2014 Election Preview: Iowa

The Hawkeye State is going to be abuzz with political activity this year as it hosts a gubernatorial race, a competitive Senate race, and a few interesting House races. The Republicans have chance to make some gains, but in order to do so they need to be on their A-game from now through November. Here’s the situation from Iowa:

Governor: Incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is running for his 6th (non-consecutive) term in office and if he wins, he will likely become the longest serving governor in US history. However, there are two men who seek to block Branstad from that prestigious honor: Republican Tom Hoefling and Democrat State Sen. Jack Hatch. Fortunately for the Governor, neither of them seem to pose too much of a threat to his chances. Polling shows Branstad crushing Heofling in the GOP primary while leading Hatch in the general election. It is true that few recent polls have this race much closer, but it is important to remember that Branstad is 12-0 in competitive elections and of all the years to break that streak, this particularly anti-Democratic one doesn’t seem likely to be it. I predict that over the next few months Branstad will widen his lead, but if that doesn’t happen this race could get a bit more interesting. Likely Republican.

Senator: Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is ending his 30-year tenure in the United States Senate, leaving an open seat election and a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. The sole Democrat running is Rep. Bruce Braley and he’s by far the strongest fundraiser in the race, gathering more than $5 million over the course of this cycle. However, that money-making acumen has gotten him trouble as he was recently caught on tape bad-mouthing an “Iowa farmer” (Senator Chuck Grassley (R)) to an audience of out-of-state lawyers. While this hasn’t killed his candidacy, it has given new life to GOP hopes of taking this seat. For their part, the Republicans are looking to choose between State Sen. Joni Ernst and businessman Mark Jacobs. Ernst got national attention with her pig castration themed ad, which may give her the edge she needs to win the nomination.  Polls show Braley with a slightly ahead in the general election, although there are a lot of undecideds and a lot of time until election day. So while this race Leans Democrat, Ernst remains a strong competitor.

House:

IA-1: With incumbent Rep. Bruce Braley (D) running for the Senate, this is an open seat that maybe, just maybe, could turn into a pick-up opportunity for Republicans. The Democrats have a pretty wide open field, with the top candidates being: Cedar Rapids Councilwoman Monica Vernon, former State Sen. Swati Dandekar, State Rep. Pat Murphy, and attorney David O’Brien. No one really has a money advantage and polling shows a plurality of voters are still undecided in the Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the Republicans look likely to nominate businessman Rod Blum, who is pretty much the only viable candidate they have. At first glance Blum doesn’t seem to be anything special and his fundraising has been anemic compared to that of his Democratic rivals. Unless Blum gets his act together, this race is Likely Democratic.

IA-3: Rep. Tom Latham (R) is retiring and that means that this swingiest of swing districts is up for grabs in November. There is a whole slew of Republicans looking to replace Latham, including: State Sen. Brad Zaun, Sen. Chuck Grassley’s former chief of staff David Young, social conservative activist Robert Cramer, IA Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and businessman Monte Shaw. All of them are in the same ballpark when it comes to fundraising and polls show that there isn’t a clear favorite in the GOP field. Meanwhile, the Democrats look set to nominate former State Sen. Staci Appel. She’s a charismatic candidate, she leads all her Republican rivals in fundraising, and her husband happens to be a Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. There is no doubt that she would be the favorite if this was a good year for Democrats, but of course it is not. Thus big question in this district is whether a spoiled bunch can ruin one good Appel. This race will be tight through election day and it’s a Toss-Up.

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