What Happened Tonight In Iowa’s Democratic Primary

Iowa held its primaries today and the results in several key races have big implications for the state and national political environment in 2018 and beyond. Here’s Starting Line’s summary of what happened for all you national political watchers.

Democrats Smash Turnout Records

By far the best news of the night for Democrats was the record turnout in many places around the state. Just over 100,000 voted in the 2016 Democratic primary. Only 72,388 showed up in 2014. Neither of those years had statewide contested primaries with big spending. 2006 was the last time that happened, and just under 150,000 came out then.

With a little over 90% of precincts reporting, Democrats already have a turnout of 175,000 in today’s primary. They will almost certainly surpass the turnout for the 2016 Iowa Caucus as well. That is, quite frankly, incredible.

Businessman Fred Hubbell Is Democrats’ Nominee For Governor

Iowa’s gubernatorial contest was set to be a marquee matchup in 2018 regardless of Democrats’ nominee. With Terry Branstad leaving for China, Governor Kim Reynolds is now running for her first full term in office. Her administration has been beset by scandals and fiscal problems in her first year. Democrats are desperate to retake the office after Republicans took over all of Iowa government in 2016.

Tonight Democrats nominated Fred Hubbell, a wealthy Des Moines businessman from a well-known Iowa family. He was the chairman of Younkers department stores, was president of Equity of Iowa and worked for ING. Hubbell raised an unprecedented nearly $7 million for his primary campaign, with about half of that coming from his own pocketbook. That dominated the rest of the field’s spending. He won by a very wide margin, larger than many political watchers were expecting. He’s currently at 55% of the vote in a five-way primary.

Hubbell’s opponents in the primary tried to paint him as middle-of-the-road and too wealthy to connect with most Iowa voters. But casting Hubbell as a moderate Democrat doesn’t capture the whole picture. He was the chair of Iowa’s Planned Parenthood in the 1980s, has been a major donor of Democratic and progressive causes, including environmental and mental health efforts. Hubbell ran a general election-like campaign for most of the primary, telling Democrats that he will try to win back Obama/Trump voters.

An Iowa “Me Too” Impact On The Race

Hubbell was leading in the race anyway, but the sudden departure of second-place candidate Senator Nate Boulton two weeks before the election essentially sealed Hubbell’s victory. Boulton suspended his campaign after three women accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior in bars. He had been the labor-backed candidate and was a new, young rising star at 38 years old.

Abby Finkenauer Poised To Be Youngest Woman Elected To Congress

Get ready to hear a lot about Iowa’s 1st Congressional District race. The general election matchup between Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who easily won a four-way primary tonight, and Republican incumbent Rod Blum will be at the top of the national target list. Blum has often been named the most vulnerable incumbent, and he didn’t help himself by angrily walking out of a TV interview last year.

What makes the race more noteworthy is that Finkenauer, 28, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins. She’s centered her campaign message around a working families message, highlighting her own blue-collar upbringing in Dubuque. Finkenauer has already served two terms in the Iowa House.

Iowa’s First Black Statewide Elected Official?

Deidre DeJear narrowly won Democrats’ nomination for secretary of state tonight, defeating Jim Mowrer 51% to 49%. Mowrer’s high name ID from two previous congressional campaigns had many thinking he would win. Instead, DeJear, if she pulls out the win, would give Iowa Democrats some real diversity on their ticket, and she would be the first black Iowan elected statewide if she is victorious against Republican incumbent Paul Pate. She was born in Mississippi, where her father wasn’t even able to vote for part of his life.

$15/Hour Candidates Falter In Top Races

The push for $15/hour minimum wage stances caught on big time in Iowa’s Democratic primary this past year, just not among the eventual winners. In the top three races – governor, 1st District, 3rd District – the only or one of few candidate that didn’t commit to a $15/hour minimum wage won. Two candidates, Thomas Heckroth in the 1st District and Pete D’Alessandro in the 3rd, ran TV ads on the subject. Both came up far short.

Well-Funded Left-Wing Candidates Come Up Short

The other intriguing aspect of the Democratic primary was that two progressive candidates running Bernie Sanders-like campaigns were well-funded. Gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson had the backing of her SEIU union, which put nearly $2 million into her race. 3rd District contender Pete D’Alessandro was one of the only candidates in the country fully backed by Bernie Sanders, which significantly boosted his online fundraising efforts.

Both Glasson and D’Alessandro were able to build serious campaign teams and go up on TV, something far-left progressive candidates often struggle to do in more local races. Neither found much success. Glasson got about 21%; D’Alessandro received just 16%. It was an interesting example of how hard it is to recreate the Bernie Sanders coalition of the 2016 Iowa Caucus, which included a lot of marginal and independent voters. However, they did move the overall conversation to the left in the primary.

Female Candidates Sweep Most Down-Ballot Races

While Democrats won’t have a woman as their gubernatorial nominee, plenty of female candidates succeeded in local races for the Iowa Legislature. In nearly every competitive race where there was just one woman, the woman won. Mary Stewart defeated Ed Malloy by a huge margin in SD 41, Lindsay James carried HD 99, Nancy Fett prevailed in HD 57 and Molly Donahue won in HD 68.

Democrats’ Future Wins Big

Remember the name Zach Wahls. The 26-year-old man who caught national headlines with his inspiring speech on the floor of the Iowa House about his two mothers won his primary for the Iowa Senate with over 60% of the vote in a four-way race. He broke fundraising records during his race, bringing in most of his money through social media. Wahls will be the youngest senator at the Statehouse by far, will be a major fundraiser for the party and likely has great prospects for higher office in the years to come.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 6/5/18

3 Comments on "What Happened Tonight In Iowa’s Democratic Primary"

  • It will be extremely hard to vote for Hubbell. His money does not impress me. Glasson was the better candidate, by far. There is always a write-in possibility.

    • I mean this as kindly as I can put it, but don’t sit on your hands as Bernie supporters and complacent Hillary supporters did for Hillary.

    • I agree with your sentiments, Doctor (Cathy was my candidate by a mile), but please – don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. And there is good in Hubbell – enough to support him.

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