DES MOINES – Iowa is one year out from its 2014 election and about the only thing certain is that it will be an expensive go-round.
Iowans will elect a new U.S. senator and at least one new member of Congress when they go to the polls on Nov. 4, 2014. The Iowa ballot also will include races for governor and other statewide elective offices, as well as legislative races that could tilt the balance for a General Assembly where Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the House and Democrats cling to a 26-23 majority in the Senate.
The 2014 slate of candidates is still a developing situation, but many races are beginning to come into focus while the outlook is blurred with Iowa Republicans in turmoil over its party leadership direction and Democrats facing a traditional mid-term drop off in turnout without having the drawing power of Sen. Tom Harkin at the top of their ticket. By contrast, Republicans will have a proven vote-getter and GOP cheerleader on the ballot with Gov. Terry Branstad likely up for re-election.
Voter mood in Iowa and around the nation is sour in the post-government shutdown environment, political scientists say, but they expect interest to renew as candidates, issues and organizing get energized over the next 12 months.
“The parties are really going to have to make an effort to get their supporters out,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science, given that voting registrations are roughly evenly split among Republicans and Democrats and the turnout of critical no-party voters could dip significantly in next year’s mid-term election.
“The structural dynamics of a mid-term race tend to favor Republicans somewhat,” noted Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford. “Can Democrats get their people to turn out and make a fight of it?”
Campaigns already are shaking the political money tree in Iowa, while U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, reporting more than $3 million in contributions for his bid to succeed Harkin and Branstad already topping $2 million for his yet-to-be-formally-announced bid for an unprecedented sixth, four-year term to become the longest serving governor of any state in U.S. history.
“It’s going to be an expensive campaign,” said Scott Brennan, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “I think we can all agree that it’s going to be expensive. There clearly will be a lot of money spent.”
Goldford said the 2014 election cycle has been progressing fairly normally with the biggest surprise being that no big-name Republican has stepped forward to challenge incumbent congressman Braley for Harkin’s Senate seat.
Another puzzle is how the ongoing rift within the Republican Party of Iowa will impact the 2014 election, if at all, especially if no GOP U.S. senatorial candidate secures the 35 percent support in the primary needed to land the party’s nomination and the decision goes to convention to decide.
“What’s going to be the impact of the fight between the purists and the pragmatists in the Republican Party?” Goldford asked.
Brennan said Republicans in Iowa appear to be a party divided but Democrats can’t just “sit back and hope that they implode. The bottom line is that we need to make sure that Democrats get out.”
Hagle and Goldford noted that Iowa Democrats also face some divisiveness to a lesser degree, with a large field gathering in the 1st congressional district seeking the seat being vacated by Braley, and legislators Jack Hatch and Tyler Olson set to duke it out in a four-man primary field seeking the uphill challenge of upsetting Branstad in the November 2014 general election.
“We’ve got a year to go. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen,” said Hagle. “We’re a long way out. We’ll just kind of have to wait and see.”
Goldford said he expected Republicans will engage in a “stealth” campaign to keep a majority of the Iowa House and try to seize control of the Iowa Senate in 2014 after several attempts that have fallen short. Likewise, Hagle said he expected legislative races would be a major focus of Iowa Democrats as well.
“The Iowa Senate is so close that even a change of a few seats could make a difference where Republicans can take control,” Hagle said. “I would think that’s where the Iowa Democratic Party would try to put more of its emphasis in terms of at least maintaining that bit of control that they have over the state government.”
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Tentative 2014 election lineup
Secretary of Agriculture
Secretary of State