Don’t Sleep On Iowa

If there’s one constant in Iowa politics, it’s this: We’re always in the middle of everything.

Despite many analysts and operatives’ attempts to write Iowa off of the competitive 2022 battleground map, there’s late momentum and intrigue growing on the ground in the Hawkeye state.

Chief among them is the US Senate race, where Sen. Chuck Grassley’s reelection to an eight term is no longer a certainty. A recent poll from the Des Moines Register showing the longtime incumbent only a mere three points in the lead over retired admiral Mike Franken got people talking here and nationally.

Multiple election ratings sites have downgraded Grassley’s chances in the past two weeks, though they still give him the advantage. Franken has enjoyed newfound national attention and a fundraising spike in that same time, allowing him to finish strong on the advertising front. National groups are starting to engage for Grassley. The Washington Post asked this week whether Franken could topple the longtime incumbent.

There’s other encouraging signs for Democrats.

Inside Elections just shifted Iowa’s 2nd Congressional race from “Lean Republican” to “Tilt Republican,” seeing rising GOP star Rep. Ashley Hinson at risk from state Sen. Liz Mathis, who Democrats have long expected to be a strong candidate that could defy the state’s trends.

And something that hasn’t drawn a lot of attention yet is what’s going on with early voting.

After Republican changes that reduced the early vote window, as well as widespread acceptance of election conspiracy theories on the right after Donald Trump’s loss, this year’s absentee numbers were certain to be different. So far, they’re down for both parties, but dramatically so for Republicans.

As of Monday, registered Democrats had requested 122,705 absentee ballots (in-person or through the mail), while Republicans sat at 55,182 requests. At the same point in the 2018 cycle, Democrats had 158,729 requests, while Republicans had 139,491.

So while Democrats are at 77% of their 2018 requests, Republicans have seen a complete collapse of their early voting trends, matching only 39% of their requests from four years ago.

Might all those Republican voters simply show up at the polls on Nov. 8? Sure. But there’s a reason why the parties push early voting—it takes away the chance that something could come up on Election Day for those supporters. There’s certainly some concerning signs for Democrats, like how they didn’t see much of a registration jump after the Dobbs decision. Still, on the early vote front, you’d rather be in the Democrats’ shoes as they bank lots more votes early than the Republicans compared to past cycles.

Meanwhile, Democrats are likely perfectly happy that top Iowa Republicans seem to be taking their eye off the ball—Gov. Kim Reynolds heads up to Minnesota next week to campaign for the Republican governor candidate in that state. Sen. Joni Ernst is hopscotching around the country in her Senate leadership role to boost out-of-state Republicans.

And even Grassley has taken an odd approach to reelection campaigning—he isn’t doing much of it. At this point two years ago, Ernst was barnstorming the state in a campaign bus and hosting campaign events across the state. Grassley has largely stuck to appearances at other Republicans’ annual events this year and is doing an extension of his official-side 99-county tour. But he’s not hosting his own campaign events or rallies outside of small special guest events at county party offices.

All in all, it’s a far cry from what we’ve seen in past cycles where Iowa was smack dab in the middle of the battleground map. As the Washington Post noted in their story, that under-the-radar dynamic may be helping Iowa Democrats, especially Franken, run their races their own way that is connecting better.

But we’ve seen many of the underlying dynamics that led Iowa and Grassley to this moment throughout the year, even if it hasn’t gotten a lot of press attention. Fatigue over longtime incumbents (and Grassley is as longtime as you get) has put Grassley at risk, and Franken’s military background gives independent voters a different kind of Democrat to consider.

Announcement: Starting Line Candidate Forum

And so, for one last big opportunity for Iowans to see some of these candidates making late moves, Iowa Starting Line is very excited to announce that we are hosting a candidate forum in Waterloo next Friday, November 4. In attendance so far will be Mike Franken, Deidre DeJear and Rob Sand.

The program will start at 7:00pm, and our team will interview candidates one-on-one on stage. Courier Newsroom, which Starting Line joined last year, will be livestreaming the event (like this similar event they put on in Pennsylvania).

You can sign up here for more information as we nail down additional details.

We’re also happy to host this event in Waterloo, a community that Starting Line has reported on extensively in recent years. Journalism that builds trust in local communities is more essential than ever, and we’ve done that in Waterloo through a wide mix of reporting that’s examined their challenges and uplifted the stories of people making change there.

We hope to see many of our friends from Waterloo that Friday night, but we also hope others around the state will consider making a drive in. Waterloo is a wonderful, vibrant and diverse city, and anytime you get an excuse to spend an evening there with friends, you should.

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you all next Friday!

 

by Pat Rynard
10/26/22

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