Key Takeaways From The Iowa Primary Results

Iowans didn’t have to stay up too late last night to see who came out on top of the main primary races on both the Democratic and Republican side. For the most part things played out as people expected. Starting Line will spend part of the next week taking some dives into specific primary results and what it means for the general. For the moment, let’s take a look at some of the main takeaways from the night:


Hogg Keeps It Close, Has A Bright Future

Things looked bleak for Rob Hogg when the Des Moines Register released a poll on Saturday showing him 17 points down to Patty Judge. Hogg ended the night losing by 8.7%, or 47.6% to 38.9%. That’s better than what a lot of people thought would happen when Judge jumped in the race in March. But Judge was simply too well-known around the state and Hogg hadn’t built up a large enough warchest to heavily advertise.

Here’s how the top counties voted:

Polk: 44.6% Judge, 44% Hogg
Linn: 30.5% Judge, 62.7% Hogg
Scott: 59.7% Judge, 25.6% Hogg
Johnson: 31.8% Judge, 58.7% Hogg
Black Hawk: 56% Judge, 29.9% Hogg
Woodbury: 59.6% Judge, 19.6% Hogg
Dubuque: 61.9% Judge, 21.8% Hogg
Story: 40.4% Judge, 48.7% Hogg

Hogg did what he needed to do in racking up big wins in Linn and Johnson Counties, and his near win in Polk County may be the story of the night. But Hogg’s undoing was his inability to gain traction or awareness in the the other big eastern Iowa counties of Scott, Black Hawk and Dubuque.

That being said, Hogg’s performance last night might have been the best-case scenario for him long-term. He proves he’s an energetic, knowledgable campaigner that can excite the party’s activists, but he doesn’t run the risk of a bigger defeat in the general on the off-chance Grassley rebounds from the Supreme Court controversy. Hogg is now well-positioned for a future statewide run, or a run for the 1st District in case Monica Vernon challenges Joni Ernst in 2020 (yes, I know I’m getting ahead of myself). DesMoinesDem suggested the Attorney General’s office, but I think Tom Miller is sticking around, and there’s others lined up for that. Perhaps we should add Hogg’s name to the mix of potential 2018 gubernatorial candidates.

Fiegen Support Overblown

The candidate with the most vocal supporters online was far and away Tom Fiegen. It looked like he might translate his support for Bernie Sanders into a real base of support. Instead, he received less than 100 more votes than Bob Krause. In 2010 Fiegen got 6,357 votes. Last night he earned 6,539. For all his newfound publicity this year among progressive Sanders voters, it didn’t translate into much.

This will actually be a useful lesson for how the party deals with some of the most ardent of Sanders backers. Many of the Bernie Sanders activists in the state sided with Rob Hogg. The ones who were with Fiegen were more the angry, “Bernie or Bust” type. Last night proved that’s a much smaller group of voters than what it appears from their online activity. So when the more strident “Bernie or Bust” people threaten to abandon Iowa Democratic candidates, it’s not that serious a problem – there just aren’t that many to begin with. Most of the Sanders people just aren’t like that. Of course, Democrats will still try to bring them into the fold.

Fiegen also didn’t capture a larger percentage of the vote than what separated Hogg from Judge. Fiegen got 6.8% of the vote; Krause had 6.7%. Sure, combined together that would make the difference, but it’s unlikely a full 80% of their vote would’ve all gone to Hogg. In the future there should be a real, serious discussion among activists over how much they should entertain candidates who raise barely any money and don’t have a serious campaign operation. Both Fiegen and Krause did poorly in 2010; they did poorly in 2016. Wouldn’t a couple Judge-Hogg debates or forums have been a more interesting use of Democrats’ time?

Mowrer’s Impressive Win

This was not what many central Iowa Democrats were expecting. Given Mike Sherzan’s highly effective ads focused on equal pay and the blowback Jim Mowrer’s campaign got in the final days from a critical ad, Mowrer still won with a commanding 49.7% of the vote in a three-way primary. It’ll be interesting to dig into what happened here. Did Mowrer’s ad hitting Sherzan’s financial background work? Did low turnout reduce the voters to mostly activists, of which many were on board with Mowrer early on?

