Democrats’ Plan To Retake The Iowa House Starts With You

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
Posted 4/18/17

7 Comments on "Democrats’ Plan To Retake The Iowa House Starts With You"

  • It is a mistake to think that actions on abortion, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and most of the other social agenda items considered or passed by this Legislature have outraged the rest of the state in the same way that we progressives are disgusted and angry. What matters to the white middle class, including farmers and factory workers, is money. Democrats must show how Republican actions are crashing the state budget and increasing the hardship felt by many Iowans. The real problem with the voter suppression bill is not that it will keep many people of color and citizen immigrants from voting. They don’t care about that and probably agree with the sentiment. From their perspective, the problem is its high cost in the same year Republicans are cutting budget. They won’t care about corporations getting favorable treatment, since many, if not most, white middle class Iowans believe corporations are a good thing because they create jobs. They will care about tax inequities and about the strain corporate welfare places on the state budget. Their overarching concern is that some Iowans are getting something for nothing and that these people make no meaningful contributions to the state (“get a job”). Democrats must show that we are fiscally responsible, but lacking the cruelty that marks most of the actions of this Legislature.

  • This is all well and good as long as Iowa Democrats have learned their lesson that we must engage in grassroots party-building in ALL 99 COUNTIES. A vote for Hilary or Jim Mower from my Guthrie County was just as good as a vote from Polk, but we were written off by everyone. Raising money from Guthrie County Democrats needs to be shared with OUR District 20 candidates. They are the ones taking our flag door-to-door here on the ground. We are one, big, statewide party, not 8 or 10 candidates.

    • You are exactly right. We must make efforts everywhere. I ran in House District 7 in NW Iowa and received absolutely no help from the House Truman Fund. The Iowa Republican party thought the District was important enough to pay for several mass mailings and radio ads on behalf of my opponent. I realize that money is always an issue but I think the State Party doesn’t grasp the fact that in our rural districts a small amount of money goes a lot farther than in the metro areas with big TV markets.

  • I will not be giving any money to the State Party. We in HD 78 are going to make a hard run against Jarad Klein. IDP can get on board with us or stay out of our way. But they aren’t getting money as they have refused to help us in the past. As for Governor let’s put somebody who knows how to run a campaign and can actually have a shot at winning.

  • Democrat leadership should launch a state tour, appearing with the local delegation in urban and rural districts, to engage local communities in what all transpired in Des Moines in the worst three months in state history. Hold a rally, do a press conference, find specific examples of people harmed by a couple bills. Do this week after week, month after month. This month find a 30 year teacher who will suffer a pay cut. Next conference find a low wage worker who can no longer receive a higher county minimum wage. Next conference an injured worker. Next an elderly person challenged by Voter ID. Next a woman denied reproductive care, etc. Call it the “Wanted” tour in Republican districts: put Roby Smith or Linda Uppmeyer’s picture on a old timey Wanted poster, for the crime of harming iowa workers, students, etc. Democrats can also sponsor a RAGBRAI team with t-shirts with the picture of republican legislators whose district they are riding through that day with the same “Wanted” tshirts. We should set up dunk tanks at the local party booths at county fairs – pay a dollar and you get to dunk whatever volunteer is willing to wear a Bill Dix mask. Engage the voters in unusual fresh ways that do not browbeat.

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