November may seem like a long way off, but many of the top races that will decide control of the Iowa Legislature have already taken shape.
Some fall matchups will be settled in the June 3 primary. But in other seats, the picture is already clear. Here's our top five Senate races and top ten House contests.
Senate District 16: Tom Hancock, D-Epworth
Hancock knocked off short-term GOP incumbent Julie Hosch narrowly in 2004. Hosch took the seat narrowly in 2002 after incumbent Tom Flynn got burned in redistricting. Cascade car dealer Dave McLaughlin and Gary Lee Culver of Wyoming will face off in a Republican primary.
Senate District 18: Mary Lundby, R-Marion, retiring
Rep. Swati Dandekar is the Democrat’s top pickup hope. Dandekar became the first Indian-American woman elected to a state legislature in history, and the first Democrat to win her Marion district, in 2002. Lundby, who is stepping down to run for a newly reorganized Linn County Board of Supervisors, had solid wins her whole career. District demographics lean Republican, but Dandekar has been personally popular and charted a moderate course in the House. Republican Joe Childers, a Marion banker, seems to be the primary front-runner but he faces horse rescue activist Karla Sibert of Palo in June.
Senate District 22: Larry McKibben, R-Marshalltown, retiring
Democrat Steven Sodders of State Center started running before McKibben quit. He’s a Deputy Sheriff in Marshall County and former Marshal County Democratic Chair. Republican Jarret Heil has been a Grassley and Latham staffer.
Senate District 38: Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa
Reilly was a Democratic gain in 2004 when he knocked off Neal Schuerer. He won his own normally GOP turf while breaking even in Schuerer's Iowa County base; most of the margin came out of Grinnell. Republican Michael Hadley of Richland is a 30 year local fire chief and active in the Farm Bureau.
Senate District 42: Frank Wood, D-Davenport
Wood won by only 480 votes in 2004 against two-year incumbent Brian Sievers in a district that has part of west Davenport and large parts of rural Scott and Clinton counties. The GOP has a top-tier challenger with Davenport alderman Shawn “the Hammer” Hamerlinck. Think there’s any negative campaigning possibilities for a guy with that nickname? First the Hammer has to nail down the nomination in a primary against Thomas Black, a Lowe’s manager running on an anti-smoking ban platform.
House District 9: McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City
Young veteran Bailey beat three-term incumbent George Eichhorn – now making a long-shot U.S. Senate race against Tom Harkin --by over 1000 votes in 2006, rolling up most of that margin in Hamilton County. The GOP is running talk radio host Jamie Johnson.
House District 21: Tami Wiencek, R-Waterloo
Wiencek, a former KWWL anchor, was one of the Iowa GOP’s few bright spots in 2006 when she knocked off long-time incumbent Don Shoultz. Democrats are challenging with Kerry Burt, a former Hawkeye football star who’s now a mortgage and insurance dealer and part-time football announcer. Burt co-founded and volunteered for The Black Alliance, a nonprofit organization that addressed issues of young black men. He’s made previous unsuccessful runs for mayor and city council. This district is Democratic on paper, but Wiencek is well known from her TV career.
House District 36: Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, running for state senate
Gretchen Lawyer is running (literally, she competes in foot races) on the Democratic side; she’s a teacher taking time away from the classroom to be a mom. Marion City Council member Nick Wagner took 47% against Dandekar in 2006 and is the Republican candidate again.
House District 39: Dawn Pettengill, R-Mt. Auburn
This will be Pettengill’s first test since her end of session party switch last year. Democrats would dearly love revenge with Terry Hertle of Vinton. He serves on Benton County Community Foundation board and he and his family have been active in ag and county fair activities.
House District 44: Polly Granzow, R-Eldora, retiring
Democrat Tim Hoy, the former mayor of Eldora who came just 260 votes short of knocking off Granzow in 2006, is trying again this year. Annette Sweeney of Alden hopes to hold the seat for the GOP.
House District 75: Eric Palmer, D-Oskaloosa
Call it a comeback: Danny Carroll of Grinnell, who lost his seat to Palmer in 2006, is running again. The 2006 race was dead-even in Mahaska County; Palmer rolled up his 700 vote margin in Powesheiek and largely on the Grinnell campus. This district overlaps with half of the the Senate District 38 race.
House District 80: Nathan Reichert, D-Muscatine
Reichert won a big 2004 upset when he beat Barry Brauns, who was trying for a comeback after two years out of the House. Republicans ran Muscatine County sheriff Greg Orr in 2006 but Reichert won a surprisingly strong margin. City Council member Robert Howard is the GOP challenger this time. Muscatine has been trending blue in recent years – Democrats took control of the Board of Supervisors in 2006 – but it’s got to bother Iowans for Tax Relief head David Stanley that a Democrat holds his old legislative seat.
House District 84: Elesha Gayman, D-Davenport
Gayman has been on the GOP hit list since day one. The youngest female legislator in state history scored a major 273 vote upset against Jim Van Fossen (the elder) in 2006 in west Davenport and Scott County. Farmer Ross Paustian of Walcott, past president of the Scott County Farm Bureau, hopes to take the seat back for the GOP and has raised more money than Gayman so far. This overlaps with the District 42 senate race.
House District 89: Sandy Greiner, R-Keota, retiring
Greiner never really seemed to get over losing out in a triple-pair redistricting that cost her a Senate seat after only two years. She ran for the House instead and beat a weak opponent in 2002. Was targeted in 2004 by Mark Shearer, who had two legislative careers in four different districts. Finally she had a surprisingly close race against underfunded Mark Nolte in 2006. Becky Schmitz can thank a big margin from the Johnson County part of this district for her 2006 Senate win. The GOP is running young farmer Jarad Klein; the Democrats have farmer and soybean board member Larry Marek.