While Republicans at the Iowa Statehouse advance a host of right-wing bills this session, many strong Democratic challengers in key swing districts are putting together their campaigns for the fall elections. Several of them that launched their campaigns last year have already raised significant funds, even out-raising the Republican incumbent in a few places.
State legislative candidates reported their fundraising from 2019 back in late January of this year, but all the caucus excitement overshadowed most of the news from it.
Here’s our look at some of the impressive fundraising totals and candidates to watch as the battle for the Iowa House develops. Three of the top four are likely familiar names to Iowa politicos who closely follow legislative races, as they ran high-profile but unsuccessful races in previous cycles.
Andrea Phillips – HD 37
2019 Raised: $28,228.80
Phillips is back for rematch with John Landon after taking him on in 2016. Her over $28,000 haul was the largest of any Democratic challenger during 2019. Despite being one of the most endangered incumbents in the state this cycle, Landon raised just $12,025 in the same time period — he has about the same cash on hand.
Although the suburbs started to marginally improve for Democrats in 2016 with Donald Trump on the ballot, things didn’t really shift in a major way until 2018. Landon held off Phillips by a 57.4% to 42.6% margin in 2016, but he came much closer than expected in 2018 when he beat Andrew Rasmussen by only 52.0% to 47.9%. Meanwhile, Heather Matson defeated incumbent Kevin Koester by 51.5% to 48.4% in the other Ankeny district in 2018 during her hard-fought rematch. And Amber Gustafson came just a few points shy of a major upset in the Ankeny senate race against Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver.
HD 37, which covers the fast-growing northern half of Ankeny, is still the more Republican side of the Des Moines suburb. Kim Reynolds won this district by three points in 2018, while Fred Hubbell carried Matson’s HD 38 by three. It’s one of the last remaining suburban House seats that didn’t turn blue last cycle.
But Ankeny has been home to some of the strongest new Democratic activism in the state during the Trump era, and they also flipped a city council seat in 2019. Who Democrats’ presidential nominee is could impact the dynamics here significantly.
Both parties should engage heavily in this race, likely to see some of the highest spending in the state. Phillips stepped down as the Vice Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party for this run last year. During her time in that role, she built up plenty more donor and activist connections, which should benefit her in this contest.
2016: 50.5% Trump, 41.2% Clinton
2018: 50.6% Reynolds, 47.5% Hubbell
Eric Gjerde – HD 67
2019 Raised: $28,015.29
The path for Democrats to win probably their best pick-up opportunity in Iowa is a simple one: just do what happened next door in the other Cedar Rapids suburbs district. There, Molly Donahue flipped then-open HD 68 to blue in 2018 after running unsuccessfully against a well-known incumbent in 2016. Gjerde put up a very tough fight in 2018, losing to the better-funded and popular Ashley Hinson by just a 52% to 48% margin. Now that Hinson is challenging Abby Finkenauer in the congressional race, Gjerde also has an open seat for his second try.
So far, Republicans don’t have an announced candidate here, though there’s a few potential strong contenders still out there. But Gjerde’s impressive fundraising effort and big head start will make anyone think twice about trying to hold a suburban district for Republicans when Trump is on the ballot.
Like in Ankeny, this is the slightly tougher district for Democrats in the Cedar Rapids suburbs, but Hubbell carried both of them in 2018. HD 67 is the only House seat in the entire state won by Clinton in 2016 that’s currently represented by a Republican.
Gjerde is a special education teacher who has volunteered and served as a special deputy in the Linn County Sherriff’s Office.
2016: Clinton 47.2%, Trump 45.7%
2018: 50.2% Hubbell, Reynolds 47.3%
Carissa Froyum – HD 63
2019 Raised: $15,742
A hard-working Democratic challenger with a unique family story that people are starting to watch is Carissa Froyum, a UNI professor and mother to a child with a rare, life-threatening disease. Her family has had to navigate the difficulties in the state’s privatized Medicaid system to care for him.
The $15,742 she raised as a first-time candidate is impressive, and it nearly overtook incumbent Sandy Salmon’s $15,947.66 total from 2019.
Democrats have tried to turn this Waverly-based rural district into a targeted race in years past to no avail. Former state senator Bill Heckroth came close to defeating Salmon, a very conservative legislator who’s long drawn the ire of Democratic activists, back in 2012, losing by just over 100 votes. But Salmon has won by wide margins in the three cycles since. If Democrats are able to catch Salmon by surprise and make this competitive, it would be very helpful to the overall map.
2016: 55.1% Trump, 39% Clinton
2018: 55.5% Reynolds, 42.4% Hubbell
Christian Andrews – HD 95
2019 Raised: $14,978
Like Gjerde in the other Linn County race, Andrews impressed in his first run for office, even as he came up short by about eight points to a well-known incumbent. But with Louie Zumbach deciding to retire this year, Andrews, who had already gotten an early start on his second try, is now competing for an open seat in rural Linn County. It’s not yet clear which Republican will run in Zumbach’s place.
Perhaps you’re seeing a trend here: it’s easier to raise money when it’s your second try after you come relatively close in your first effort. And Democrats have seen many legislative candidates in 2018 win on their second attempt, so there’s good reason for donors to give in these races.
While Andrews’ district wasn’t fully targeted by House Democrats last cycle, HD 95 could move up the board of targets — it was a perennial swing seat that Republicans often just narrowly captured. Were both Gjerde and Andrews to win, Democrats would hold every Iowa House seat in Linn County.
2016: 51.6% Trump, 41.9% Clinton
2018: 50.6% Reynolds, 46.6% Hubbell
Other Noteworthy Numbers
The other Democratic challenger to raise over $10,000 was Jen Pellant out in Council Bluffs for HD 16. She brought in $11,342.31 for her race against incumbent Mary Ann Hanusa, who was nearly the surprise upset in 2018 when she won by only a little over 100 votes. The east and south side of Council Bluffs has improved quickly for Democrats under Trump, and many more eyes will be on this race for 2020.
Phil Miller raised $8,130 for his rematch with Jeff Shipley, who defeated the Democrat by a few dozen votes in a major surprise in the Fairfield-based district. Shipley, who has taken a number of bad and bizarre votes during his time in the House, raised just $6,437.47 in the same time. Kayla Koether only recently kicked off her second run, but she raised $7,348.90 in early 2019 around the recount and legal challenge, and started the year with $4.278.46 in the bank. Democratic candidates in rural districts also brought in some noteworthy amounts: Nick Miller in HD 19 raised $6,576 and Ruby Bodeker in HD 75 brought in $5,174.20.
by Pat Rynard