Iowa House Democrats Strike First With TV Ads In Key Races

Several Iowa House Democratic candidates are up on TV this week, beating their Republican opponents to the punch in a reversal from the 2016 election. Four challenger candidates and one incumbent began airing ads on Tuesday on both broadcast and cable. More are expected to go up on TV soon. Senate Republicans also unveiled their first TV ads, which we cover in this post.

During the 2016 election, six Democratic House candidates aired TV ads on broadcast channels, with another two on cable channels only. Most of those were closer to the election.

Better-funded campaigns should benefit Democrats’ efforts to retake the Iowa House this year. A couple of their most promising candidates were simply buried in negative ads from Republicans in 2016, with not enough money to quickly respond in time. The GOP will certainly still unleash a deluge of ads to prop up their vulnerable incumbents and protect their open seats, but it looks to be a closer battle this time around.

Let’s take a quick look at the initial ads for each of the five candidates. I also looked up the public ad buys for broadcast channels to give you a sense of how much is being invested in TV early on here (the money shown is for one week’s worth of ads). I didn’t do the cable buys for this post, partly because they’re just annoying to track down; you should get a decent sense of where things stand with the info here, anyway.

Nancy Fett – HD 57 (rural Dubuque County)

KGAN – $4,795
KWWL – $4,965
KCRG – $5,875

Democrats must be seeing some positive momentum in this rural district outside of Dubuque that swung heavily to Republicans in 2016. It was a seat they held just two years ago before Shannon Lundgren narrowly won it in a red year.

Nancy Fett presents herself as a “working mom and teacher,” quickly listing off education funding, mental healthcare and covering pre-existing conditions as top policy priorities. She also mentions the word “faith” four times in 30 seconds and has photos of her at her church. That’s probably no coincidence for this heavily-Catholic district that has several very religious small towns in it. Fett has been active in Catholic charities.

To give you a sense of how often her ad will be up, Fett is spending $5,875 in one week on KCRG while the Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell campaigns are spending between $16,000 and $20,000 in a week on the same channel. So, imagine what about a third or a fourth of the number of gubernatorial ads you see would look like. Still a lot.

Kristin Sunde – HD 42

KCCI – $14,875
WHO – $11,350
KDSM – $3,000

Heather Matson – HD 38

KCCI – $14,575
WHO – $11,700
KDSM – $3,000

In both Kristin Sunde and Heather Matson’s ads, an appeal for bipartisanship and cooperation are the main themes. That’s important for their suburban districts where they’re trying to win over independent voters who have wavered on the Republican Party in recent years. These are areas with a lot of ticket-splitters.

Matson focuses her appeal on being an Ankeny mother who listens to her neighbors, useful for the tight-knit suburban community she’s running in. She briefly mentions schools and healthcare, top concerns for the younger families that make up the Des Moines suburb. Sunde’s pitch is almost entirely about being someone who can work across the aisle and get things done.

Sunde is running in a more Democratic district than Matson’s, but her task is still on peeling away voters who backed both Hillary Clinton and Peter Cownie in 2016. She’s the only one in these ads who specifically mentions that she’s a Democrat.

Both Sunde and Matson are trying to knock off entrenched Republican incumbents, so getting up early on TV is key. Matson ran a good operation in her 2016 race, but the party simply didn’t have the funds available to put her on TV. The same was the case for the HD 42 race, where Cownie dominated the airwaves. Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities are in the suburbs this year, so an early offensive in these races likely point to an expensive battle here in the final seven weeks.

Again, for comparison purposes, both Reynolds and Hubbell are spending about $40,000 a week on KCCI, while Sunde and Matson have just under $15,000 each there.

Dave Williams – HD 60

KGAN – $4,035
KWWL – $2,535
KCRG – $7,725

If Dave Williams is to be successful in defeating incumbent Republican Walt Rogers, he’ll need to win over some of the higher-educated neighborhoods in Cedar Falls that typically go Republican. The image of a John Deere business leader who also fixes his own motorcycles should do just that in Williams’ initial ad. Here too we see a focus on bipartisanship, casting Williams as a “fixer” of the state’s problems.

As you probably notice with a lot of these legislative candidate ads, the main goal is to just present candidates who aren’t well-known with a simple, positive image. Most voters go out to the polls because they want to vote in the gubernatorial and congressional races. For these down-ballot candidates, it’s less about motivating the base than it is about boosting their name ID so that when voters get to their line on the ballot, they remember who the choices are.

Charlie McConkey – HD 15

WOWT – $5,950
KETV – $9,580
KMTV – $1,190

It’s interesting to see Representative Charlie McConkey with an early ad out in the Omaha media market. His Council Bluffs district shifted very hard to the right in recent years, and because it’s in that Omaha market, there’s not as much press about what’s happened up at the Statehouse.

McConkey’s imagery here is much different than the suburban districts. He’s shown as a fellow working-class guy, focused on “lower taxes, better healthcare and safer communities.” It’s all men in his ad, and his is a district where white, blue-collar men voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

The Republican opponent here hasn’t put up a lot of money, but this is probably a just-to-be-safe play from Democrats to ensure their incumbent in a district that may not have bounced back from 2016 yet stays in a strong position.

If you haven’t seen our post on the Republican Senate TV ads, you can read it here.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/20/18

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