Inside Democrats’ Key Battleground Seats For The Iowa Senate

Top row, left to right: Trone Garriott, Mixdorf, Figaro, VanderGaast. Bottom row, left to right: Smith, Brady, Pries, Kinney

By Guest Post

September 6, 2022

Guest post from Andy Suchorski, director of Democrats’ Iowa Senate Majority Fund

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe and sent the ability to determine abortion policy back to state legislatures, we were all reminded that state legislatures are enormously powerful—and unfortunately often overlooked. Here in Iowa, abortion is still legal, but that right is in grave danger. Virtually every Republican on the ballot this year wants to completely ban abortion without exception.

Until 2016, Democrats controlled the Iowa Senate, which served as a critical backstop against the worst Republican policies, including attacks on abortion rights, labor rights, public education, and so much more. Since Republicans won the trifecta in the 2016 election, they’ve wasted no time advancing an extreme agenda that is having devastating consequences for our state. Like our personal freedoms, our public schools are also under threat. Governor Kim Reynolds has made it abundantly clear she’s going to gut our public schools next year if she’s re-elected along with a pro-voucher Republican majority in the Iowa House and Senate.

The good news is that we’re seeing clear signs of building Democratic enthusiasm across the country and across our state. Democrats have overperformed President Biden’s 2020 results in a steady string of special elections ranging from Alaska to Kansas to upstate New York.

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Here in Iowa, Senator Chuck Grassley is facing a strong challenge from Admiral Mike Franken and Governor Kim Reynolds polled under 50% in the July Iowa Poll, despite having strong name ID. But we can’t take this good news for granted—to get our state back on track, Iowa Senate Democrats are taking a new approach to rebuild our majority.

When I started in April 2021 as Executive Director of the Iowa Senate Majority Fund—the campaign organization dedicated to electing Democrats to the Iowa Senate—it was clear we needed a new direction. We completed a comprehensive “debrief” process that gave us a roadmap for overhauling our operations and embracing new ideas on our campaigns.

We have recruited great, hardworking Democratic candidates this cycle who have built strong teams of volunteers across the state. Due to last year’s redistricting process, there are 34 state Senate seats on the ballot this year (instead of the normal 25). Democrats are contesting 29 of these races—more than the Republicans. Because of our quality candidates and strong campaigns, we feel we’re in a good position not only to defend our incumbent Senators in swing districts, but make gains by flipping Republican-held seats in Polk County and Scott County.

We believe our new approach will better serve our candidates, empower more people to get involved in our campaigns, and most importantly, win more elections. In the SMF office, our mantra is “stack success,” with a focus on the fundamentals of strong campaigns and progressively building on our wins.

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After redistricting, both the Senate and House Democrats have a real path back to the majority, but it won’t be easy. These hardworking Democrats in the most competitive seats can help us get much closer:

Senate District 14 – Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D) vs Sen. Jake Chapman (R)

  • Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, an ordained Lutheran minister, flipped a GOP-held seat in 2020 and is running against GOP Senate President Jake “Sinister Agenda” Chapman in the suburban, Dallas County Senate District that Joe Biden carried and that is strongly trending Democratic.

Senate District 1 – Sen. Jackie Smith (D) vs Rocky De Witt (R)

  • Jackie Smith flipped a GOP-held Sioux City seat in 2018 and is running against a Woodbury County Supervisor, who earlier this year voted to give himself a 22% pay increase despite voting against pay raises for nearly 400 county employees.

Senate District 46 – Sen. Kevin Kinney (D) vs Sen. Dawn Driscoll (R)

  • Farmer and retired Lt. Deputy Sheriff Deputy Kevin Kinney has held his largely rural eastern Iowa Senate District for eight years and built a well-earned reputation as an effective, thoughtful, and bipartisan legislator — he’s running against Sen. Dawn Driscoll, who has flip-flopped and now supports private school vouchers.

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Senate District 21 – Todd Brady (D) vs Rep. Mike Bousselot (R)

Senate District 23 – Matt Pries (D) vs Sen. Jack Whitver (R)

  • Grimes-based Matt Pries is a public school teacher and a beloved cross-country and track-and-field coach who talks movingly about why his Christian faith leads him to Democratic values and is challenging GOP Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, who moved into this Democratic trending district following redistricting.

Senate District 30 – Whitney Mixdorf (D) vs Sen. Waylon Brown (R)

  • Filling the shoes of longtime Senator Amanda Ragan is a tall order, but Whitney Mixdorf is a small business owner who became well-known in her community for her work supporting others during the early days of COVID-19.

Senate District 41 – Deb VanderGaast (D) vs Kerry Gruenhagen (R)

  • Iowa’s child care crisis has been widely documented, but few Iowans have seen its devastation as up close and personal as Deb VanderGaast, who worked at a small town childcare center that closed in August. This toss-up district blends urban and rural communities, cutting across multiple Eastern Iowa counties.

Senate District 47 – Dr. Mary Kathleen Figaro (D) vs Scott Webster (R)

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You can view more information about all our Democratic Senate candidates on the ballot this year on our website,

While we are confident in our candidates and new approach, we also know that we can’t win these campaigns without the resources to get our message out to voters across the state. Republicans like Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Senate President Jake “Sinister Agenda” Chapman are sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars in their campaign war chests, buoyed by megadonors, lobbyists, and special interest PACs. We don’t need to match them dollar for dollar, but we do need to come close to counter their misinformation and get our positive vision for Iowa out to voters.

Everything is on the line this election, and control of the Iowa Senate is more important than ever. A Democratic majority in the Senate will protect your right to make your own health care decisions. Republicans will take that freedom away from you.

Please consider a contribution to the Iowa Senate Majority Fund to help us elect a Democratic Majority in the Iowa Senate. If you are not in a position to contribute, please consider getting involved in your local Senate campaign to help us knock doors, register voters, and turnout our supporters this election.


by Andy Suchorski

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