What Numbers To Watch In Iowa Tonight

Here we go! Election night approaches, and we’ll start getting a sense of who has won and lost in Iowa starting at 9:00 PM when polls close.

Here’s a handful of things that I think will be important for Iowa politics watchers to keep their eye on tonight. If you want to follow me live, I’ll be on WOI/ABC 5 from 9:45 to 10:45 to discuss down-ballot races. I’ll update with posts tonight as much as I can, but I’m not sure where all I’ll be.

The Polk County Early Vote

Longtime Iowa politics watchers know that the first big piece of data that comes out as soon as the polls close is the Polk County early vote. They count up all the absentee ballots during the day and put them through the machine early. Make sure you have the auditor’s website up to see that first.

It actually creates for an interesting dynamic – the early vote always favors Democrats, so they have a huge jump at the start, then watch their advantage slowly whittle down as Election Day precincts report in.

Barack Obama won the Polk County early vote by 28,863 in 2012, and won Polk County overall by 32,369. I don’t have access to all the fancy modeling data or analytics so I won’t try to give exact predictions, but my sense is that Clinton needs to carry Polk by an even larger margin than 2012. She needs the Des Moines suburbs to go more heavily Democratic this year to offset Trump’s likely gains in rural and blue collar counties.

There’s a lot of competitive Polk County legislative races in 2016, but there weren’t too many close ones in 2012, so it’s hard to make comparisons. The one that was extremely close in 2012 was the Chris Hagenow/Susan Judkins race, separated by just 23 votes. Jennifer Konfrst’s matchup with Hagenow should be similar. (See this huge results sheet for other 2012 races.)

Judkins won the early vote in 2012 in HD 43 by 1,461 (she got 4,527 early votes to Hagenow’s 3,066). If the first early numbers pop up and show Konfrst winning by more than 1,500, she’ll be in a good position to win. However, she’s also been hit with a lot more negative ads than Judkins was in 2012, so her Election Day margin might not be the same.

Scott County

The major Eastern Iowa population center isn’t just a bellwether county for Iowa, it’s a major indicator for the entire nation. Obama won the early vote in Scott County in 2012 by 11,356 votes. He won it overall by 12,401 votes. Scott County has an interesting mix of blue collar neighborhoods, minority communities, affluent suburban precincts, and a few small towns and rural townships. You should get a good sense of how Clinton will do statewide by how much she under or over-performs Obama’s 2012 numbers here.

Do Democrats Lose The Iowa Senate?

We’ll see. Here’s the five biggest races to watch:

SD 8: Mike Gronstal vs Dan Dawson
SD 26: Mary Jo Wilhelm vs Waylon Brown
SD 32: Brian Schoenjahn vs Craig Johnson
SD 36: Steve Sodders vs Jeff Edler
SD 46: Chris Brase vs Mark Lofgren

Brase and Schoenjahn seem most at-risk of losing. Republicans are feeling increasing confident in Sodders and Gronstal’s districts. Here’s what happens in several potential scenarios (assuming Democrats retain Joe Seng’s seat in the special election in December):

  • Dems keep all incumbents: Senate stays 26 D – 25 R – 1 I
  • Dems lose one: Senate is 25 D – 24 R – 1 I. Democrats retain majority, but have tough time getting many policies passed
  • Dems lose two: Senate is 25 R – 24 D – 1 I. GOP takes control, but has tough time getting policies passed that independent David Johnson isn’t on board with
  • Dems lose three: Senate is 26 R – 23 D – 1 I. GOP takes control, can pass most everything they want to

Republicans are really hoping for a three-seat pick-up, but a two-seat win still gets them a lot. They just have to deal with David Johnson in that situation, and they really, really don’t want to do that.

Democrats have two strong pick-up potentials in 2018 in Sioux City and Ottumwa. If Democrats lose more than two seats tonight, it will make it much harder to retake control next cycle.

I don’t know which precincts will come in first in many of these districts, so this list of precincts may or may not be helpful to watch tonight – they could end up coming in last. But here’s precincts I think are noteworthy based on my past work in these districts.

