Last-Minute Spending Shifts In Battleground Legislative Races

The final finance reports for Iowa races were released on Friday, and spending from both parties point to a changing battleground map for control of the Iowa Statehouse. Democrats are now targeting several extra suburban races that were not on the targeted list before, while Republicans are dumping money into some of their incumbent seats that were previously regarded as safe holds.

Let’s go through those spending numbers to see which have been the most expensive races in the state and where things moved around in the final weeks.

To do that, I’m just going to focus on the “in-kind” spending. That’s the money that the state party’s legislative committees spent on behalf of each candidate. With very few exceptions, individual legislative candidates don’t make their own TV ad buys or direct mail purchases or digital ad placements. They send most of the money they raise to the state legislative committee at the state party, and then the party makes those ad buys on their behalf.

The party then also spends a considerable extra amount of money more from their central fund for legislative races on the districts most likely to flip. Not every single in-kind expenditure is this, but the vast majority is and is good enough for this exercise.

Let’s begin by looking at the most expensive legislative races in the state. Here’s the top races for combined spending from both parties:

District Combined $ GOP Dem Region
HD 42  $1,221,806.00 Cownie Sunde DSM Suburbs
HD 44  $848,175.00 Bergman Judge DSM Suburbs
SD 19  $836,705.00 Whitver Gustafson DSM Suburbs
SD 29  $745,841.00 Koelker Bowman Dubuque/Jackson
HD 38  $736,911.00 Koester Matson DSM Suburbs
SD 49  $703,460.00 Cournoyer Robinson Clinton
HD 57  $656,085.00 Lundgren Fett Rural Dubuqe
SD 47  $651,623.00 Smith Gleason Bettendorf
SD 39  $645,142.00 Hora Kinney Johnson/rural
HD 91  $625,222.00 Carlson Liegois Muscatine
HD 60  $549,908.00 Rogers Williams Cedar Falls
HD 39  $542,482.00 Highfill Derry DSM Suburbs
SD 41  $539,141.00 Miller-Meeks Stewart Ottumwa
SD 27  $517,678.00 Latham Ragan Northern IA
SD 13  $478,215.00 Garrett Brenner Madison/Warren
HD 67  $446,825.00 Hinson Gjerde CR Suburbs
HD 94  $351,656.00 Mohr Marttila Bettendorf
HD 55  $310,478.00 Bergan Koether NE IA
HD 95  $290,549.00 Zumbach Andrews Rural Linn
HD 09  $286,567.00 Meyer Srinivas Ft. Dodge
HD 47  $219,426.00 Thompson Weaver Boone
HD 92  $180,094.00 Paustian Simpson Scott Co.

Races in the Des Moines suburbs top the list, both because that’s where Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities lie and because the Des Moines media market is the most expensive in the state for TV. Offensive targets for Democrats dominate the list, while Republicans are on the attack in four Senate districts and two House races.

The totals in the Des Moines area races are getting rather ridiculous, but that’s thanks in part to a very strong year of fundraising for House Democrats.

Let’s take a closer look at these numbers, organizing them by region of the state. What I’ll do here is list out the in-kind numbers from both the October 19 finance report and the November 2 report. That provides the most interesting information of all, as it shows which districts suddenly came online for both parties late in the cycle. There’s no place where this is more the case than Scott County, so we’ll start there.

Scott/Muscatine/Clinton Counties

HD 94 – Bettendorf

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Gary Mohr (R)  $19,871  $200,630  $220,501
Joan Marttila (D)  $13,370  $117,785  $131,155

SD 47 – Bettendorf

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Roby Smith (R)  $140,107  $295,724  $435,831
Marie Gleason (D)  $56,006  $159,786  $215,792

There must be some huge momentum for Democrats out in Bettendorf. Both parties have suddenly engaged in a big way in the Quad Cities’ more upscale part of town. With demographics similar to the Des Moines suburbs, Democrats had hoped Bettendorf, which Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016, could be a target for the party, but the spending hadn’t matched that hope until just recently. Democrats’ strong early vote numbers in Scott County may be playing a part.

Republicans are now pouring nearly $300,000 into Roby Smith’s senate seat right at the end, with Democrats getting Marie Gleason up with late TV ads. Meanwhile, the HD 94 race was a quiet affair up to now. Joan Marttila was earlier seen as a race Democrats would pick up if it was a particularly good night and the party already had 51 seats. Now she might be the lynchpin for the majority. A lot of eyebrows were raised when Gary Mohr made a large, late TV ad buy. So, keep your eyes on Bettendorf on election night, because something’s happening out there.

