One of the best signs for Iowa Democrats coming out of last week’s primary was the sheer turnout numbers for the party across the state. Democrats broke their previous record of 148,000 votes in a statewide gubernatorial primary, producing over 176,000 votes in that race on election night (the total may climb a bit after the official canvass result). It was an optimistic sign that the party’s base is more fired up and engaged than ever ahead of the crucial 2018 election.
Few places in the state was that more apparent than in Polk County, where initial turnout percentages for Democrats were the fifth-highest in the state. The party also added close to 11,000 new registered Democrats to its ranks during the primary, with their total jumping from 106,940 on May 1st to 117,502 as of today (the Polk County Auditor’s office is expecting it to rise some more after the official certification tomorrow). Individual suburbs in Polk County saw primary turnout reach as high as 51%.
Obviously, Democrats had a lot more competitive primaries on the ballot than Republicans, including hotly-contested local races for supervisor and the state legislature in Polk County. But the dramatic difference in turnouts were not simply due to those specific races, and the overall numbers point to an energized Democratic base.
That could be crucial to the party’s hopes of retaking the Iowa House in November, and several of the numbers from Tuesday’s primary should be particularly worrisome for Republican incumbents. For starters, simply compare the vote totals that several legislative Democratic candidates received to the Republican officeholders they’re looking to defeat. Most had between three and four times more votes.
In the Ankeny-based SD 19, Amber Gustafson received 4,234 votes in her uncontested primary to Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver‘s 1,336 in his contested (though not seriously contested) primary. Kristin Sunde got 2,422 votes, while only 627 Republicans cast ballots for Representative Peter Cownie in HD 42. Heather Matson earned 1,877 votes in her primary with Reyma McCoy McDeid (who got 458 votes), far above Representative Kevin Koester‘s 663 votes. Jennifer Konfrst got more than four times the number of votes her Republican opponent, Michael Boal (2,786 to 663). And Karin Derry totaled 2,102 votes for her uncontested nomination versus Representative Jake Highfill‘s 722 for HD 39.
More importantly, Polk County’s overall high turnout numbers weren’t simply due to the Matt McCoy/Johnny Mauro primary or the Claire Celsi/Connie Ryan race. Many suburbs that will play key roles in the above legislative races saw big percentages even without contested local races.
|Registered Ds||Gov. Votes||Turnout|
|West Des Moines||11,053||4,504||41%|
All of these Democratic Polk County numbers are not what you want to see if your name is Peter Cownie, Jake Highfill, Kevin Koester, Jack Whitver, John Landon or Zach Nunn and you’re hoping to get reelected this year.
Other Polk County Observations
Starting Line always enjoys digging deeper into Polk County results, simply because I know the area better and there’s intriguing differences between areas of Des Moines and the suburbs.
Let’s start by breaking down the gubernatorial primary by individual city. Here’s what that looks like, sorted by Hubbell’s best areas:
|Hubbell %||Glasson %||Norris %||Boulton %||McGuire %|
|West Des Moines||61%||18%||12%||3%||4%|
What’s notable here is just how little the percentages change. A ten-point spread between Hubbell’s best and worst cities isn’t too big of a deal. Compare it to our story in 2016 where we did the same for Patty Judge and Rob Hogg’s primary for the U.S. Senate. In that race, Hogg won Clive 55% to 38%, but lost Pleasant Hill 50% to 35%. That’s a big regional difference, but there wasn’t much of that in this year’s primary for governor.
Hubbell did better in some of the wealthier suburbs of Clive and Johnston. Cathy Glasson’s best percentage came in Des Moines proper. John Norris’ best spot was in Windsor Heights. Nate Boulton got up to 9% in Pleasant Hill, which is part of his senate district. But for the most part, each candidate’s totals didn’t move a whole lot based on the city.
Things looked a little differently in the 3rd District primary. Here’s each Democrat’s support, sorted by Cindy Axne’s best cities:
|Axne %||Pete %||Mauro %|
|West Des Moines||67%||13%||20%|
As you might expect, Axne performed particularly well in her home base of West Des Moines. She also did better in the western suburbs overall. Eddie Mauro did better out east in Pleasant Hill and Altoona, and captured 30% of the Des Moines vote. Pete D’Alessandro’s best areas also came from Des Moines and Altoona.
To see the most interesting totals, you have to get into the precinct details. In the 25 precincts that I believe are South Side Des Moines in some manner, Mauro won 44% of the vote to Axne’s 40% and D’Alessandro’s 16%. He carried a few of the precincts closest to the airport with over 55% of the vote.
Meanwhile, over in the secretary of state primary, Jim Mowrer just barely edged out Deidre DeJear in Polk County, 52% to 48%. Here’s how their support broke down across cities:
|DeJear||Mowrer||Total||DeJear %||Mowrer %|
|West Des Moines||2009||2184||4193||48%||52%|
Like Mauro, Mowrer did best out in the eastern part of the county, posting good percentages in Altoona and Pleasant Hill, as well as the rural areas. DeJear only won Des Moines and Windsor Heights. When you go into the precinct-level and look at those with the highest numbers of African Americans, DeJear won most (though not all) by very large margins:
|Precinct||DeJear %||Mowrer %|
|Des Moines 18||72%||28%|
|Des Moines 33||40%||60%|
|Des Moines 34||40%||60%|
|Des Moines 35||67%||33%|
|Des Moines 36||72%||28%|
|Des Moines 37||59%||41%|
Finally, the other number that sticks out comes from the SD 21 primary to replace Matt McCoy in the Senate. Were you to tell someone back in February that 67% of the vote in the Democratic primary between Claire Celsi and Connie Ryan would come from the Des Moines side of the district (where Ryan lives), most would have figured that’s an easy win for Ryan. Instead, Celsi won by 16 points, and not simply because she racked up a large margin on the West Des Moines side of things. Thanks to a large volunteer base and extensive hours of hard work, Celsi even carried the Des Moines part of the district.
|Celsi||Ryan||Total||Celsi %||Ryan %|
by Pat Rynard