State Representative Zach Nunn announced this morning he would leave his seat in the Iowa House to run for Senate District 15, recently vacated by Senator Chaz Allen. It turns a seat that was a safe Democratic hold just a few weeks ago into one where Republicans will likely have the upper hand. But it also gives Democrats a great new opportunity in capturing a House seat in their quest to flip that chamber – and could indicate Republicans are already worried it will.
Nunn is a two-term legislator from House District 30, which covers Altoona, Bondurant, Mitchellville and the rural part of Eastern Polk County. He’s a major in the U.S. Air Force and serves in the Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd Wing. Democrats once held this seat, but Nunn defeated incumbent Democrat Joe Riding in 2014 by a healthy 56% to 44% margin. Nunn won by a bigger 62% to 38% margin over Riding in a 2016 rematch.
The 39-year-old Nunn has been seen as a rising star in the Republican Party, and he quickly advanced in House leadership ranks. But it was a bit of a question where he goes from his current position as Majority Whip. Speaker Linda Upmeyer isn’t leaving anytime soon, and Majority Leader Chris Hagenow made clear in his move to Dallas County to a safer red seat that he intends on sticking around for a while.
A seat in the Senate can provide a legislator a bigger public profile, even if they’re not in top leadership, offering Nunn a better jumping off point if he ever seeks higher office.
It also keeps him in a Republican majority. Democrats have a halfway decent chance of picking up the ten seats they need to win the House majority, while Republicans are heavily favored to hold on to their advantage in the Senate. Nunn’s move could be seen as an acknowledgement that Republicans are increasingly worried about their House majority. Why risk getting wiped out in a suburban blue wave or spending the next several years in the minority when you could move up?
If Nunn wins, it would also help Republicans build up a red firewall in the Senate, a bulwark against reversing their just-passed conservative legislation that a Governor Hubbell and Democratic House majority would immediately target. Democrats have a tough road to winning back the Senate majority; losing any of their current seats could push their path to victory back another cycle or two.
But Nunn still needs to get through November. Democrats nominated Taylor Van De Krol last week, a 26-year-old Senate clerk, former party chair and campaign manager for Senator Matt McCoy’s supervisor run. Van De Krol hails from the Jasper County half of the district, where it feels like blue collar voters may be more ready to snap back to their traditional Democratic voting pattern than those on the Polk County side. Nunn will need to quickly campaign extensively in Jasper County to raise his profile there and then count on winning the Polk County side by a lopsided margin.
Donald Trump won Senate District 15 two years ago 53% to 39%. It had a particularly high number of third party voters, something that shouldn’t be an issue in this senate race. Senator Allen, however, was expected to win reelection handily over a Republican opponent who raised no money. That challenger dropped out in order to allow a more competitive nominee to step up.
Nunn starts off with $23,496 in his House account, and he has been a strong fundraiser in the past.
The move also shakes things up for the Iowa House. Kent Balduchi is the Democratic candidate for House District 30 and has $8,895 in funds. His race was seen as comparatively less-competitive to the other Des Moines suburban seats, but should get a lot of new interest now.
Balduchi, a former firefighter who now practices law, has a good profile for a winning candidate. He’ll have a significant head start on whoever the Republicans nominate – he won a primary for the nomination earlier this year. Altoona certainly isn’t like the other Des Moines suburbs, but it is a place where new voters could come out to give Democrats a boost.
Regardless of who Balduchi’s new opponent is, this race now gives Democrats yet another real pick-up opportunity. It will force Republicans to spread their money over more districts to defend, and gives Democrats a little more room for error in which seats they flip in order to get the majority.
This morning’s announcement from Nunn is the latest in an unusually large number of campaign shake-ups in Iowa this year. Will there be any more before the deadline to withdraw?
by Pat Rynard