Republicans may yet lose two senate majority leaders in the same year.
That’s seems to be the goal of the Senate Democrats as the party launched a massive ad blitz today to take down Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver in his Ankeny district. Amber Gustafson, a gun safety leader and community volunteer, debuted her first TV ad with a significant amount of funds behind it.
Data in the public record shows her spending a combined $113,030 on KCCI and WHO-TV, accounting for 279 spots, for the final three weeks of the campaign. That will keep first-time candidate Gustafson competing nearly neck-and-neck with one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, one who also happens to be one of their party’s best fundraisers. Whitver has a combined $136,185 on KCCI and WHO-TV, accounting for 380 spots, through the election, though he’s also been up on TV for the past two weeks.
It’s a bold play by Democrats to target so much of their limited Senate funds into a race they didn’t even field a candidate for the last time it was up. Ankeny was a source of great optimism and then great frustration in 2016, where promising Democratic House candidates came up short after many hoped the Des Moines suburb would trend much more blue. But both parties must be seeing something far different this year in their internal polls (indeed, Starting Line has heard chatter for weeks that one poll had Gustafson with a very narrow lead).
And knocking out the majority leader would send shockwaves throughout Iowa politics. Bill Dix already resigned in disgrace earlier this year; losing Whitver would shake up that leadership even more. It would also present a difficult choice to Republicans of who would take over. Senate President Charles Schneider might seem like the likely pick, but he too represents a suburban Des Moines metro seat that is moving quickly in direction of the Democrats. His SD 22 was won by Hillary Clinton, 48% to 45%. It may also be represented by two Democrats in the House if Jennifer Konfrst and Kenan Judge are successful.
Gustafson’s ads focus in on the very themes that are turning suburban women and independents away from Republicans. She drives right at Whitver’s votes for some of the most extreme abortion laws in the entire country, while saying she’ll expanded healthcare access and better education.
She’s also put a decent amount of money behind some online ads that roll out a positive image of her life and backstory.
Whitver responded today in a new TV ad by calling Gustafson a “nightmare.” His latest spot touts Republicans’ tax cuts enacted in recent legislative sessions and Gustafson’s past comments on the bill. In the specific Facebook post the ad refers to, Gustafson is criticizing how the GOP tax bill would reportedly give an average tax break of $8,774 to millionaires, while only an average of $54 to working families making under $60,000 a year.
That sets up a battle that’s perfectly suited to the changing political loyalties in suburban districts in Iowa and around the country. Suburbs with typically higher-educated, wealthier voters that used to be reliably Republican are rethinking their allegiances due to Donald Trump and the party’s increasingly extreme stances on social issues. However, Republicans are trying to hold on to those voters by reminding them of why many of them voted Republican in the first place: taxes.
It would be quite the development if Gustafson, the state leader of Moms Demand Action, were to win a formerly-safe Republican seat on the issues of abortion and guns. She’s already gotten some national attention for her campaign. A Gustafson victory would also be a fitting outcome for Iowans still upset over Senate Republicans’ sexual harassment scandal and the GOP Senate leadership’s failure to do anything over it.
One would assume that Senate Republicans can easily redirect even more spending to Whitver’s race if they feel the need to. But this level of TV spending from Gustafson ensures she’ll be very well-known to voters regardless of what her opponents do.
Another bit of good news for Gustafson: Senator Kamala Harris will hold an early vote rally on DMACC’s Ankeny campus on Monday. Harris’ trip is one of the most anticipated visits from a national Democratic figure of the cycle and should draw a large turnout of people that can then go immediately vote. It seems that Ankeny, which also features Heather Matson’s top-targeted race to defeat Representative Kevin Koester, will be the biggest battleground in Iowa this year. Donors and volunteers might want to take note.
by Pat Rynard