HD 92 – Rural Scott County, Davenport

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Jean Simpson (D)  $2,666  $124,031  $126,697
Ross Paustian (R)  $17,942  $35,455  $53,397

This has traditionally been one of Iowa’s top swing districts, but increasing Republican loyalty in rural areas made it harder this time. However, Democrats just bumped up their financial support for Jean Simpson, while Republicans haven’t done the same for Ross Paustian.

HD 91 – Muscatine

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Gary Carlson (R)  $181,999  $170,753  $352,752
Laura Liegois (D)  $73,148  $199,322  $272,470

A lot of folks behind the scenes believe Laura Liegois is on track to flip the Muscatine district for Democrats. This could be one of the party’s best performances in a blue collar district they need to take back.

SD 49 – Clinton County, Rural Scott County

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Chris Cournoyer (R)  $208,092  $263,457  $471,549
Patricia Robinson (D)  $58,392  $173,519  $231,911

Most believe this to be Republicans’ other likeliest pick-up win in the Senate, aside from Zach Nunn. Chris Cournoyer had a huge head start after Rita Hart left her reelection race for Fred Hubbell’s ticket. Republicans have significantly outspent Democrats here, but Democrats aren’t giving up with this latest injection of funds, so perhaps they see something different in their polling.


Des Moines Suburbs/Central Iowa

HD 42 – West Des Moines

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Peter Cownie (R)  $304,211  $395,256  $699,467
Kristin Sunde (D)  $289,026  $233,313  $522,339

$1.2 million combined for a House race. As someone who lives in this district, I can confirm that Democrats have spent a ton of money here. Every time I look at Facebook, there’s a Kristin Sunde ad on my screen. Peter Cownie, who personally raised over $250,000 in these last two reports, is outspending his Democratic challenger, but not by nearly the margin he did back in 2016. He also doesn’t have as unique of attacks to knock Sunde on as he did with his last opponent, and the district is continuing to move quickly in favor of Democrats. Cownie’s time in office is likely coming to an end.

SD 19 – Ankeny

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Jack Whitver (R)  $118,178  $412,725  $530,903
Amber Gustafson (D)  $247,937  $57,865  $305,802

HD 38 – Ankeny

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Heather Matson (D)  $275,751  $128,085  $403,836
Kevin Koester (R)  $68,439  $264,636  $333,075

All eyes will be on Ankeny on election night. Republicans have dumped a half million into the senate race to try and save Majority Leader Jack Whitver. Democrats decided to go all-out in this race with their limited funds, and so far it seems to be working. A Whitver defeat would send shockwaves.

And Heather Matson is one of Democrats’ top-targeted races this time around, out-spending Kevin Koester in this changing district. This is one of the best examples of how Democrats’ incredibly strong fundraising efforts for down-ballot candidates this year have allowed House Democrats to go punch-for-punch or better on the airwaves with Republicans this cycle, a big improvement over 2016.

HD 44 – Waukee, West Des Moines, Clive

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Anna Bergman (R)  $193,655  $241,497  $435,152
Kenan Judge (D)  $138,622  $274,401  $413,023

It’s an incredibly expensive, evenly-matched contest out in the Dallas County suburbs that weren’t even competitive in past years. Republicans hold a daunting 2,429 registration advantage here, but even with that, Democrats have managed to generate a narrow early vote lead.

HD 39 – Johnston, Grimes

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Jake Highfill (R)  $86,571  $208,047  $294,618
Karin Derry (D)  $94,951  $152,913  $247,864

Interestingly, both parties seem optimistic about this race. But Karin Derry has a very large volunteer base that’s produced a good early vote lead here, a place that also has a big Republican registration advantage. A good night for Democrats in the suburbs should mean a Derry win here.

HD 43 – Windsor Heights, West Des Moines, Clive

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Jennifer Konfrst (D)  $27,294  $41,275  $68,569
Michael Boal (R)  $5,725  $9,794  $15,519

The spending in this pick-up seat for Democrats shows how helpful Jennifer Konfrst’s second run was for the party. Republicans have clearly given up on trying to hold this district, and Konfrst’s strength has allowed Democrats to spend more of their money in other targeted seats.

HD 30 – Eastern Polk County

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Brian Lohse (R)  $17,052  $69,846  $86,898
Kent Balduchi (D)  $2,532  $2,500  $5,032

Republicans are spending a decent amount of just-to-be-safe money in this Zach Nunn seat that they’re expected to hold. Brian Lohse is a multi-million dollar lottery winner, so if he felt like he needed to spend even more money here, you think he probably could have.

SD 13 – Warren, Madison Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Julian Garrett (R)  $117,824  $131,719  $249,543
Vicky Brenner (D)  $66,763  $161,909  $228,672

Vicky Brenner’s got a good TV hit up on Julian Garrett over Garrett’s abortion comments, though this race hasn’t seen as huge of spending totals as some others. This was another district that wasn’t even on the battleground board in most years, so it’ll be interesting to see how Brenner’s local connections in Madison County can help her overcome the Republican registration advantage here. Considering the massive amount of money Republicans are sending to the rural Democratic incumbent districts, one would think they’d redirect more here if they felt Garrett was right on the edge.


Rural Iowa

HD 57 – Rural Dubuque

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Nancy Fett (D)  $163,018  $227,211  $390,229
Shannon Lundgren (R)  $121,062  $144,794  $265,856

Democrats are in a massive battle to retake this seat that was once a decently reliable hold for the party. Shannon Lundgren just narrowly won the seat as Trump carried it by double digits in 2016. Early vote numbers look great in Dubuque County, and Nancy Fett has a strong operation here. This is another race where it’s so striking to see Democrats outspending an incumbent by a good margin after years of Republicans holding the financial advantage in Iowa.

SD 29 – Jackson County, Rural Dubuque County

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Carrie Koelker (R)  $213,191  $247,582  $460,773
Tod Bowman (D)  $123,829  $161,239  $285,068

Republicans appear to have settled on Bowman as the most endangered Democratic incumbent, pumping money into this mostly-rural district. This race will be a test of how the rural Mississippi River counties respond after their swing right for Trump.

SD 39 – Rural Johnson County, Keokuk and Washington Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Heather Hora (R)  $193,891  $222,922  $416,813
Kevin Kinney (D)  $78,901  $149,428  $228,329

It’s odd to see this race crack the top ten for spending, considering most see Kevin Kinney as a very well-liked and hard-working incumbent. The Johnson County half of the district is going to be nearly impossible to overcome this year for Republicans.

HD 55 – Decorah, Elkader, Northern Fayette County

Michael Bergan (R)  $57,401  $110,404  $167,805
Kayla Koether (D)  $25,210  $117,463  $142,673

Kayla Koether was one of the last of the Democratic targeted races to go up on TV, but she’s there now in her race against first-term incumbent Michael Bergan. Democrats have a very strong volunteer base in Winneshiek County and their early vote performance versus 2014 is one of the best in the state. The question will be whether rural voters up here have moved back from their hard shift to Republicans under Trump.

HD 56 – Allamakee, Clayton Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Anne Osmundson (R)  $6,816  $63,070  $69,886
Lori Egan (D)  $3,480  $9,587  $13,067

Staying up in Northeast Iowa for a moment, here’s a race that never really developed for Democrats. Although it’s an open seat, it looks like Republicans should hold this district.

SD 27 – Mason City, Franklin and Butler Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Shannon Latham (R)  $185,423  $146,965  $332,388
Amanda Ragan (D)  $96,533  $88,757  $185,290

Republicans had high hopes for defeating Amanda Ragan after Trump swept her district, but you would think if Democrats were more worried about it, they’d be spending even more money here. Ragan is a strong incumbent.

HD 47 – Boone and Greene Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Phil Thompson (R)  $135,656  $51,515  $187,171
David Weaver (D)  $13,785  $18,470  $32,255

Republicans have spent an awful lot of money on a questionable candidate to hold on to this seat. Democrats don’t seem to have the funds to reach out in to this district, but David Weaver has raised enough to put together a decent program. If it’s a good night for Democrats statewide, including in rural areas, check in on this race.

HD 97 – Rural Clinton County

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Norlin Mommsen (R)  $10,411  $86,554  $96,965
Tim McClimon (D)  0*  0*  0*

Here’s something pretty interesting. Republicans have suddenly tossed $86,000 to Norlin Mommsen in the DeWitt-based district. This district is far down the list of what most would consider a flippable seat. Tim McClimon doesn’t have in-kinds as he’s one of the few placing his own advertising buys, and he’s had about $35,000 worth of spending in the last two reports. Whatever the case, McClimon has certainly put a scare into Mommsen.

If you look back up the list, both Democrats and Republicans added a lot of money to the senate race here. Perhaps Clinton County is bouncing back to its Democratic roots? This was also the part of Rita Hart’s senate district where she would always greatly over-perform the top of the ticket in past years.


