DES MOINES ? Voters in Iowa?s suburbs and rural eastern counties figure to play a large role in deciding which political party controls the lawmaking agenda in the Iowa House over the next two years.
Democrats, who have not outnumbered Republicans in the Iowa House since 2010, believe a majority is within their grasp despite going into this fall?s midterm elections at an eight-seat disadvantage.
Democrats believe there are enough House districts in play ? roughly two dozen ? and that they can win enough races in order to surpass Republicans and gain an agenda-setting majority in the House.
Republicans acknowledge they face some political headwinds in the upcoming election, but feel they are well-positioned to maintain their majority.
The key races that are likely to decide who controls the Iowa House in 2019 and 2020 mostly are in suburban areas of the state?s biggest cities, and in rural counties in eastern Iowa, especially along the Mississippi River.
Voters in those areas have been shifting their political allegiances in recent years, voting results have showed. How they vote this November could impact any number of races, including the collective race for control of the Iowa House.
?Some of those areas are coming back our direction or coming our direction,? said Mark Smith, the leader of the Iowa House Democrats. ?Part of our (path to victory) is we win back places like that in the 2018 elections.?
Linda Upmeyer, the Republican Iowa House Speaker, said despite any challenges Iowa Republicans are poised to protect their majority and said they think they also can defeat a Democratic incumbent or two.
?While this cycle appears to be a bit unpredictable, House Republicans have delivered on the priorities that Iowans expected us to address. I fully expect to begin the 2019 legislative session with a strong Republican majority in the Iowa House,? Upmeyer said in an emailed statement to the bureau.
Democrats say their optimism comes from voter and candidate enthusiasm, the sheer number of candidates recruited, results in recent special statehouse elections, and national voting trends over the past two years. They feel they will be on offense in the election ? attempting to defeat incumbent Republicans while feeling safe about their own incumbents ? and like their chances in a number of seats that are open due to Republican retirements.
Smith said the Democrats? 95 candidates for the 100 House seats are their most in decades, and said Democratic candidates and voters are motivated for the election in order to push back against Republican-led policies implemented since 2016 at both the state and national levels.
Democrats also point to special elections since 2016 in Iowa and other states. The most prominent example nationally was in Virginia, where in 2017, Democrats went from a 66-34 disadvantage to just missing out on split control after a random drawing broke a race that tied and left Republicans with a 51-49 edge.
Iowa Democrats improved on their 2016 results in a half-dozen special elections to fill vacant statehouse seats, although they did not change the party control in any of those special elections.
In order to gain a majority in the Iowa House this fall, Democrats will have to flip control of 10 seats ? assuming all of their incumbents also win.
Suburban, college-educated voters have been driving some of the Democrats? good fortunes in post-2016 elections. Their turnout and choices could play a significant role in Iowa?s elections this fall.
Christopher Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said education level was a decisive factor in voters? choices in 2016, and likely will be again this year.
?The suburban, educated vote will be significant (this fall),? Larimer said. ?The education split was beyond what political scientists had previously modeled for. ... I think that is a group (suburban, college-educated residents) that is going to be significant for voters.?
Another bloc that could have significant sway this fall are the swing voters who voted for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 and Republican President Donald Trump in 2016. The lion?s share of those voters are in eastern Iowa, and they could make the difference in a number of statehouse races in that area of the state.
Larimer said it is difficult to predict which party those voters will support this fall, and to what degree that will turn out and vote.
Democrats say their optimism comes from voter and candidate enthusiasm, the sheer number of candidates recruited, results in recent special statehouse elections, and national voting trends over the past two years.
They feel they will be on offense in the election ? attempting to defeat incumbent Republicans while feeling safe about their own incumbents ? and like their chances in a number of seats that are open due to Republican retirements.