Look Out: Data Shows Democrats Eager To Vote In Key Swing Districts

By Pat Rynard

October 11, 2018

Iowans have started voting as we head into the final weeks of the 2018 election, and campaign staff and volunteer work is paying off in many important legislative swing districts. A look at the early vote data shows high percentages of registered Democrats requesting absentee ballots in a host of top-targeted battleground seats.

Interestingly, the top areas in the state for Democratic absentee requests are a mix of urban, suburban, blue collar and rural regions. The only common denominator is the important local races.

Let’s take a look at the Secretary of State’s early vote data that was put out yesterday. For now, I’m only going to focus on the absentee requests, as there’s just not that many people who have actually voted yet. That number will jump as ballots get returned in the mail for the next few days, but we’ll wait until then before considering those.

There’s two main numbers I like to look at here. One is the total number of absentee ballot requests per party in each district. The other is the percent of registered Democrats who have requested. For example, a heavily-Democratic district in Iowa City may have more requests than one in Indianola, but it’s also interesting if the percentage of Democrats requested in Indianola is 22% versus 16% in Iowa City. That can show specific local enthusiasm.

One other number I looked at last cycle was comparing the absentee requests to the prior similar election year. But early voting was cut by ten days for 2018, which altered campaign strategies and when voters could participate in it. There’s no apples to apples comparison this year. We’ll wait another week or two before we even try to compare data across multiple election cycles.

It’s also important to realize that Republicans’ first big absentee ballot request mailer just went out. Democrats have a large advantage right now, but the GOP will narrow that soon. Still, it’s interesting right now to see where Democrats are particularly motivated. Here’s the statewide numbers:

Party Requested
Democrats  92,794
No Party  30,768
Republican  33,814
Other  996
Total  158,372

And now here’s the top ten House districts for total number of Democratic absentees requested.

 Dem  No Party  Republican  Total
 HD 99  2,180  491  479  3,177
 HD 85  1,861  327  122  2,320
 HD 44  1,783  697  538  3,047
 HD 57  1,740  589  514  2,865
 HD 41  1,702  303  161  2,181
 HD 100  1,692  432  323  2,467
 HD 36  1,635  419  194  2,268
 HD 86  1,606  345  137  2,103
 HD 65  1,470  453  364  2,303
 HD 70  1,456  629  404  2,500

Let’s also see the top ten districts in terms of percentage of registered Democrats who have requested to vote absentee:

Dem % No Party % GOP % Total %
 HD 44 25% 7% 5% 11%
 HD 99 23% 10% 7% 15%
 HD 57 22% 9% 6% 12%
 HD 16 21% 8% 4% 10%
 HD 100 21% 11% 5% 13%
 HD 15 20% 10% 4% 11%
 HD 68 20% 12% 8% 13%
 HD 39 20% 6% 3% 9%
 HD 67 19% 10% 8% 12%
 HD 38 19% 6% 6% 10%

Congratulations to Kenan Judge and his team in the Waukee-based HD 44 for having one out of every four Democrats already requesting an absentee ballot. It’s extra impressive since his district saw the second-largest jump in registered Democrats in the state after the primary – 689 new ones in all. Something is happening out in the Dallas County suburbs, which is great news for the party as a whole, as well as Judge’s chances for the hotly-contested open seat.

For the percentage requested, seven of the top ten are in targeted House districts. Nancy Fett is doing great in rural Dubuque’s HD 57; Charlie McConkey is staving off a Republican challenge in HD 15; the two Cedar Rapids suburbs seats – HD 67 and 68 with Eric Gjerde and Molly Donahue – are performing well; and Heather Matson’s HD 38 and Karin Derry’s HD 39 are turning out, too.

Just outside the top ten is Cedar Fall’s HD 60 and Indianola’s HD 26.

Both the Council Bluffs districts are up there, so Pottawattamie County must have a good ground game this year. Even the rural seat out there breaks the top 20. We’ll do a county-by-county post later.

And the field team out in Dubuque County is going gang-busters with their turnout efforts. All three house seats are in the top ten, likely giving Abby Finkenauer a major boost in her 1st District race. Lindsay James has a good volunteer crew as she looks to replace Finkenauer in HD 99, helping the numbers there. The only other deep-blue seats that are decently far up the list are Cedar Rapids’ HD 66 and 70 (Art Staed and Todd Taylor/Tracy Ehlert). Actually, Linn County is doing quite well overall.

When looking at the stats by the Senate districts, we get this for total requested:

Dem No Party Republican Total
SD 50  3,872  923  802  5,644
SD 43  3,467  672  259  4,423
SD 22  3,102  1,068  839  5,045
SD 21  2,984  696  433  4,143
SD 29  2,869  1,159  869  4,923
SD 33  2,812  1,062  932  4,839
SD 35  2,710  1,263  740  4,745
SD 34  2,668  1,505  1,324  5,528
SD 19  2,611  1,006  858  4,494

And here’s the top ten for percentage of registered Democrats requested:

Dem % No Party % Republican % Total %
SD 50 22% 10% 6% 14%
SD 08 21% 9% 4% 11%
SD 22 21% 6% 5% 10%
SD 34 20% 11% 8% 13%
SD 29 20% 10% 5% 11%
SD 30 18% 6% 5% 10%
SD 19 18% 6% 5% 9%
SD 33 17% 11% 7% 12%
SD 13 17% 5% 5% 8%
SD 35 17% 14% 5% 12%

Most of these are being driven by the races under them or the county field efforts, but there’s several good pieces of news for Senate Democrats here. Senator Tod Bowman has a lot of Democrats engaged in his SD 29, buoyed in part by the Dubuque County half of his district.

The two Central Iowa pick-up opportunities in Ankeny’s SD 19 and Warren/Madison counties’ SD 13 get in the top ten. Neither of those were even on the battleground map the last time they were up, but Republicans are spending big there to defend incumbents Jack Whitver and Julian Garrett. Democrats Amber Gustafson and Vicky Brenner continue to put up strong fights there.

The targeted House and Senate districts that are largely missing from these lists are those that are very rural. As you can imagine, it’s just more difficult to rack up large absentee numbers early on in the places that are harder to canvass. Waves of door-knockers in the more urban and suburban districts have made a big difference. Nancy Fett’s HD 57 is the most rural of high-performing districts, so it’s especially impressive that she’s in the top three of percentage requested.

Again, these numbers will fluctuate a lot in just the coming days as more absentee mailers go out and get returned for both parties. But it’s interesting and helpful to see where the parties are starting out. We’ll continue to track this data once or twice a week.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/11/18

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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