A trio of retirements announced in the past several days could have a big impact on who controls the Iowa House after the 2018 elections. Open seats always create more competition, and the retirements of Ken Rizer, Helen Miller and Clel Baudler could turn districts with strong incumbents into key battle ground races.
Rizer’s Marion-based district in the Cedar Rapids suburbs was already going to be a top-targeted campaign. His House District 68 was narrowly won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, 48% to 45%, and is the type of suburban seat Democrats believe may swing toward them in a good 2018 environment.
Democrats have two candidates in the race right now. Molly Donahue, a teacher who ran unsuccessfully against Rizer in 2016, is back in for a rematch. She raised $5,924 for the 2017 filing period. Scott Foens, an Air Force veteran who works for the city of Cedar Rapids, got in the race pretty early last year, as well. He raised $3,896 in 2017.
Starting Line hears from locals that it’s likely another Democratic candidate will get in the race, especially now that Rizer is retiring.
Helen Miller, who has served in the Iowa House since 2003 and has taken on important national roles with agricultural groups, announced today she wouldn’t seek reelection. That puts the Fort Dodge-based seat on the map for 2018, as Miller’s popularity has dissuaded strong challenges in the past.
Fort Dodge and Webster County used to be a Democratic stronghold for years, but has quickly trended Republican in recent years, joining the partisan lean of the rest of Western Iowa. Trump carried Miller’s district by a 55% to 39% margin.
Republicans have a strong candidate in the race – Ann Meyer, a nursing instructor who raised an impressive $27,241 in 2017. Starting Line hears there will likely be a Democratic primary to decide who tries to hold the seat.
Baudler’s House District 20, which covers all of Guthrie and Adair counties and parts of Cass County and Dallas County (including Perry), is certainly further outside the realm of typical swing districts, but stranger things have happened in wave years in open seats. Trump carried the seat 59% to 35%, though Barack Obama came within a point of winning it in 2012 when he received 49% of the vote there.
Republicans were ready for the passing-of-the-torch in Baudler’s district, announcing their new candidate, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, at the same time of Baudler’s announcement. Sorensen is a 38-year-old small business owner of an artist studio who has gained significant state fame for painting the popular “Freedom Rock” near the town of Menlo in Adair County. At first glance, it seems Sorensen has the strong profile for a candidate you would typically want. Democrats don’t have a candidate here yet. [Update: sounds like Democrat Warren Varley, an attorney from Stuart, is considering a run.]
It’s not yet clear what Representative Chip Baltimore will do in 2018. His recent OWI arrest will make his reelection effort harder, as will his very public spat with House leadership over the water quality bill. His Boone-based district will probably be very competitive whether he decides to stick it out or retires. There’s also chatter around the Statehouse that Peter Cownie might call it a day this year.
by Pat Rynard