (D-Des Moines) decision to run for Polk County Supervisor leaves an open seat in Iowa Senate District 21. In 2014, McCoy ran unopposed in this district that gives Democrats an over 8000 registered voter (19,340) edge over Republicans (10,825). In 2016, Hillary Clinton won this district by 19 points.

Claire Celsi, a community organizer and Democrat activist from West Des Moines, won the Democratic Primary. The Republican candidate is Brian Bales from West Des Moines. Bales is a retired Marine officer who has also served in various capacities in both state and federal government.

Iowa Senate District 23 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) is running for this fifth term in the Iowa Senate. Fellow Iowa State University professor and past Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Eric Cooper will challenge him. Republicans do not have a candidate running in November.

Quirmbach won reelection in 2014 by 19 points, and Hillary Clinton won this district by 23 points in 2016.  Quirmbach in 2010 there was a closer result when challenged by Timothy Gartin, an Ames City Council member, but he still won by almost six percent of the vote.

Iowa Senate District 25 (Republican)

Status: Safe Republican

State Senator Annette Sweeney (R-Alden) won her seat in a special election in April defeating Tracey Freese, a Democrat small businesswoman from Dike in Iowa Senate District 25’s special election on Tuesday 55.8 percent (4,776) to 44.2 percent (3,786). This seat was left vacant when former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock) resigned. He was up for re-election so Sweeney and Freese will face one another again in November.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in this district by an almost two to one ratio. President Donald Trump won this district by nine percent in 2016.

Iowa Senate District 27 (Democrat)

Status: Toss-up

State Senator Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City) is running for a 5th term in the Iowa Senate. Her Republican challenger is Shannon Latham from Sheffield who is co-owner and vice president of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds.

Republicans hold just shy of a 2500 registered voter advantage (12,896) over Democrats (10,397). There are 15,714 registered independent voters. The voter registration advantage was about the same when Ragan won re-election in 2014 by over 2,800 votes.

In 2016, President Donald Trump won this district by 15 percent. Latham is well known in the community, so this seat could prove difficult for the Democrats to hold.

Iowa Senate District 29 (Democrat)

Status: Toss-up

State Senator Tod Bowman (D-Makoqueta) is running for his third term against Republican challenger Carrie Koelker of Dyersville. Koelker has worked at the Eastern Iowa Tourism Association – where she has served as executive director since 2000 – and the Dubuque Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bowman won re-election in 2014 by a little over 8 percent, and Democrats hold an almost 3,000 voter registration edge (14,749) over Republicans (11,776). There are 17,178 registered independent voters, and President Donald Trump won this district by 20 percent in 2016. Republicans have cut into the registered voter advantage since 2014. Koelker is a better-known and better-financed candidate than Jim Budde was in 2014.

Iowa Senate District 31 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo) is running unopposed in this heavily Democrat district.

Iowa Senate District 33 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) is running for his fourth term in the Iowa Senate. His Republican challenger is Edward Bernie Hayes from Cedar Rapids who is an engineer with Rockwell Collins.

Democrats have a substantial registered voter advantage (16,197) over Republicans (9,934). There are 13,222 registered independent voters in the district as well. Hogg won re-election 2014 by over 23 percent.

Iowa Senate District 35 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids) retired after his 10th term in the Iowa Senate. State Representative Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids) is running unopposed for his seat in a heavy Democrat district.

Iowa Senate District 37 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Robert Dvorsky (D-Coralville) retired after seven years. Zach Wahls, an LGBT activist from Coralville, won the Democratic primary and will face Carl Krambeck from Clarence who is the Libertarian nominee. Krambeck is a former research supervisor at Hillshire Brands.

Democrats hold a large registered voter advantage (16,197) over Republicans (9,934). There are only 238 registered Libertarians and 13,222 registered independent voters.

Iowa Senate District 39 (Democrat)

Status: Leans Democrat

State Senator Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford) is running for re-election after being first elected in 2014 by 4.5 percent. He faces Republican challenger Heather Hora, a farmer in Washington County.

Republicans (13,259) have a slight voter registration edge over Democrats (13,163). There are 14,926 registered independent voters. President Trump edged out Clinton in this district by less than 1 percent in 2016.

Iowa Senate District 41 (Republican)

Status: Toss-up

State Senator Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) declined to run for a third term in the Iowa Senate leaving an open seat that should be competitive. Former two-time Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist from Ottumwa who served as Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health under Governor Terry Branstad, won the Republican Primary. She faces Mary Stewart, a former community college administrator from Ottumwa, who won the Democratic Primary.

Chelgren had a very close race in 2014, winning by less than two percent of the vote. Registered Democrat voters (13,610) outnumber registered Republicans (10,643). There are 10,831 registered independent voters in the district. President Trump won this district by 19 percent in 2016.

Iowa Senate District 43 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is running for a sixth term. His Republican challenger is Patrick Wronkiewicz, a Marine Corps veteran and University of Iowa student.

Registered Democrats in this district outnumber registered Republicans, Libertarian, and Independent voters combined.

Iowa Senate District 45 (Democrat)

Status: Safe Democrat

State Senator Jim Lykam (D-Davenport) is running for his first full term in the Iowa Senate after winning a special election in 2016 following the death of State Senator Joe Seng (D-Davenport). Lykam served six terms in the Iowa House of Representatives before being elected to the Iowa Senate.  He is unopposed.

Iowa Senate District 47 (Republican)

Status: Leans Republican

State Senator Roby Smith (R-Davenport) is running for a third term. His Democrat challenger is Marie Gleason from Bettendorf who is a John Deere employee for 20 years and a community activist.

Smith won re-election in 2014 by almost 13 percent. Hillary Clinton won the district in 2016 by one percent. Republicans have a slight voter registration advantage (14,709) over Democrats (13,277) and have less of a gap than they did in 2014. There are 17,647 independent voters in the district.

Iowa Senate District 49 (Democrat)

Status: Leans Republican

State Senator Rita Hart (D-Wheatfield) was tapped to be Fred Hubbell’s running mate in the gubernatorial race, so this is now an open seat. It was already a seat that was being targeted by Republicans because President Donald Trump won the district by 12 points, Hart had a close election in 2014, and Democrats only have a very slight voter registration advantage (11,668) over Republicans (11,000). There are 17,281 independent registered voters in the district.

The Republican candidate, Chris Cournoyer, is a small business owner, mother of four children, and president of the Pleasant Valley Community School Board. The race was going to be challenging for Hart as an incumbent and I would have considered this race a toss-up, but since Democrats have not nominated anyone at this time, Republicans have the advantage with a well-known candidate in the district.

Conclusion:

Here is a chart of the races. Democrats have six seats not up for re-election, Republicans have 19. (Update: The chart below does not reflect changes in Iowa Senate Districts 7 and 15 both are now in the “leans Republican” category.)

The absolute worst-case scenario is that all of the Republican toss-up and districts that “lean” Republican (five districts) flip giving Democrats 25 seats tying Republicans. That is incredibly unlikely.

If Democrats do well, I think the more likely scenario is that they pick up two “toss-up” seats and hold all of their seats giving Republicans, who will pick-up Senate District 1, a 28 to 22 majority.

I think it’s more likely, however, that Republicans will end up with a 30 to 20 majority or 31 to 19 majority. (Update: 31 to 19 looks more likely and Republicans could possibly have a 32 to 18 majority after election day.)

Either way, any idea that a “blue wave” will carry Democrats to a majority in the Iowa Senate is far-fetched.

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