In the next three weeks, the political parties will lay most of their cards on the table for this fall's election. Filing begins Monday for federal and state legislative offices, and runs through March 14.
Filing season usually provides a few surprises, as unexpected candidates show up and unexpected retirements are announced at the last second. The big picture is emerging on the federal level, and at the state level it's already clear Republicans will have more open seats.
The marquee race looks like the 3rd District primary between Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon. The Republicans are still seeking a candidate to face the winner.
Democrats are looking at a 5th District primary for the right to take on GOP incumbent Steve King. Three Democrats are in the mix. Bob Chambers and Joyce Schulte faced off in the 2006 primary, with Schulte winning her second nomination but losing to King in the fall. The new candidate is retired minister Rob Hubler.
Republicans expect a three candidate primary in Democrat Dave Loebsack's 2nd District. Funeral director Peter Teahen of Cedar Rapids and ophthalmologist Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa are positioned as moderates, while former chaplin Lee Harder of Hillsboro has a conservative activist background.
Democrats anticipated a second Selden Spencer run against incumbent Tom Latham in the 4th District, until Spencer opted out last year. Two potential candidates bear unfortunately similar last names -- William Meyers and Kurt Meyer.
The biggest question mark is on the Republican side in the 1st District, which was actually in GOP hands this time two years ago. But Jim Nussle is gone, Democrat Bruce Braley is in, and Republicans are looking for a challenger.
Senator Tom Harkin is gearing up for a fifth term, and for the first time seems to lack a top-tier opponent. Two eastern Iowa businessmen -- Steve Rathje and Christopher Reed -- are getting ready.
All of this, of course, is tentative -- pending the actual filing. Congressional candidates face the highest bar for nomination petitions, with a formula based on the party's votes for governor by county. State legislators have an easier standard: 50 names for the House, 100 for the Senate. Many candidates collected their signatures on caucus night.
All 100 State House seats are up every two years, along with half of the 50 member Senate. Republicans are facing a tough year with more retirements than Democrats.
Five GOP senators are stepping down so far, but only one Democrat.
On the House side, all nine of the true retirements are Republicans. The Democrats have two open House seats, but that's because the representatives -- Swati Dandekar of Marion and Pam Jochum of Dubuque -- are running for Senate instead.
The March 14 deadline won't completely settle the matchups. Even though they're on voter registration forms now, the state's new "political organizations," the Green and Libertarian Parties, won't participate in the June primary. Their candidates file in July and August, along with any other third party and independent candidates.
If a spot goes blank in the primary, the Democrats and Republicans can still nominate candidates at a convention. That happened two years ago, when 2nd Congressional District Democrats nominated an obscure college professor to run against the unbeatable Jim Leach. A nomination can also go to a convention if no candidate wins 35 percent in the primary. That happened in 2002 when the four Republicans running in the 5th Congressional District all finished between 21 and 31 percent. Steve King led the primary and won the convention.