Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Republicans Have Modest Legislative Race Goals For Fall

Republicans Have Modest Legislative Race Goals For Fall

Republican legislative goals for 2008 seem modest: holding their own in the state senate while focusing on the House.

"The battle's in the House, that'll be the hot one," said state representative Jeff Kaufmann of Wilton at last weekend's 2nd Congressional District convention. Kaufmann's state senator, Jim Hahn, was standing alongside him and didn't dispute that assertion.

Hahn's Senate District 40 is a worry spot for the GOP. The first-term senator, who served in the House for 12 years before that, faces a challenge from Democrat Sharon Savage. Both are from Muscatine, a longtime Republican stronghold which has been trending Democratic in recent years. The Democrats won Hahn's House seat in 2004 when he moved to the Senate, and took over the county Board of Supervisors in 2006.

"I'll get started on my campaign business soon," said Hahn, who was hoping the legislative session would wrap up within the week. "Gov. Gronstal hasn't decided what he wants to do yet."

Hahn was referring to his Democratic Senate colleague, majority leader Mike Gronstal, who represents the Council Bluffs-based District 50. Gronstal's opponent, school board member Mark Brandenburg, is on the Republican's wish list in a race where outside interest groups may play a role.

"We're down to about as few senators as we're ever going to have," said Republican senate candidate Joe Childers of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 30 to 20 edge. Childers is favored in a primary against Karla Sibert in District 18, where incumbent Mary Lundby is retiring. The Democrats are united behind state representative Swati Dandekar of Marion. Dandekar is favored for a Democratic gain, but Childers says she is "very beatable."

"If you look at the demographics of the district, they lean conservative," said Childers. "And I don't think people are aware of how liberal Swati's voting record is."

As for his primary opponent, Childers said he didn't know much about Sibert except "she was registered as an independent until a couple weeks before she filed."

Another Republican candidate who switched registration was Cascade car dealer Dave McLaughlin, who had been a Democrat until recently. McLaughlin has a primary against Wyoming Republican who may have some yard sign problems; Gary Lee Culver is blessed or cursed with the same last name as the Democratic governor. The primary winner faces Democratic incumbent Tom Hancock, who narrowly defeated GOP incumbent Julie Hosch in 2004.

Republican insiders are confident about Senate District 6, where incumbent Republican Thurman Gaskill is retiring and former Senator Merlin Bartz is on the comeback trail. Bartz, R-Grafton, was the party insider choice for secretary of agriculture in 1998, but lost in the primary. He was paired with Gaskill in the 2002 redistricting, but resigned to take a Bush administration agriculture job. The Democrats are running Doug Thompson, 58, a Kanawha farmer. Democrat Berl Priebe held a similar district slightly to the west of the current turf for awhile, finally losing in 1996.

The GOP also expects to hold Senate District 48, where Creston incumbent Jeff Angelo is stepping down. Clarke County treasurer Kim Reynolds of Osceola is favored in the primary over contractor Jim Parker of Villisca. Democrats have a three-way primary in the seven-county district.

A top pickup prospect for Republicans is Senate District 42. Davenport alderman Shawn “the Hammer” Hamerlinck is favored in the primary and likely to face incumbent Democrat Frank Wood, who won by only 480 votes in 2004.

Kaufmann says House Republicans have 89 candidates running in 82 seats. Democrats control the House 53 seats to 47. "Do we have someone against Mary Mascher? No," said Kaufmann, referring to an incumbent from an overwhelmingly Democratic Iowa City seat. "But we've had our best recruiting year in a long time."

Emma Nemecek of Mount Vernon is making her second House run. Two years ago she challenged incumbent Ro Foege. This year Foege is retiring and the Democrats are running Lisbon attorney Nate Willems. "You need to listen to both sides, that's the makeup of the district," said Nemecek. "I want to represent Democrats and independents as well as Republicans."

Nemecek shot down rumors that she's considering dropping out of the race after the primary to allow Republicans to name another candidate. "I mentioned to the League of Women Voters that I wasn't sure about running," said Nemecek, citing family reasons. She said after that, she got many calls and emails from the district urging her to stay in, and she's committed to the race now.

One of the Republican's top open-seat House candidates was wounded in action. Jarad Klein of Keota was crutching around at the district convention, having broken an ankle while door knocking. Klein will face Riverside Democrat Larry Marek in House District 89, where Republican incumbent Sandra Greiner is retiring.

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