How Donald Trump Could Affect Down-Ballot Iowa Races

Time to throw out the old campaign playbooks for 2016. With Donald Trump the likely nominee for the Republicans, and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, we’re entering the most unpredictable election year in a very long time.

As such, campaigns in Iowa need to be very aware of the shifting electoral landscape. Trump is speaking to a different type of voter than your average Republican candidate, and he’s also turning off many voters who would otherwise vote Republican. Those voters may turn against the rest of their party, or may even skip voting in down-ballot races. In 2016 you can’t just turn out registered Democrats or Republicans and expect them to vote for their corresponding party.

It’s still a little early in how the country will fully react to a Trump-Clinton match-up and Trump’s support pulls from many demographics. One consistent trend has been his support from the less educated.

Don’t take this as gospel as more polling and research needs to be done, but we can predict some broad trends that will likely impact 2016 races:

  • Trump will pick up some white, blue-collar workers that typically lean Democrat, including labor union members
  • Clinton will win over some suburban, better-educated, higher-income and more moderate Republicans dismayed by their party turning toward Trump
  • Latino turnout and margin for Democrats will likely hit record levels to vote against the man who launched his campaign by calling most Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “drug dealers”

Every Iowa elected official and candidate should study the precinct-by-precinct results from the caucus in their home area (see the New York Times precinct-by-precinct maps for Democrats and for Republicans, along with the statewide map).

It’s more complicated than this, but the simple rule of thumb should be this: places where both Trump and Sanders won in traditionally Democratic areas could turn more Republican this year. And Republican-leaning areas where both Clinton and Rubio did well could go more Democratic. Areas where Cruz won probably remain unchanged – they’re strong conservatives who might be wary of Trump, but certainly won’t flip to down-ballot Democrats.

Here’s Starting Line’s initial analysis of what the parties should do and look out for:


Democrats Need To Field Candidates In Every Race

Before we get into the precinct-by-precinct results, let’s start with this: Donald Trump could be an absolute disaster for Republicans and cause a massive electoral wipe-out. It’s unclear if that will really happen, as he is encouraging record turnout on the Republican side with disaffected voters excited for someone who finally “tells it like it is.” But if the electorate sees the Democrats as the only sane party left, they’ll romp in November. So the party needs to be ready with halfway-legitimate candidates in every single legislative and local race that’s not an overwhelmingly Republican district.

But what if Trump does alright, and races are close?


Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District – Dave Loebsack vs. Mark Chelgren

Look out, Dave. Iowa already has its own version of Donald Trump, and his name is Mark Chelgren. The kooky, unkempt businessman elected twice to the State Senate projects the same kind of brash outsider image that Trump does. Chelgren’s already made immigration a big part of his campaign, even going so far to suggest the death penalty for second-offense immigrants who illegally cross the border (that seemed to go too far at the time, but is there a “too far” for Trump supporters?). And on a personal level, he might connect much more to the working class men hanging out at their neighborhood bar than Professor Loebsack can.

Southeast Iowa was one of Trump’s strongest regions in the caucus. Just look at the population centers, even the small county seats, throughout the 2nd District. Trump took many of the larger cities, but also won most of the small ones like Albia, Chariton, Centerville and Bloomfield. Chelgren could easily attach his candidacy to that of Trump’s and vastly over-perform in traditionally-Democratic areas of Burlington, Muscatine and Ottumwa.

U.S. Senate – Chuck Grassley

There are much bigger factors impacting Chuck Grassley’s reelection, most notably the Supreme Court nomination (of lack thereof) battle. But if Trump holds a grudge against losing Iowa (there’s signs that he does – he let go his top Iowa Caucus staff), he might not invest many resources here as the national nominee.


State Senate Races

SD 46 – Chris Brase could face a difficult time in his reelection effort if working class Muscatine flips to Trump. Rubio did okay in certain parts of Muscatine, but overall this district was a Trump/Sanders victory, even in the Scott County party of it. But Brase does have a big opportunity here: Muscatine’s large Latino population. If he gets a record turnout from them – who LULAC already worked on during the caucus – Brase could stave off Mark Lofgren’s challenge.

SD 34 – Iowa Republicans think they have the silver bullet to Liz Mathis’ star power with hard-working candidate Rene Gadelha. But once Democrats hang Donald Trump around Gadelha’s neck, it’ll be an uphill climb for Republicans in this Cedar Rapids suburbs district. Rubio swept most of Marion, and this is an area that will simply be aghast by Trump’s candidacy. Mathis gains more than any other Iowa candidate by a Trump nominee.