SD 8

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Cb 16 602 381 221 61%
Cb 17 731 493 238 60%
Cb 18 584 465 119 55%

These three precincts are on the west end of Council Bluffs, an area of white, working-class voters, many of which don’t have college educations. In theory, this should be prime Trump territory. Gronstal won in 2012 by nine points, so you can expect these numbers to be less to begin with against Dawson. But if Gronstal only narrowly carries these precincts, or if Republicans win any of them, it could mean a shift in party allegiances in Council Bluffs could take down Democrats’ majority leader.

SD 26

Watch the New Hampton precincts in Chickasaw County:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Nh1 268 155 113 63%
Nh2 249 164 85 60%
Nh3 334 203 131 62%
Nh4 278 243 35 53%

And Charles City in Floyd County:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Cc1 677 447 230 60%
Cc2 790 527 263 60%
Cc3 771 442 329 63%

Mary Jo Wilhelm just narrowly won her 2012 race by 126 votes. So this one is easier to compare – if Wilhelm does slightly better this year, she wins. If she does slightly poorer, she loses.

Watch New Hampton to see if it trends more Republican, and by how much. It’s a poorer community that might not turn out or might give Trump a better share of the vote, along with down-ballot Republicans. SD 26 is pretty rural, but Charles City gives Democrats a big part of their lead here. Wilhelm will probably need to boost these 2012 numbers in Floyd County slightly to make up for Republican gains elsewhere.

SD 32

I honestly don’t know too much specifics about the individual towns in Schoenjahn’s district, so I’ll just give you the data from the three largest towns in 2012. Schoenjahn won that year overall by six points.

Bremer County, Waverly precincts:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Wl1 639 579 60 52%
Wl2 534 512 22 51%
Wl3 459 293 166 61%
Wl4 506 504 2 50%
Wl5 677 638 39 51%

Fayette County, Oelwein precincts (Schoenjahn’s best base of support):

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Oe1 481 253 228 65%
Oe2 464 185 279 71%
Oe3 475 151 324 76%
Oe4 534 293 241 65%

Buchanan County, Independence precincts (likely Johnson’s base of support):

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
I1 662 589 73 53%
I2 358 291 67 55%
I3 479 483 -4 50%
I4 338 234 104 59%
I5 331 269 62 55%

SD 36

Sodders won by about ten points over a weak opponent in 2012, so it’s a little tough to make comparisons here. Tama County is likely to be much better for Republicans this year. But one key thing to watch is Hispanic turnout and turnout at the Meskwaki Settlement. That’s where Democrats rack up their big margins in this district.

Marshall County, the Hispanic North/East side of Marshalltown:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Marshalltown 1-1 614 137 477 81%
Marshalltown 1-2 670 303 367 69%
Marshalltown 4-1 922 477 445 66%

And the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama County:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Is 370 24 346 94%

If Sodders can repeat these huge margins in these precincts, he has a decent chance of holding on even if Tama County and rural Marshall County go well for Edler.

SD 46

The problem for Brase in this matchup is that Lofgren is well-known and well-liked in Brase’s hometown of Muscatine.

Here’s the four Muscatine precincts that were the closest in 2012:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
Mu01 640 683 -43 48%
Mu02 656 407 249 62%
Mu03 591 323 268 64%
Mu06 701 634 67 52%

If Lofgren ends up winning these big, it’ll be difficult for Brase to survive.

One way he could, however, is making sure turnout is up in the African American precincts in Davenport:

2012 Dem 2012 GOP Diff Dem %
D21 1021 652 369 61%
D73 991 662 329 60%
D81 1000 492 508 67%
D83 1096 722 374 60%

As you can see, this is where Democrats rack up their margins in this Eastern Iowa district. It’s unclear whether African American voters will show up at the same rates without Obama on the ballot. Brase needs to replicate or even improve on these numbers to make up for losses in Muscatine.

