When you are the minority party in a legislative chamber, raising money can be difficult and, at times, can seem almost impossible. Successful campaigns require money to be able to operate. It’s not everything you need, but financial resources are necessary in politics today. Regardless of the quality of candidates the Senate Republicans are able to recruit, raising money is difficult when you are significantly outnumbered.
Republicans in the Iowa Senate are out-numbered by Democrats 32 to 18. At first glance, being eight seats away from a majority would make some think that they are in a similar position to Republicans in the House, but with only 25 seats in the senate up for election every two years, Senate Republicans don’t have as many routes to travel to get to a majority status.
For the past couple of election cycles, Republicans have treated the Senate like a redheaded stepchild come election time. In 2006, Republicans wrote off the Senate and focused on the House and gubernatorial contest. That election year turned out to be horrible for Republicans. Jim Nussle lost to Chet Culver, and the House lost seats. Two years later, Republicans were once again focused primarily on winning back the House. Despite the focus on winning House seats, Republicans again lost seats yet again.
While it wasn’t necessarily a failed strategy, the single focus on the House has directly contributed to where Republicans are today in the Senate. The 18 seats that Republicans currently control in the chamber is the bare minimum that they should hold. The good news for Senate Republicans is that there is nowhere for them to go but up. While some of the same people still want the focus to be on the House, the picture in the Senate isn’t as bad as some people think. Getting to a majority status will be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Of the 25 seats that are up for election this year, Democrats hold 19 of them, while Republicans control only six. Republicans should hold all six of those seats. The only seat that has any question marks is Senate District 41, which is currently held by Sen. David Hartsuch.
Roby Smith is challenging Sen. Hartsuch in the Republican primary this June. Whoever emerges from the primary will likely win in November. Voter registration numbers in the district are almost identical for Republicans and Democrats. Democrats have a two-voter advantage over Republicans. The district has historically performed well for Republicans and should do so again in 2010.
Republicans have one open seat to hold, Senate District 27, which is being vacated by Sen. Ron Wieck. The Republican candidate is Bill Anderson, a current staffer for Congressman Steve King who also previously worked for Senator Grassley. Anderson is young, energetic, and well known and respected in the area. He should have no problems holding onto Wieck’s seat. Anderson will also be a great addition to the Republican caucus in the Senate.
Of the 19 seats that Democrats control, only two of them are open seats. Republicans have fielded exceptional candidates in both. In Senate District 1, Rick Bertrand is running for Sen. Steve Warnstadt’s seat. Bertrand ran for the House in 2008 and came within 300 votes. Voter registration in the district favors Democrats by a significant amount, but Bertrand performed well in half of the district in 2008. Another factor to take into account is that both house seats that make up the district are open seats and will have outstanding Republican candidates running in them.
The other open Democratic seat is Senate District 13, which was held by Sen. Roger Stewart. Democrats have a huge voter registration advantage in the district, but Republicans have recruited an outstanding candidate in Andrew Naeve.
Naeve is a graduate of Cornell University and comes from a well-known and respected farming family with deep roots in the district. In addition to being involved in his family’s farming operation, Naeve serves on the East-Central Community School Board and also coaches the high school basketball team.
Having been born and raised in this district, I can tell you that a candidate with Neave’s background will do well in this area. He might be the best candidate Republicans have fielded in this part of the state in a long time. His rural background and ties give him a chance to win in a part of the state where few Republicans have been successful.
An issue to watch is forced school consolidation. The East-Central school district is very small, but the issue of consolidation could be a hot topic depending where his opponent this fall stands on the issue. People in these school districts don’t like what they hear from Senators like Matt McCoy on this issue. It could be a major factor in this race.
While Bertrand should win and Naeve is an outstanding candidate, there are three other seats that Senate Republicans should easily pick up. The first is Senate District 45 that is currently held by Sen. Becky Schmitz. Schmitz is a left-leaning liberal in a district that has a Republican voter registration advantage.
Making matters worse for Schmitz is that former state legislator Sandy Greiner has decided to run against her. Greiner is well known and respected. Even though she will first have to win a three way primary, Greiner is an outstanding campaigner with a proven track record that should lead her to victory in the primary and in November.
Another district where Senate Republicans will add to their ranks is Senate District 9 where former State Representative Bill Dix is running against Bill Heckroth. Like Greiner, Dix is an outstanding campaigner and is well respected and well known in the area. Senate District 9 has 2800 more registered Republicans than Democrats. Every dollar that Mike Gronstal spends to save Heckroth will be wasted as Dix should win this seat in November.
Another Democrat incumbent who is in trouble is Sen. Staci Appel in district 37. State Representative Kent Sorenson is running against Appel in a district that is far more favorable than the House District that he won in 2008.
Despite raising and spending massive amounts of money for her Senate campaign in 2006, Appel was only able to defeat her opponent by 772 votes. She outspent her opponent four to one. Sorenson pulled the upset of the cycle when he defeated Rep. Mark Davitt in 2008. Sorenson’s previous success in the most difficult part of that Senate district in 2008 should allow him to put Appel out to pasture. Sorenson is a better fit for the district and works his tail off.
It should be pretty easy for Senate Republicans to get to 21 seats, and if Bertrand and Neave are successful they are suddenly in the hunt with 23 seats. Finding three more seats could be difficult, but they do have solid candidates in districts that could swing to the Senate to Republican control.
Republicans have a sizable voter registration advantage in Senate District 5 and have a candidate in Robert Bacon who is well known and who could give incumbent Sen. Rich Olive fits. Bacon is a funeral home director who owns two funeral homes in the district.
Another candidate to keep an eye on is Mark Chelgren who is running against Keith Kreiman. Chelgren is a small business owner who creates jobs in a district with the highest unemployment rate in the state. In addition to Sorenson’s race, the marriage issue could also be in play in this district. Kreiman says that he wants to let people vote on the issue, yet he voted against the amendment in 2004. This race could be interesting.
There are other candidates and districts that could come into play under the right circumstances. Districts 21, 23, and 25 all have quality candidates running in them, some of which have contested primaries.
The road to a Republican majority in the Senate is not an easy one to navigate, but that doesn’t mean Republicans should only make sizable investments in the House races. With 19 Democratic seats up, Republicans must make significant gains now if they want to ever have a chance at wrestling control away from Mike Gronstal.
Even if Senate Republicans return with just three new members (Greiner, Dix, and Sorenson), the complexion of the Senate will change overnight. I think the Senate Republicans will win more than just those three seats, which would make 2010 a good year for them. The question is, how good of a year can it be? If they can find the necessary resources, it could be outstanding.