Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s abrupt resignation from the Iowa Senate following Iowa Starting Line’s article sets up a hurry-up-and-win special election for his now-vacant seat. When vacancies occur during the legislative session, the governor must schedule the election “at the earliest practical time” and give at least 18 days notice. It’s likely the special election will be held in the first or second week in April.
Democrat Tracy Freese, a small business owner from Grundy County, has been running since last year for what she originally thought would be a matchup with Dix. She announced yesterday afternoon that she would run in the special election, promising she would “bring fresh, progressive ideas to the Iowa Senate.”
“My platform has always been about putting people first instead of profits,” Freese said in a statement. “I look forward to using my leadership to help my community.”
Senate District 25 covers all of Hardin and Grundy counties, as well as parts of Butler and Story counties. A Democratic upset here will not be easy. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats here by about two-to-one, with 16,275 Republicans, 8,258 Democrats and another 15,054 No Party voters. Donald Trump carried the district 60% to 34%. Mitt Romney won it 54% to 45% in 2012.
However, Freese will bring one big advantage to the race: she has a considerable head start in organizing over whichever Republican gets into the race. With only a few short weeks to campaign in, gearing up a volunteer organization and getting mailers printed takes time. Freese has been particularly active and visible in Iowa Democratic social media circles for several months. Engaged Democrats around the state are already aware of her candidacy, which could help in getting extra volunteers to go door-knock in the district.
Democrats have done very well in Iowa special elections since the 2016 race. They have over-performed the Trump/Clinton margins by around 30 points in several cases. However, when the Republican Party fully engaged on TV and in the mail to defend a conservative-leaning Sioux City house district, they were able to hold the Democrats’ margin improvement to around 19 points. If Republicans sense they risk losing the seat, they have plenty of money to spend in the district from their state party accounts.
And as long as Republicans find a decently well-known candidate, they should be able to hold enough of their conservative voters in SD 25 to win. The intrigue of the Freese/Dix matchup was that she would be able to prod Dix on his mishandling of the Kirsten Anderson sexual harassment situation. A fresh face that fits the district’s conservative lean may be easier for voters to move on with.
Former State Representative Annette Sweeney is reportedly considering running for the district. After redistricting happened, Sweeney was placed into the same district as fellow State Representative Pat Grassley. They faced off in a primary in 2012 and Grassley won. Sweeney would certainly have the networks and prior connection to the voters to quickly ramp up a campaign.
Former State Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, who is now state USDA director, weighing run for Dix's seat, but would have to leave federal post to take the lower-paying state elected job. Grassley and Ernst played key roles in securing her federal appointment.
— William Petroski (@WilliamPetroski) March 13, 2018
One other twist to the situation: whoever wishes to run in the special election should also get their name on the ballot for November. To do that, they’ll need to turn in signatures from 100 people in the district by this Friday afternoon.
by Pat Rynard