Regardless of the reasons of the results, good work to all of the campaigns. It was a spirited campaign where most Democrats were happy with any of the three choices.

Now Mowrer moves on to battle David Young, a first-term Republican that is poorly known in the district. Democrats would be wise to define him quickly.

The End Of A Storied Career

Say whatever you will about Pat Murphy, he’s had a long and impactful career in Iowa politics. The former Speaker of the Iowa House lost by a wide margin to Monica Vernon, 67.6% to 32.3%. He told me in April that if he were to lose this primary, it would be his last run for office. Murphy has earned some rest and we wish him the best in what he chooses to do next.

Vernon scored perhaps the most impressive number of last night: she took 81.5% of the vote in Linn County. When you blow out the 2nd largest county in Iowa by that much in a Democratic primary, you’re pretty much guaranteed a win.

Steve King Shows Weakness

Sure, Steve King handily defeated Rick Bertrand’s challenge, but in doing so he showed some potential vulnerability for the future by only winning 65% – 35%. Credit for this observation goes to Craig Robinson, who I was with on ABC 5 last night for live election coverage. Robinson said that by not completely blowing Bertrand out (like a 80-20 victory), it demonstrated there was real frustration with King in the district, especially in Sioux City, the largest population center. Bertrand didn’t run a very good or well-financed campaign. If an ambitious Republican had more time and better fundraising connections, they could put together a serious challenge to King in the future.

Now King is on to face Kim Weaver in the general election.

Money Does Matter

One common theme from the primary is an obvious one, but always useful to see play out: like it or not, you need to raise a decent amount of money to run a credible campaign. Tom Fiegen, Bob Krause and Desmund Adams didn’t. Their vote totals reflected that problem. When you have a primary where 90,000 or 25,000 people vote, you simply cannot run a winning campaign by driving around and holding events with a dozen people at a time. How can you communicate with that many people when you can’t send mail or run TV or radio ads?

Challenges To Incumbents Are Tough

All but one primary challenge to an incumbent failed last night. Only Dan Kelley was defeated in his race with Wes Breckenridge, and by a large margin: 65% to 35%. Jo Oldson easily defeated Eddie Mauro, 67% to 33%. Mary Gaskill in Ottumwa oddly had a closer 60% to 40% final against Jeremy Weller. But by and large, both Republican and Democratic incumbents staved off primary opponents with ease. Unless you have a really, really compelling reason to dump your current legislator, it’s just too much of an uphill climb.

Downballot Races

On the State Senate side, Dan Dawson defeated Al Ringgenberg in Council Bluffs to take on Mike Gronstal. Nate Boulton defeated Pam Conner Dearden by 5% on Des Moines’ East Side, adding some youth to the State Senate. Danny Graber will take on Democrat Rich Taylor in the Fort Madison-based Senate district.

As for some important swing races in the House: Democrat Pat Ritter will face off with Michael Bergen in the Decorah-based open seat. Republicans got a good candidate for the Maquoketa open seat with Andy McKean winning. Eric Stromberg beat fellow Democrat and 2014 candidate Teresa Meyer by a mere 16 votes in HD 63 (Waverly) to challenge Sandy Salmon, which could be competitive [EDIT: I’m told there was a mixup from Black Hawk’s vote reporting – Meyer apparently won by 38 votes]. Nathan Wrage, who nearly won in 2012, will again run against Dean Fisher in the Tama-based district – this should be a key pick-up potential for Democrats. Molly Donahue defeated Sam Gray to run against Republican Ken Rizer in Marion. Phil Weise won in the Muscatine district in what could be a competitive race against Republican incumbent Gary Carlson.

Amy Nielsen won by 2-1 in the Johnson County open seat – she’ll be favored in the Fall in this Democrat-heavy district. Skyler Wheeler won the three-way GOP primary in Northwest Iowa.

For more results, check out the Register’s results page.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 6/8/16

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