SD 34

If you want to have some fun, watch to see how much Liz Mathis over-performs Hillary Clinton in her district. Mathis ran ten points ahead of Obama in 2012 (though that was against a weaker opponent). Many Democrats will point to Mathis’ election performances in the weeks ahead as proof that she’d be a strong statewide candidate in 2018.

The Iowa House

I’m not going to go in-depth precinct-by-precinct on all of these. If you’ve read Starting Line, you know which are the closest ones that could flip parties, but I’ll repeat the top ones here (Democrats listed first):

HD 38 – Heather Matson vs Kevin Koester
HD 42 – Claire Celsi vs Peter Cownie
HD 43 – Jennifer Konfrst vs Chris Hagenow
HD 51 – Tim Hejhal vs Jane Bloomingdale
HD 55 – Pat Ritter vs Michael Bergan
HD 56 – Patti Ruff vs Kristi Hager
HD 57 – Tom Stetcher vs Shannon Lundgren
HD 58 – Jessica Kean vs Andy McKean
HD 68 – Molly Donahue vs Ken Rizer
HD 88 – Ryan Drew vs David Kerr
HD 91 – Phil Weise vs Gary Carlson
HD 92 – Ken Krumweide vs Ross Paustian
HD 95 – Dick Whitehead vs Louie Zumbach

I expect Democrats to lose one of their current seats and pick up anywhere between four and seven Republican-held districts. It will really depend on whether Iowa goes hard to the right for Trump or not. A net gain of three or less would be very frustrating for Democrats considering the great crop of candidates they have this year.

There’s a small handful of other House races that could still spring a surprise, so keep your eyes on all the races.

The Millennial Vote

NextGen Climate Action tells me there are two key precincts to watch tonight to get a sense of what millennial voter turnout will be like. Iowa City 05 in Johnson County and Precinct 18 (Ames 4-3) in Story County are key. NextGen is keeping track of those on a special website, and already has some of the early vote data there. It seems the University of Iowa precinct just needs 250 Election Day votes to top their 2012 numbers. If those precincts turn out well, it could be a positive sign for Democrats… if they vote for the Democratic ticket in similar numbers to 2012 and don’t break too much for third parties.

Will Northeast Iowa Turn Red?

What happens in the 1st Congressional District? Despite Rod Blum showing up on many lists as the “most endangered incumbent in America,” he seems to be headed to reelection in the final days. Some Democratic insiders believe Jim Mowrer surprisingly has a better shot in the 3rd than Monica Vernon in the 1st. There’s a lot of reasons why that may be the case, but part of it is due to Eastern Iowa, usually swingy but typically swinging toward Democrats, is looking increasing red this year. That would be terrible for the Democratic Party long-term, especially since so many swing legislative districts are in that part of the state.

Voting Trend Shifts To Watch

Finally, I’ll be closely watching the presidential percentages in several counties that could move considerably from their 2012 totals. We’ve theorized a lot this year over how Trump is appealing to a new set of voters for the Republicans, including some voting blocs that typically back Democrats.

Here’s some Iowa counties that have the potential to see swings in favor of Republicans this year. Compare tonight’s results to the 2012 numbers:

Obama 12 Romney 12
Cerro Gordo 55.8% 42.6%
Chickasaw 54.8% 43.8%
Clayton 52.5% 45.7%
Clinton 60.6% 37.7%
Des Moines 58.3% 39.9%
Jackson 57.9% 41.1%
Lee 56.9% 40.9%
Muscatine 56.8% 41.3%
Pottawattamie 46.2% 51.9%
Tama 52.9% 45.5%
Webster 52.0% 46.5%

There’s also a few that may end up going better for Democrats:

Obama 12 Romney 12
Dallas 43.4% 55.2%
Johnson 66.6% 31.3%
Polk 56.1% 42.0%
Story 55.5% 41.8%


And there you have it. Keep this post up on your computer tonight as you watch the returns come in and see for yourself! And finally, good luck to all the candidates and the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard for them.

Check back on Starting Line late tonight for coverage of the legislative races.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/8/16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *