Potential Scenarios For Tonight’s Iowa Elections

It’s here. It’s finally, finally here.

Iowans are headed to the polls this morning, and there’s already reports of long lines and enthusiastic new voters registering at their voting place. After high-profile campaigns that have lasted an intense 16 months or more, most candidates, volunteers, staffers and rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans are just eager for it to be done – and to see who wins.

Democrats have become cautiously optimistic in the past week, though memories of devastating election nights in 2016, 2014 and 2010 weigh heavy on their minds. But there are very legitimate reasons to feel good about tonight’s potential results.

The Ann Selzer poll, typically seen as the most reliable Iowa poll, has Fred Hubbell up by two, 46% to 44%. The final congressional polls had Abby Finkenauer up six, the 3rd District race essentially tied and Steve King is in free-fall.

Democrats’ early vote numbers look great by registration totals, with a current lead of nearly 40,000 (it was 7,000 four years ago). That’s before you consider that the party should do much better with the No Party early voters this year. Youth turnout at college campuses big and small have hit record numbers, as well.

And the final media narratives of the past two weeks have been very favorable to Democrats. One week was about IPERS, the next about Steve King. That’s not what Republicans want to close on to win over swing voters.

I personally feel cautiously optimistic about Democrats’ chances tonight, and that’s saying something. It all seems like it’s heading in the right direction.

And yet… and yet… and yet…

I could also see a scenario where Kim Reynolds is victorious, I just think it’s much less likely. She closed strong in the final month with good debate performances and solid TV ads. One in particular was especially brutal on Hubbell’s statements on taxes, while others had nice positive frames for Reynolds.

The Register poll had her down, but she led on a number of underlying issues and retained a strong 54% favorability rating. And 77% of voters named tax policy as a top priority, compared to 64% who said Medicaid privatization. Undecided voters typically break for the challenger, but there’s a scenario in which they go with Reynolds.

And while Democratic turnout is up, Republican votes are about on pace with 2014, a very good year for them. This isn’t 2006, when Republican turnout was depressed and Democratic voters were motivated. And a small but significant portion of young voters may not have been excited enough by Hubbell and could end up voting third party. It’s all still better for Democrats than in past cycles, but the numbers should mean a lot of very close races.

So, what are some potential scenarios? National politics have been so thoroughly unpredictable since 2016, so any number of results could happen. Let’s go through them:


Blue Wave

Democrats turn out in record numbers on Election Day, and independents swing heavily in their favor. The statewide ticket wins, even if by narrow margins in a few spots. Finkenauer and Axne oust the Republican incumbents, but King just barely hangs on by a few points.

Democrats’ margins in blue collar and rural areas improve over 2016, but not quite enough to pick up any legislative seats outside of the targeted ones. They do, however, sweep every suburban race and add a tough one like Kayla Koether’s HD 55 and Christian Andrews’ HD 95 for the majority. They still lose two Democratic Senate seats, but pick up four Republican ones.

Governor: Hubbell
Congress: Finkenauer, Loebsack, Axne, King
Statewides: DeJear, Sand, Gannon
House: Ds net +11
Senate: Ds net +2

Blue Tsunami

Everyone underestimates Democratic enthusiasm and swing voters’ revulsion with Trump. Rural farmers abandon Republicans in decent numbers over the trade war, keeping Democrats’ margins in rural Iowa decent. Young voters turn out in record numbers and overwhelmingly back Democrats.

Scholten narrowly defeats King in the mother of all upsets. Democrats run the tables in the battleground legislative districts and pick up a couple others like David Weaver’s HD 47, Andrew Rasmussen’s HD 37, Tim Knutson’s HD 51 and maybe one or two others. Democrats fend off Chris Cournoyer’s challenge in SD 49, while picking up the Ankeny, Bettendorf, Sioux City, Ottumwa and Indianola senate districts.

Governor: Hubbell
Congress: Finkenauer, Loebsack, Axne, Scholten
Statewides: DeJear, Sand, Gannon
House: Ds net +16
Senate: Ds net +4

A Balanced Win For Democrats

It’s a good night for Democrats, but a very late one as many close races take forever to call. Republican turnout is good enough to keep it from being a blue sweep. Hubbell just barely defeats Reynolds, while both Pate and Naig hold on. Finkenauer defeats Blum by several points, but the 3rd District could go either way. Let’s say the suburban vote swings it to Axne.

Democrats pick up a solid number of seats in the House, but fall short of retaking the majority. They win some close Senate races, but not all of them.

Governor: Hubbell
Congress: Finkenauer, Loebsack, Axne, King
Statewides: Pate, Sand, Naig
House: Ds net +6
Senate: Ds net +1

Incumbency Matters

Democrats head into election night with a real advantage, but a wave runs in to the traditional strength of incumbents. A more balanced result for both parties ensue. Finkenauer still ekes out a win against an unpopular Blum, but Young’s nice-guy persona helps him hold on to enough suburban swing voters to stop Axne.

On the legislative front, Democrats come up just short to incumbents like Peter Cownie, Kevin Koester, Jake Highfill, Jack Whitver and Gary Carlson. Some Republicans still lose, like Rick Bertrand and Shannon Lundgren.

Reynolds very narrowly wins, and only Sand gets through on the statewide ticket.

Governor: Reynolds
Congress: Finkenauer, Loebsack, Young, King
Statewides: Pate, Sand, Naig
House: Ds net +4
Senate: Ds net 0

Suburban Split Deepens

Democrats romp in the suburbs with independent women, but the partisan divide exacerbated by Trump continues. Blue collar counties, especially those along the Mississippi River, don’t bounce back, while rural counties turn an even deeper shade of red.

In this situation, Axne wins while Finkenauer loses. Democrats pick up a decent number of suburban legislative seats, including the Betterndorf senate seat, but don’t do much outside that. Statewide, it’s just not enough for Democrats to win much.

Governor: Reynolds
Congress: Blum, Loebsack, Axne, King
Statewides: Pate, Sand, Naig
House: Ds net +6
Senate: Ds net +1

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

God determines that Democrats’ lot in life is to suffer eternally here on earth, and Iowa’s red-state status continues. Republicans see huge turnout on Election Day thanks to Trump’s fear-mongering. Democrats’ gains are limited to only a few suburban legislative districts. Carl’s Place runs out of beer tonight.

Governor: Reynolds
Congress: Blum, Loebsack, Young, King
Statewides: Pate, Mosiman, Naig
House: Ds net +2
Senate: Ds net -2

Again, I personally feel optimistic about Democrats’ chances this evening. But folks should prepare themselves emotionally in case not all of their favorite candidates don’t get a win tonight.

As I mentioned on our Election Day podcast episode, regardless of what happens tonight, Democrats are poised to pick up suburban legislative seats that they should be able to hold for many years. That should build the basis for a majority in the Iowa House for cycles to come. Everything is set up for a good night for Democrats, everyone just needs to finish strong.

Good luck out there.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/6/18

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