As the 2017 legislative session draws to a close, many Iowans want to know what they can do to hold Republican legislators accountable and win back the Statehouse for Democrats. Many eyes are focused on the big gubernatorial race, but the battle for control of the Iowa House will be a prominent fight as well. And for activists who want to make GOP legislators pay for their votes, there’s no shortage of vulnerable swing district House Republicans they can impact.
This week Leader Mark Smith and House Democrats are rolling out a new effort to begin targeting those districts early on. Calling it their House Builder program, Democrats are expanding their small donor pool to secure extra funds early so they can begin pressuring Republican lawmakers in their districts now.
In previous cycles the legislative campaigns often didn’t start messaging into districts against Republican incumbents until maybe two months out from the election. Only a few weeks before absentee ballots became available did voters start seeing direct mail highlighting Republicans’ bad votes.
But this year Democrats aim to communicate early and often in targeted districts with cheaper digital ads and organizing efforts. There’s more than plenty of material to work with, considering Republicans’ recent votes on collective bargaining, minimum wage, women’s rights and mental health cuts.
To ensure funding for this approach, House Democrats are launching three new recurring donor club memberships. Contributing anywhere between $10 a month and $1,000 a quarter gets you into one of three groups. Each one gives you access to a quarterly meeting where you get to meet the new candidates and hear about House Democrats’ strategy, as well as regular updates on campaign efforts. Their aim is to get grassroots activists and key donors better connected with the most important legislative battleground races around the state.
So far House Democrats have taken a particular focus on Chris Hagenow and Ken Rizer, two Republicans in suburban districts that are seen as most at-risk in 2018. Jennifer Konfrst, who ran a very close race against Hagenow last year, is already in again for a rematch.
House Democrats recruited a very impressive crop of candidates in 2016, but the Donald Trump wave in Iowa swamped those efforts. While it’s typically harder to convince Democrats to run in mid-terms, there’s no shortage of interest this cycle thanks to all the outrage over the far-right legislation passed this year. Many see 2018 shaping up as a potential wave year for the left, similar to 2006.
Democrats will have to pick up ten seats to regain the majority in the Iowa House, a tough task, but well within reach if it’s a good wave year for the party. Several freshmen Republicans, like Shannon Lundgren (who ran the abortion bill) and Louie Zumbach, could have short careers after taking a number of unpopular votes this year. It’s also an easier project to retake the Iowa House in one cycle than the Iowa Senate, where only three or four Republican-held seats will be highly competitive next year (Democrats need to pick up six there).
A Democratic governor will go a long way to keeping any more bad legislation from getting passed, but at least one chamber held by Democrats can get the ball rolling on actually reversing the changes made this session.
You can find more information on how to help House Democrats’ efforts here.
by Pat Rynard