Where Iowa Senate Democrats See Their Openings In 2020

Guest op-ed from Jacob Becklund, director of Iowa Democrats’ Senate Majority Fund

The 2020 cycle presents a great set of opportunities for Iowa Senate Democrats. Every election year half of the 50 Iowa Senate seats are on the ballot. In essence, this means there are presidential year seats and midterm year seats.

During the last presidential year in 2016, Senate Democrats held a narrow majority in the Iowa Senate with 26 seats, but lost 6 seats as Donald Trump won Iowa by 9 percent. This is the first chance for Democrats to compete for all of those seats, as well as for several more exciting opportunities.

Of the 25 seats up this cycle, 19 are held by Republicans and 6 by Democrats. There are 12 seats up this cycle that are held by a Republican and were won by either President Obama in 2012 or Secretary Clinton in 2016. These include 6 seats that Democrats held going into the 2016 election and were won by President Obama by at least 8 percent in 2012.

What I am most proud of as we head into this cycle is the quality of candidates that Senate Democrats are fielding across the state. From a city councilwoman in Johnston who flipped a seat in her last election, to a firefighter who is a community staple in Council Bluffs, to a retired firefighter and former Senator who is running to take back his former seat in Muscatine, to a veteran who works as a truck driver and grew up farming in Tama County, to a beloved retired teacher in Waverly, to a former Marine who now owns and operates an early-childhood education business in Decorah.

Democratic candidates across this state have deep ties in their communities and align with their districts extremely well. 

If you subscribe to our email list you’ve probably seen that we’ve been profiling the individual candidates in these races and are proud of those who have stepped forward to run. Democrats are currently fielding at least one candidate in all but one of the 12 districts won by Obama or Clinton. Additionally, all 6 Senate Democrats who are up for re-election are running, and Republicans are currently only fielding candidates against 3 of them.

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This contrasts sharply with what has been happening on the Senate Republican side where they are retiring en-mass. In fact, 7 of the 19 Senate Republicans up for re-election are not running – leaving major critical open-seat races for Democrats across the state that we must compete in. That list includes:

Senate District 22, Republican Senate President Charles Schneider’s seat in Polk County, where Clinton, Fred Hubbell, and Cindy Axne all won.

Senate District 44, with Des Moines, Louisa, and Muscatine counties, where Senator Tom Courtney held the seat until 2016.

Senate District 28, which includes parts of Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette, and Winneshiek counties, where Matt Tapscott will face off with Mike Kliemish this November.

Senate Districts 24 and 38 are also now open seats that President Obama won in 2012.

But none of this would mean anything if our candidates weren’t doing the work to ensure we have a shot to regain the majority. Fortunately, they are. Senate Democratic candidates ranked number one and number two in money raised by any challenger of either party in either chamber in the last fundraising reports, several Democratic challengers led their races in fundraising, and every Democratic incumbent was the top fundraiser in their races.

But that is certainly not all we are doing. As we adapt to the changing circumstances around the health situation in Iowa, our candidates are reaching out to voters aggressively. We have no idea how the next few months of this campaign will play out, but what we do know is that fielding a strong slate of Democratic candidates will accomplish two vital things:

  1. It gives us a credible path to a tie or majority in the Iowa Senate – something we can accomplish winning just the four seats won by both Fred Hubbell and Tim Gannon, and the three open seats that Obama won in 2012 among our 12 pickup opportunities.

  2. We know that local Democrats taking a message to voters in their districts helps all Democrats on the ticket. That’s why Democratic turnout increases so much in targeted state legislative districts. When our candidates have the resources to run competitive races, they generate votes for all Democrats.

We do not yet know how the Presidential election will play out – but as we see Vice President Biden lead Trump in polls repeatedly, there is reason to believe we can win back many Obama/Trump districts. We cannot allow these prime opportunities to pass by underfunding our races. Rest assured that any support you send us will help us in our mission to regain the Iowa Senate for Democrats. So please, either donate to the Iowa Senate Democrats today, or consider donating directly to one of our candidates running to flip the Iowa Senate. With your help we can ensure that we restore openness and accountability to Iowa.


by Jacob Becklund
Posted 5/6/20

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