The final Iowa legislative finance reports came out Friday evening, and the spending indicates a shifting battlefield in the fight for control of the Iowa Senate and House. Both parties appear to have given up on several races that were previously considered competitive, and a few surprise districts have made their way onto the spending map.

I’m going to look at just the in-kind numbers in this report. Those dollars largely cover what the parties are spending on mailings, radio and TV ads on behalf of the candidate. There’s a handful of things under the in-kind sections that aren’t this, but it rarely amounts to anything more than a few hundred dollars, so I’m not going to separate it out.

First, let’s take a look at the Senate numbers:

District Candidate Party In-Kind
SD 08 Mike Gronstal D
$243,546.31
SD 08 Dan Dawson R
$263,988.02
SD 26 Mary Jo Wilhelm D
$195,253.45
SD 26 Waylon Brown R
$178,399.58
SD 28 Jan Heikes D $0
SD 28 Michael Breitbach R
$16.30
SD 30 Jeff Danielson D
$30,252.72
SD 30 Bonnie Sadler R
$5,021.52
SD 32 Brian Schoenjahn D
$192,283.93
SD 32 Craig Johnson R
$264,916.26
SD 34 Liz Mathis D
$39,972.29
SD 34 Rene Gadelha R
$21,008.94
SD 36 Steve Sodders D
$302,909.11
SD 36 Jeff Edler R
$260,652.60
SD 42 Rich Taylor D $100,344.74
SD 46 Chris Brase D
$312,738.10
SD 46 Mark Lofgren R
$328,818.94
SD 48 Scott Peterson D $0
SD 48 Dan Zumbach R
$1,200.00

It appears Republicans have pulled out of the Danielson/Sadler and Mathis/Gadehla races. These two suburban districts were likely to be better for Democrats anyway with Donald Trump on the ballot. Still, Republicans had invested heavily into Gadehla’s race. But the backlash to the ads, combined with Mathis’ lasting popularity and smart TV ads of her own, have probably put this far out of reach. Expect both Democrats to win handily.

Also completely off the table are the Breitbach/Heikes and Zumbach/Peterson contests. This was already apparent in the last fundraising report, but is still striking to see the Republicans not having to spend any money to defend their seats.

Rich Taylor coming on to the board with a $100,000 buy of something (the report only lists it as “advertising”) is interesting. Many have wondered whether Trump’s impact on working class voters could move this Southeast Iowa race. The GOP hasn’t invested at all in Danny Graber, his opponent, so it’s odd that Taylor wouldn’t have completely put this race away.

As for the big spending, the Senate District 46 race is back on top as the most expensive in the state. Both sides have pumped over $300,000 into the race in the final weeks. This could indicate that Chris Brase has bounced back a bit – some on the Republican side figured this to already be in their win column.

Interestingly, the Republicans seem to spend nearly the exact same amounts in certain districts, possibly pointing to their tiering system for the races. Around $260,000 was spent each for Jeff Edler, Craig Johnson and Dan Dawson. Republicans have a very tough ad on immigration running against Mike Gronstal, in which the Council Bluffs parents of a child killed by a drunk driver who was an undocumented immigrant criticizes him. They also seem to sense some vulnerability in Steve Sodders, whose Tama County could trend more Republican this year. Democrats have poured their second-largest amount of money into Sodders’ district in this report.

The Mary Jo Wilhelm and Waylon Brown race is seeing a little less spending, but still remains highly competitive.

Now to the House:

District Candidate Party In-Kind
HD 15 Charlie McConkey D $0
HD 26 Scott Ourth D
$24,842.36
HD 26 Rebel Snodgrass R
$11,022.52
HD 29 Wes Breckenridge D
$11,996.30
HD 29 Patrick Payton R
$919.12
HD 37 Andrea Phillips D
$11,245.26
HD 37 John Landon R
$16.30
HD 38 Heather Matson D
$19,273.27
HD 38 Kevin Koester R
$16.30
HD 42 Claire Celsi D
$18,491.30
HD 42 Peter Cownie R
$246,726.10
HD 43 Jennifer Konfrst D
$172,443.82
HD 43 Chris Hagenow R
$173,572.15
HD 51 Tim Hejhal D
$30,542.60
HD 51 Jane Bloomingdale R
$20,479.50
HD 55 Pat Ritter D
$187,507.32
HD 55 Michael Bergan R
$106,949.84
HD 56 Patti Ruff D
$138,612.80
HD 56 Kristi Hager R
$73,534.10
HD 57 Tom Stetcher D
$141,449.18
HD 57 Shannon Lundgren R
$129,624.44
HD 58 Jessica Kean D
$94,314.12
HD 58 Andy McKean R
$42,511.28
HD 60 Gary Kroeger D
$7,703.82
HD 60 Walt Rogers R
$141,877.51
HD 68 Molly Donahue D
$157,811.30
HD 68 Ken Rizer R
$160,024.12
HD 72 Nathan Wrage D
$11,209.17
HD 72 Dean Fisher R
$8,987.80
HD 88 Ryan Drew D
$21,126.25
HD 88 David Kerr R
$3,738.14
HD 91 Phil Wiese D
$77,928.07
HD 91 Gary Carlson R
$7,130.97
HD 92 Ken Krumwiede D
$33,987.95
HD 92 Ross Paustian R
$99,883.14
HD 95 Dick Whitehead D
$52,284.72
HD 95 Louie Zumbach R
$275,040.07

We’ll deal with the highest-spending races in a minute with an easier-to-read chart.

Charlie McConkey’s race seems to be off the board for Republicans, despite Council Bluff’s potential rightward shift this year. They also seem to be surprisingly confident in Gary Carlson’s Muscatine district. That’s interesting since Democrats have spent a lot of money for Phil Wiese. Republicans lead the early vote numbers in this district, despite its Democratic registration advantage.

