Shifting Sands - Iowa 2006

Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Nancy Pelosi says:
"Unless we can win a district like that, we can't take back the House," Pelosi said about the 1st District, where Republican Rep. Jim Nussle is stepping down to run for governor."

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I would tend to agree with her. After all, she has the largest newspaper in Iowa on her side and the Democrats have a 20,000 registered voter plurality - gosh, it's a slam dunk. Add the notoriously impartial Charlie Cook's RT Strategies infamously bipartisan polling results showing Mike Whalen (a very successful businessman with a Harvard law degree - someone who has actually built something) far behind Bruce Braley ( a tort attorney with a reputation for - well a reputation at any rate) and its game over. Those bipartisan polling results tell Republicans that they might as well stay home on election day.

Except - was it space limitations that kept the now Gannett clone from reporting that Nussle's smallest plurality was back in '92? Or that the district went 55% for a Republican in '04 giving him a plurality of over 42,000? That the only reason the Democrats consider the seat contestible is because its open and Kerry carried the district in '04 (as did Grassley - even more strongly)?

The factors that I look at in assessing an open seat race (after having read the press and pundit blather) are candidate quality, past district voting patterns, candidate finances and the general economic situation within the district. Whalen has the edge with the possible exception of campaign finances. The DCCC has committed $2.1 million to the campaign while the NRCC has not made public its committment. On the plus side is the fact that Whalen can self finance, should he choose to. The district is doing well economically with decent growth in per capita earnings as well as a very low unemployment rate.

The decisive factor may turn out to be the effectiveness of the help given by the national committees with regard to GOTV efforts. Thats where the '08 campaign comes into play. Both parties put major effort into GOTV work within the district in 2000 as well as in 2004. The net result for 2004 was a 20,000 vote increase for the Republican and a 7,000 vote increase for the Democrat. The only question regarding GOTV is whether Nussle moved key players from district positions to state wide positions due to his run for governor.

IA-03 is considered vulnerable for the Democrats for essentially the same reason that IA-01 should be considered relatively safe for the Republicans. Leonard Boswell is the incumbent and has a decided advantage in that respect but it is his only advantage. He is a moderate and has served the district well but in 2004 the district racked up the biggest increase in Republican turnout in the state, outshining Boswell's increase by more than four to one and attracting the attention of Jeff Lamberti, the Republican candidate.

Using the same criteria mentioned above, this seat could easily move to the Republican column were it not for Boswell's incumbent status. Lamberti is clearly the stronger candidate (Boswell is justifiably avoiding further debates, having been outshone in the only one held to date), Lamberti has done a good job of raising money and if the RNCC matches the DCCC's allocation for this race then Lamberti will have no reason to complain. The same economic state exists in IA-03 as IA-01 (what a shocker).

Right now, this one is a hold for the Democrats. Boswell has been a low key, efficient Representative for his district and Lamberti has to be very cautious in going after him. Blowback from a tough attack would be ruinous. If Lamberti can pull this one off he will probably wind up running against Harkin either in '08 or in '14.

The Iowa governor's race between Congressman Jim Nussle and Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver is warming up quite nicely. Nussle is the stronger candidate (Culver, like Boswell is dodging debate - but he doesn't have the incumbent edge). Culver has opened himself up on several issues that are not playing particularly well among Iowans. His "investment" proposal, which sucks money from the state pension plan for a rather ill defined scheme for "providing young Iowans with a reason to stay in Iowa" is being justifiably attacked while his attack on Nussle's pro-life stance has backfired badly.

This one is a definite toss up. Iowa's legislature is Democrat controlled and Iowans are infamous ticket splitters, so it will be no great surprise if Nussle wins. Culver currently has a very small polling lead of 2 points (well within the MOE) and the negative side of the campaign has yet to begin.

Right now this is a 'you pick 'em' race.


loner said...

No gerrymandering in Iowa. If the Democrats don't win Iowa-1, it's virtually certain that they won't win enough Republican seats to take control of the House at the beginning of the 110th Congress.

The removed post contained a grammar error that I didn't notice. I didn't make a prediction and then think better of it. There are, after all, two months to go and the Hawkeye State has taken on more and more of the characteristics of a border state during the past ten or so years.

Rick Ballard said...


Not only no gerrymandering but no division of counties. It's as clean a state as I have come accross - I wish they were all like that.

When you say that it is becoming more like MO or were you thinking of another one?

loner said...


I don't have any numbers to back this up but I think that what was once a fairly homogeneous state is becoming a fractured one. I'm thinking, in particular, of the relationship of its cities, such as they are, to its rural communities, or what remains of them. Like I say, it's an impression I have and I could be wrong because I really can't source it. I'd really like to spend a week talking to people at the State University in Ames, but that's not likely to happen again during this lifetime.

I think Iowa one of the few good governance states. I hate it, quite understandably in my view, that its quadrennial caucuses are so important in determining who will be the major party nominees for President, but that's hardly their fault.