I have no official capacity within the Election Night coverage plans of the great media machine that pays my salary, so like many of you, I will be at home watching the saga unfold, likely slowly. May have to adjust my cocktail shaker to its “comfortably numb” setting.
So I’ll be watching and maybe tweeting and potentially blogging. Here’s some of the stuff I’m most interested in.
1. Control of the Iowa Senate
Although the race for president has sucked up all the attention and is the reason vast numbers of Iowans are no longer on speaking terms at this hour, I think, hands down, the race to control the Iowa Senate promises to have a more direct impact on the lives of Iowans than who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania.
The course of many very big issues will be heavily impacted by whether Democrats hold on to their narrow majority or whether Republicans seize the chamber and control both the Legislature and Executive Branch. Tax reforms, public school transformation, collective bargaining for public employees, higher education funding, same-sex marriage, health care expansion, all hang in the balance.
That is, unless you’re unfortunate enough to hear a lot of legislative campaign ads. Then you might think the big issues are how state lawmakers will somehow destroy federal programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, how every man, woman and child have to pay back I-JOBS “junk bonds” that are actually paid back with gambling taxes, or how scheming lawmakers helped food stamps recipients perpetrate bottled water deposit scams. What, no heated sidewalks?
If Republicans take the Senate, this isn’t going to be a GOP majority circa 2004. There will be no Mary Lundby or Maggie Tinsman or Don Redfern or Andy McKean types tempering the caucus’ harder ideological edges. The 2013 Senate GOP majority’s core would likely form around ambitious arch conservatives such as Sen. Bill Dix, R-Waverly, who made a failed bid to take over the caucus in 2011. These are folks who, deep down, would rather scrap the state dept. of education than enact any pricey reforms being pushed by its current director, Jason Glass.
Here are the state Senate races to watch:
District 6 (Buena Vista, Sac, Carroll, Crawford and Audubon counties) Mary Bruner, D-Carroll vs. Mark Segebart, R- Vail
District 8 (Pottawattamie, Cass, Adams and Union) Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, vs. Al Riggenberg, R-Council Bluffs
District 26 (Worth, E. Cerro Gordo, Mitchell, Howard, Floyd, Chickasaw and NW Winneshiek) Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, D-Cresco vs. Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton
District 28 (SE Winneshiek, NE Fayette, Allamakee, Clayton) John Beard, D-Decorah vs. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point
District 32 (Bremer, SW Fayette, NE Black Hawk, NW Buchanan) Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington vs. Elliott Henderson, R-Independence
District 30 (Black Hawk) Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo vs. Matt Reisetter, R-Cedar Falls
District 36 (Marshall, Tama, S Black Hawk) Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center vs. Jane Jech, R-Marshalltown
District 46 (E. Muscatine, SW Scott) Chris Brase, D- vs. Sen. Shawn Hammerlinck, R-Dixon
District 48 (NE Linn, Delaware, NW Jones, SE Buchanan) Rep. Nate Willems, D-Lisbon vs. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan
District 49 (Clinton, N Scott) Rita Hart, D-Wheatland vs. Andrew Naeve, R-Andover
Of course, Gronstal is public enemy No. 1 for Republicans, after the Council Bluffs Democrat became, apparently, the first majority floor leader in Legislative history to block debate on key components of the other party’s agenda, according to the other party. “Unprecedented” is the new “fairly common,” as anyone who watches politics now knows. He’s being challenged by retired Air Force Col. Al Riggenberg.
Of local interest is the battle between state Rep. Nate Willems and Dan Zumbach for an open seat in District 48. Bleeding Heartland points out that the two parties have tossed about $350,000 into this race in recent weeks, including $277,000 from the Iowa Senate Majority Fund for Willems.
2. Iowa’s vote for president
1960 — Nixon, 722,8381; Kennedy 550,565
1964 — Johnson 733,030; Goldwater 449,148
1968 — Nixon 619,106; Humphrey 476,699
1972 — Nixon 706,207; McGovern 496, 206
1976 — Ford 632, 852; Carter 619,874
1980 — Reagan 676, 026; Carter 508, 672; Anderson 115,633
1984 — Reagan 703,088; Mondale 605, 620
1988 — Dukakis 670,557; Bush 545,355
1992 — Clinton 586,353; Bush 504,891; Perot 253,468
1996 — Clinton 620,258; Dole 492, 644; Perot 105,159
2000 — Gore 638,517; Bush 634,373
2004 — Bush 751,957; Kerry 741,898
2008 — Obama 818,240; McCain 677,508
Notice how the turnout/early voting efforts kick into high gear in 2004, along with post 2000 efforts to make registration and voting easier. Bush and Kerry each received more votes than any other Iowa presidential winners in the last 50 years. Then Obama tops 800,00 votes four years later.
That battle between Democrats’ early voting and Republican turnout will be huge. Will it be the 2004 model for Republicans, when massive turnout in heavily GOP rural/suburban areas wiped out Kerry’s margins in urban areas? Or will Democrats bank enough votes and hold on to enough of Obama’s 2008 vote pile to snatch a close one? Or, instead of being about battles already fought, will a new and surprising scenario emerge?
It’s going to be interesting. Assorted polls give Obama a slight lead, but it’s within the margin of error.
And think about the fact that, as of yesterday, 673,000 Iowans voted before Election Day. That’s more votes than Nixon (68), Ford, Dukakis, Clinton and Gore got when they won the state. What a remarkable change in the way elections play out.
3. Judicial retention
If I had to make a prediction, I think Justice David Wiggins is toast. I’d like to be wrong, but knowing that those determined to toss him will vote, that those determined to vote yes won’t match their numbers, and that a fair number of folks will just be determined to get out of the booth as quickly as possible by skipping the whole thing, I think he’ll be shown the exit.
I’ve written a lot about this, mostly because I feel strongly about it personally, and because the drumbeat of reckless distortions being tossed around about the way our courts work are, in my view, potentially damaging. It needs to be countered. And I’d like to see this ceaseless drive to turn back the clock on marriage equality get clocked.
But as I’ve said before, I don’t think tossing Wiggins will be all that damaging to the Supreme Court. We have a good judicial selection system. Many skilled, experienced judges and lawyers will apply to fill the gap left by the judge hunters.
4. Local races
Can a couple of legacies get passes to the legislative club?
In my very own Iowa House district, Democrat Daniel Lundby, son of the late Mary Lundby, who had a long, proud career in the House and Senate, is challenging Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion. I expect it it be very close.
To the south, Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, son of retiring Republican Rep. Jeff Kafmann, is vying for an open seat against Democrat Dick Schwab of Solon.
Also, the race between state Rep. Renee Schulte and Democrat Art Staed, who Schulte defeated by 13 votes in 2008, is one to watch. It will also be interesting to see how well House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, holds off a challenge from Democrat Mark Seidl.
And last but not least, we’ve got an interesting auditor’s race here in Linn County between Democratic Auditor Joel Miller and Republican Garth Fagerbakke, who is the county’s construction services manager. We’ll find out if the internal disputes and bad blood between multiple county officials and Miller, sparked in large part by his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to government reform, will amount to a hill of beans in the eyes of voters. I’m betting it won’t, but I think it could be close.
I’m probably missing something, so let me know what you’ll be watching.