Cedar Rapids/Cedar Falls Corridor

HD 60 – Cedar Falls

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Walt Rogers (R)  $129,684  $168,065  $297,749
David Williams (D)  $115,925  $136,234  $252,159

Both parties have engaged heavily in this race. Walt Rogers is a strong incumbent, but his district is one of those upper-income, highly-educated places that is quickly moving in Democrats’ favor.

HD 67 – Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Robins

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Eric Gjerde (D)  $92,593  $178,125  $270,718
Ashley Hinson (R)  $18,218  $157,889  $176,107

Here’s a race where the parties must have seen much different results in their polling. Republicans stayed out of this race for the longest time, apparently believing Ashley Hinson’s lasting popularity from her time as a TV news anchor would save her from the shifting trends toward Democrats in the suburbs. But Eric Gjerde has run a particularly strong campaign and has a good early vote lead despite the Republican registration advantage in the district.

HD 68 – Marion

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Molly Donahue (D)  $63,491  $18,400  $81,891
Randy Ray (R)  $2,892  $-  $2,892

Just further proof that Republicans gave up on holding this seat.

HD 95 – Rural Linn County

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Louie Zumbach (R)  $112,400  $113,491  $225,891
Christian Andrews (D)  $8,780  $55,878  $64,658

Most of Christian Andrews’ in-kind help here is from his own fundraising efforts that he sent in to the party. But Republicans are seeing something here on the ground with their spending to prop up Louie Zumbach’s reelection. More and more of the Cedar Rapids exurbs are growing out into this district, and Andrews has put together a good operation here.


Western Iowa

SD 7 – Sioux City

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Jackie Smith (D)  $126,265  $34,212  $160,477
Rick Bertrand (R)  $15,449 0*  $15,449

Rick Bertrand doesn’t run his money through the party, and has spent about $166,000 from his own campaign account, mostly on advertising. So, the spending here is roughly even, which probably favors Jackie Smith.

HD 9 – Fort Dodge

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Ann Meyer (R)  $180,584  $101,929  $282,513
Megan Srinivas (D)  $3,962*  $92*  $4,054*

There’s been more late spending in this race than what’s in the report. I’ve got numbers that puts Megan Srinivas at a little over $133,000 in in-kind spending for the final push. This is the one House seat that Republicans feel very good about picking up, and they’ve put a lot of money into that effort.

HD 14 – Sioux City

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Robert Henderson (R)  $11,024  $120,822  $131,846
Tim Kacena (D)  $539  $0*  $539*

Another one where there’s more late spending than what’s in the report. Tim Kacena has gotten about $66,000 of in-kind spending to close out the race. What Republicans saw here is anyone’s guess, as this isn’t one Democrats should be too worried about losing on election night.

HD 15 – Council Bluffs

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Charlie McConkey (D)  $82,560  $45,514  $128,074
LeeAnn Hughes (R)  $6,846  $3,017  $9,863

Council Bluffs went pretty deep red for Trump, so Democrats made sure to give Charlie McConkey enough support. Republicans didn’t view it as a pick-up opportunity.

HD 16 – Council Bluffs

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Mary Ann Hanusa (R)  $28,221  $55,335  $83,556
Steve Gorman (D)  $-  $24,405  $24,405

Here’s another intriguing development. Republicans just put a chunk of extra money in for Mary Ann Hanusa, who should be a safe hold for them. Steve Gorman’s in-kind is all his own money routed through the party. The Pottawattamie County early vote numbers are great this year, so perhaps Gorman and local field team just forced Republicans to spend an extra $55,000 right at the end.



SD 41 – Ottumwa, Fairfield, Van Buren and Davis Counties

In-Kind 10/19 In-Kind 11/2 Total
Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R)  $165,137  $153,025  $318,162
Mary Stewart (D)  $84,959  $136,020  $220,979

The total spending here might be much higher if Ottumwa TV wasn’t so cheap. This might be one of the more unpredictable contests for Election Day.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/4/18

3 Comments on "Last-Minute Spending Shifts In Battleground Legislative Races"

  • Amazing job pulling this together. Truly unbelievable state legislative races are costing this much. It wasn’t that like ng ago that you could run for the Iowa House and spend no more than the job paid.

  • The other interesting dynamic in the Koether and Fett races in particular is one you didn’t mention: what coattails Rob Sand will have in Decorah and Finkenauer will have in rural Dubuque.

  • HD 47 you probably mean Boone and Greene Counties, and not Boone and Jefferson Counties. Of course Jefferson is the Greene County seat, and there is also a Jefferson County. I know what you meant…just fyi. thanks for your efforts

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