Democrats are putting just-to-be-safe amounts of money into Scott Ourth and Wes Breckenridge’s races, while Republicans are doing the same in Dean Fisher’s district.

Both sides are starting to spend a little in the Tim Hejhal/Jane Bloomingdale race in Northern Iowa. For an open seat in a relatively swingy area, you’d think both parties would be doing more. It’s still unclear which candidate must have the clear upper hand in polling.

There’s a few interesting surprises here. Democrats have put out a couple mail pieces for Andrea Phillips, who is running in Ankeny, previously considered a solidly Republican seat. She’s been a hard-working candidate, so it’s possible the anti-Trump tide in suburbia could suddenly make this race a lot closer.

Also surprising is Republicans’ complacency in HD 88, an open seat where they’re spending little on David Kerr and Democrats have a strong challenger in Ryan Drew. Maybe this Southeast Iowa district is trending too much for Trump.

And the Heather Matson race in Ankeny is odd too. Republicans have spent some here on a couple rounds of mailers, despite Kevin Koester not reporting it yet on his in-kinds. But Matson has been spared the kind of avalanche of negative ads on Des Moines TV that’s hit Konfrst and Celsi. One would think with Matson’s strong campaign, Democrats’ 500-person early vote advantage and the changing party allegiances in the district that Republicans would be more worried about this race. Hopeful Polk County Democrats should prepare themselves for the possibility that Ankeny isn’t moving as much as they thought. I still think Matson is in a good place by having avoided an onslaught of negative ads and could pull off an under-the-radar win.

Now let’s take a look at where each party is spending the most money. First, the Democrats:

District Candidate Party In-Kind
HD 55 Pat Ritter D
$187,507.32
HD 43 Jennifer Konfrst D
$172,443.82
HD 68 Molly Donahue D
$157,811.30
HD 57 Tom Stetcher D
$141,449.18
HD 56 Patti Ruff D
$138,612.80
HD 58 Jessica Kean D
$94,314.12
HD 91 Phil Wiese D
$77,928.07
HD 95 Dick Whitehead D
$52,284.72

Democrats clearly see the Pat Ritter, Jennifer Konfrst and Molly Donahue races as their best pick-up opportunities. It’s good to see Konfrst getting some major help for TV ads, after a ton of spending from Chris Hagenow labeled her a tax cheat for the entire Central Iowa region. Democrats lead the early vote in HD 43 by 1,100, which means the Republican majority leader really could go down in defeat this year. Donahue has also worked hard in her district, has a good early vote lead thanks in part to her coordination with Liz Mathis, and is running in suburban Cedar Rapids where Democrats will benefit from national trends this year. Ritter’s a solid candidate that should score an upset win in the Decorah-based district.

However, Democrats are also having to spend heavily to defend two seats in Eastern Iowa: Patti Ruff and the open seat in rural Dubuque where Tom Stetcher is running. Republicans have an early vote lead in Ruff’s district, but she won in 2012 when more registered Republicans voted early then too. The rural Dubuque district is likely trending Trump this year and may not be a reliable Democratic district going into the future.

Democrats are also putting in considerable funds for Jessica Kean. Interestingly, Republicans have only provided Andy McKean with less than half Kean’s amount. That could mean McKean’s long ties to the district have him polling well ahead for the GOP, or that the district’s Democratic registration advantage is too much and Kean is comfortably in the lead.

Now here’s the Republicans:

District Candidate Party In-Kind
HD 95 Louie Zumbach R
$275,040.07
HD 42 Peter Cownie R
$246,726.10
HD 43 Chris Hagenow R
$173,572.15
HD 68 Ken Rizer R
$160,024.12
HD 60 Walt Rogers R
$141,877.51
HD 57 Shannon Lundgren R
$129,624.44
HD 55 Michael Bergan R
$106,949.84
HD 92 Ross Paustian R
$99,883.14
HD 56 Kristi Hager R
$73,534.10

That’s a massive investment in the rural Linn County seat for Louie Zumbach. It’s particularly odd since it’s more than five times more than Democrats are spending for Whitehead. My guess is that Whitehead’s deep ties in the district from his school administer days put him well in the lead, and that Republicans are desperate to hold on to this seat.

Peter Cownie has now accounted for a big chunk of the House Republicans’ budget in a race many questioned whether it would be competitive. They have some tough ads to hit Claire Celsi with, though, and may be taking advantage of that to ensure Republicans don’t lose this seat.

Chris Hagenow is no longer the top spender like last time. And Ken Rizer has moved down the list too, though both are still Republicans’ key defend races.

The Walt Rogers and Gary Kroeger contest has moved into a potential upset race. Republicans must be very worried about how Kroeger is connecting with voters in his low-budget campaign, as well as how this Cedar Falls-based district might be trending more Democratic. Keep your eye on this one on election night.

Finally, Republicans seem more concerned about Ross Paustian than Gary Carlson in the two key Scott/Muscatine county races. And while they’re spending decently for Kristi Hager, it seems like they think Shannon Lundgren has the better chance in the open rural Dubuque seat.

 

by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/5/16

One thought on “Iowa Legislative Targets Shift In Final Key Finance Report

  1. I paid a visit to the Ankeny Democratic campaign headquarters this AM. A lot of activity. Candidates and volunteers on the phone. Democrats are alive and well here in Ankeny. Everything looks good here in Ankeny. I don’t think the GOP can take Ankeny for granted anymore. Democrats are working hard on getting out the vote. Thanks to all the Ankeny Area Democrats, state and Polk County Democrats we will bring back make Ankeny blue again or a deep shade of purple. It takes determination and hard work! We have excellent local legislative candidates that will bring out the vote.

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