SD 08 – Democrats’ Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who is always targeted by Republicans yet always wins by a healthy margin, could find himself in serious trouble in 2016. The demographics and party loyalty of Council Bluffs have shifted underneath his feet, making this a frightening ground zero for the changing dynamic of Trump-Clinton. Council Bluffs was overwhelmingly Trump country, with Trump winning several of the precincts of the white, working class west end of Council Bluffs by 50% or more. And Clinton, who claimed Pottawattamie County as her strongest in the state in 2008, actually narrowly lost the county to Sanders. Nowhere else in the state can you trust party registration less in 2016 than Council Bluffs. Gronstal could have a real race on his hands.

SD 20 – Brad Zaun was one of Trump’s few big endorsers in the Iowa Caucus. Trump then went on to get soundly beaten in Zaun’s own Senate district. Zaun’s opponent could make this interesting. Miyoko Hikiji, who had Japanese-American family members held in American internment camps, could provide quite the embarrassing contrast to Zaun as Trump continues to scapegoat minorities during his campaign.

SD 36 – Steve Sodders gets a bit of a mixed bag here. Marshalltown (which Rubio won) will likely be better for Democrats thanks to the large Hispanic population, but Tama (where Trump prevailed big) could be a problem. Hard to tell how it shakes out overall, but Sodders will need to be careful in who he gets absentee ballots from – the dynamics of his district have changed a lot.

SD 42 – How about Rich Taylor? I would’ve thought poor, largely-white Keokuk and working class Fort Madison could be a problem for Democrats. But Clinton won most of these areas and it was a mixed bag between Trump, Cruz and Rubio. Plus, Taylor’s a union member and working class kind of guy. He’ll be fine even if some Democrats go Trump in his district.


Iowa House Races

HDs 43, 38, 42 – Republicans could run into difficulties in their Des Moines metro districts. Both Rubio and Clinton swept the Des Moines suburbs. Few others are more primed to take advantage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s candidacies than Jennifer Konfrst, Heather Matson and Claire Celsi. Trump could prove radioactive to moderate Republicans – especially women – in these districts, hurting Chris Hagenow, Kevin Koester and Peter Cownie. Add to that Clinton inspiring more women to turn out and Democrats could score surprise victories among this bunch. Democrats literally could not have planned this better by having younger and middle-aged women run in these suburban districts during a Clinton-Trump showdown.

HD 72 – Efforts to knock off Dean Fisher could get tougher considering Tama County was Trump’s only win in east-central Iowa. Clinton also won here, but this is the type of working class, populist white area that could see some traditional Democrats switch sides.

HD 9 – Fort Dodge is the type of economically down-on-its-luck district that might make things a little trickier for Helen Miller with Trump picking up support here. Trump essentially tied here, though Clinton won Webster County.

HD 60 – Just yesterday Gary Kroeger withdrew from the 1st Congressional District race to challenge Walt Rogers in this Black Hawk County seat. Rogers’ district was a mix among the Republicans, but Sanders won big here. That’s good for Kroeger who endorsed Sanders and worked a lot with his local volunteers, who may go to focus on Kroeger’s race if Sanders loses the nomination. Kroeger himself is a unique outsider-type personality, a former SNL actor who now works at a local advertising company. Rogers may be facing a surprisingly strong challenge in a year that’s favoring outsider candidates.

HD 15 – Like Gronstal, Charlie McConkey sits in a district that could go full Trump in November. But McConkey is the epitome of a working class, regular guy, so he should fare alright.

HD 93 – Republicans sometimes think they’re getting close to knocking off Phllyis Thede in this district that includes parts of Bettendorf, but that’s highly unlikely this time. Add Rubio’s landslide win in upper-income/higher-educated Bettendorf and the likelihood of high turnout from African Americans to oppose the man supported by the KKK, and this district will trend solidly Democratic this year.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 3/3/16

10 Comments on "How Donald Trump Could Affect Down-Ballot Iowa Races"

  • I have a hard time seeing the advantage for Republicans. For every working class white voter that Hillary might lose, she will win the support of two white collar white women, and turn out an additional minority, assuming that support still translates down ballot. I think Democrats are poised to do very well in the suburbs, but I just can’t see Republicans matching that success elsewhere.

  • Brad Zaun doesn’t have a challenger since court records are available online. I empathize but losing custody as a woman won’t sit well in the suburbs.

  • It is stories like this that turn people off to politics. The only reason the Democratic party had so many new people sign up was due to Bernie Sanders. You may recall, Clinton barely won in this state and last I checked, the caucuses were not finished. It is a slap in the face to those of us who have worked (and continue to work)very hard for our candidate. The media and the DNC has made it crystal clear that Clinton is the one they want chosen. What this writer fails to realize is just how unlikeable Clinton is and that most of those Independents turned Democrats (for the sole purpose of voting for Bernie Sanders) will not vote for Clinton. Poll after poll shows that Sanders beats Trump by much larger margins than Clinton. If the media and the DNC continues to slant in her favor while ignoring the other, very highly rated Sanders, you WILL get a Trump president. Those Independents turned temporary Democrat will write Sanders or Jill Stein.

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