The Special Election In Iowa Tuesday Should Help Us Understand The 2020 Congressional Election Dynamics

Written by on March 18, 2019

Eric Giddens

Saturday, Beto O’Rourke was in Black Hawk County, Iowa campaigning for Eric Giddens in Cedar Falls. Eric Giddens, a school board member who heads the University of Northern Iowa’s energy programs, is in a hot special election tomorrow for an open state senate seat (district 30). He doesn’t know Beto– and Beto is hardly the only nationally known Democrat campaigning for him. Elizabeth Warren, Eric Swalwell, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Steve Bullock and Kirsten Gillibrand are all trying to help him win Tuesday. The district is in play because Democratic state Sen. Jeff Danielson resigned February 14. It leans blue. Obama beat Romney 53.1% to 45.7% and even as flawed a candidate as Hillary Clinton managed to narrowly beat Trump there– 48.4% to 45.0%. Last year a weak Democratic gubernatorial candidate won 53-45%. Here is what the district looks like by voter registration (as of February 1):

Independents- 15,986
Democrats- 13,333
Republicans- 12,488

You win in this district by turning out your base and by appealing to independents. To make up for the slight Democratic advantage, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds scheduled the election during the University of Northern Iowa’s spring break.


The 30th Senate district is fully within the first congressional district, one of Iowa’s 4. It includes all of Cedar Falls and goes southeast into the outskirts of Waterloo. In 2016, Black Hawk County was Bernie country. He beat Hillary 3,647 (53%) to 3,220 (47%)– on the same day Trump came in 3rd with just 1,360 votes, behind both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The county went for Trump in the general– by nearly 10 points. Last year, things turned around in Iowa. Democratic legislator Abby Finkenauer ousted GOP incumbent Congressman Rod Blum. Districtwide the vote was 170,342 (51.0%) to 153,442 (45.9%). There are 20 counties in the district, but most of the voters live in just 3– Linn, Black Hawk and Dubuque. Finkenauer won all three by big margins, D+17 in Linn, D+14 in Black Hawk and D+7 in Dubuque. In the Trumpiest county, Delaware, it didn’t matter that Blum rode an R+22 wave because there are so few voters.

Now the DCCC and Democratic leadership are fretting about losing seats like IA-01– districts Trump won in 2016 but that are held by Democrats– to Republicans next year. That’s because, I hate to say, they’re morons. And what morons do is usually moronic. So… they are pressuring Finkenauer and other Democrats in these “Trump districts” to vote against progressive initiatives and go the GOP-lite route. Yesterday we looked at what a terrible, dysfunctional strategy this is. But these freshmen aren’t able to stand up to the pressure from the DCCC, which subtly threatens that if they disobey they won’t help them financially. There are 22 freshman members in “Trump districts.” These are the districts, the freshmen and their Progressive Punch ratings:

GA-06- Lucy McBath- F
IL-14- Lauren Underwood- A
IA-01- Abby Finkenauer- F
IA-03- Cindy Axne- F
ME-02- Jared Golden- F
MI-08- Elissa Slotkin- F
MI-11- Haley Stevens- C
MN-02- Angie Craig- F
NV-03- Susie Lee- F
NH-01- Chris Pappas- C
NJ-02- Jeff Van Drew- F (tied for worst Democrat in the House)
NJ-03- Andy Kim- F
NJ-11- Mikie Sherrill- F
NM-02- Xochitl Torres Small- F
NY-11- Max Rose- F
NY-19- Antonio Delgado- F
NY-22- Anthony Brindisi- F
OK-05- Kendra Horn- F
SC-01- Joe Cunningham- F (tied for worst Democrat in the House)
UT-04- Ben McAdams- F (tied for worst Democrat in the House)
VA-02- Elaine Luria- F
VA-07- Abigail Spanberger- F

People are more likely to vote based on other factors– authenticity, constituent services, Trump, courageousness– than on House roll call vote scores. The GOP congressional election strategy for 2020 will be to label every Democrat– especially the conservatives– as a “socialist” and as a proxy for Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. As you may have noticed in the last decade or so, reality has been completely untethered from Republican campaign tactics. These freshmen will be truly vulnerable in 2022– but next year, with Trump at the top of the ticket, the only ones likely to lose are the ones who piss off their base voters really badly and I’d guess the only ones who may be beaten on that basis are Blue Dogs in very red districts– Kendra Horn (PVI- R+10), Joe Cunningham (PVI- R+10), Ben McAdams (PVI- R+13), Abigail Spanberger (PVI- R+6) and Anthony Brindisi (PVI- R+6). But the only one I’d wager will actually lose next year is Horn, who well may wind up with a primary calling attention to her very consistent Republican-lite posture. It’s not what the Democratic activists in Oklahoma City who elected her were expecting. And it’s all happening in this context:


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