The Beret's Big-Picture Predictions
As a self-important, self-appointed pundit, I'd be amiss if I didn't commit and make some predictions. So I've put my thinking beret on and handicapped Iowa's big races.
Iowa Presidential: Obama by at least 12 percent, with negligible third party voting (no candidate above 1 percent). The big mystery is why John McCain threw so much personal time into Iowa so late in the game. There was no way he could make up for the months of personal attention Obama showered on the state at caucus time, and for Iowan's special pride in putting Obama on the road to the nomination. And a handful of September and October visits can't make up for two caucus cycles of Screw Iowa contempt for the caucuses and hostility to ethanol.
US Senate: Harkin 59, Reed 41. Steve King might have been able to pull off a scorched earth, "Tokyo Rose of al-Qaida" campaign against Tom Harkin, but Chris Reed was just invisible. Now granted, I live in the People's Republic of Johnson County, but we are still in the top ten in number of registered Republicans just on sheer population. I've seen a lot of McCain and Miller-Meeks signs, but only one Reed sign. And that was outside of Republican headquarters. That Reed, with no money and undercut by his own party, will break 40 percent will shock some observers. But 40 percent is just the rock solid vote for Not Tom Harkin.
Incumbents will sweep the U.S. House races. Republican Dave Hartsuch's percentage in the 1st District will be the lowest of the ten major party nominees, lower than Democrat Rob Hubler's in the 5th. The most publicity Hartsuch has gotten in the late stages of the campaign was getting snubbed, and then complaining about it with a bizarre "John McCain is too pro-gay" theme, when McCain visited Davenport. But Hartsuch has raised his profile on the right for the inevitable primary challenge he'll see in 2010 for his state Senate seat. That'll be one of the landmark battles in the Iowa GOP's ongoing battle--call it a holy war--over its direction.
Oh, yeah, I forgot the incumbent. Bruce Braley will continue to entrench himself in the district. This race would have been more entertaining if 2006 Pirate Party candidate James Hill had run again.
I've seen no evidence that Mariannette Miller-Meeks has a real shot in the 2nd District outside of wishful thinking in the Iowa Republican blogosphere. Sure, sleeper races happen sometimes--like Loebsack did two years ago. But you mean to tell me than in a banner Democratic year, with with the top of the ticket a Democrat who's singularly popular in Iowa facing a Republican who's singularly unpopular, and the state's senior Democrat facing a nonentity, that a Republican who's on no national Races To Watch list is going to win in a blue district? Even Loebsack, the ultimate sleeper candidate, was on the radar at the end, and that was in a year when the tide was moving with his party, not in the opposite direction that Miller-Meeks faces.
Miller-Meeks' partisans will argue that she was also a come-from behind underdog in the primary against Peter Teahen. True, but a couple weeks out there were signs that Teahen was in trouble. Not here. MMM will lose, but will walk away with more credibility than Hartsuch.
Independent Brian White's "parties are bad" message failed to catch on, but may pull a couple percent that would otherwise have gone to Miller-Meeks. Wendy Barth of the Greens pursued a holistic, low-key "sustainability" campaign when a hard-left appeal to the zero-fund the war, Impeach Now! crowd might have been more effective. (Question for Barth, who ran statewide in 2006 for governor: Why this race? Why not the higher profile contest against Harkin? The Greens opposed Harkin in 2002, but this year it's just a two-way race.)
The 3rd District is the Republican's lost opportunity this cycle. Leonard Boswell continues to underperform in what 1) should be a safe district given his seniority and the 3rd's partisan leanings and 2 ) could elect a more progressive Democrat than rural Blue Dog Boswell. Primary challenger Ed Fallon had the right message but proved to be the wrong messenger. The "Nader, Nader, Nader" refrain over Fallon's repudiated, eight-year-old presidential vote got tiresome, but worked with Democratic primary voters. (Question: Should Obama win the presidency, especially if he carries Florida, will Democrats finally let go of their obsessive hatred of Ralph Nader?)
Editorial boards dance around the underlying issues of Boswell's age and health. The Des Moines Register made an extremely weak "endorsement" that called for a last term pledge, and the Cedar Rapids Gazette endorsed Schmett for the same reason. There's got to be a lot of behind the scenes angling going on in Polk County, but no Democrat other than Fallon seems to want to openly tell Leonard it's time to hang it up. Look for Republican Kim Schmett to land in the low, maybe mid, 40s and surprise people... and look for nothing to happen after that, as a generation of Des Moines pols wait for Boswell to retire or otherwise leave office.
The 4th District is the only Iowa race on the fringes of the national Races To Watch lists, but Becky Greenwald will fall just short. Tom Latham hasn't angered people the way Steve King has, and he saw Greenwald's challenge and the bad Republican year coming and adapted in time. Call it 53-47 Latham, and give the Sore Loser Of The Year award to Democratic primary candidate William Meyers. His bizarre, on-again off-again, on the ballot then write-in race has cost him any credibility. (But note to party activists: give long-shot primary contenders fair treatment. Meyers complained that he was denied access to central committees, and that fueled his post-primary efforts. Ten minutes of time wasted on a rambling speech at a party meeting can save you months of headaches like this.)
Just as Republicans are unrealistic in the 2nd District, Democrats are also indulging in wishful thinking with Rob Hubler in the 5th District, simply because they love to hate Steve King so much. But as Douglas Burns notes, Hubler had hoped to catch a net-driven fundraising and publicity wave based on King's frequent and deliberate outrageous comments. That's what happened in Minnesota's 6th District, where Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg is poised to knock off first-term Republican Michele Bachmann. But it just didn't happen for Hubler.
Closer to home, look for Democrats to gain a few seats in both houses of the Legislature. The Iowa GOP is throwing everything they have into House races and a few Senate races (just watch TV for the negative ad evidence), so there may be one or two counter-trend GOP pickups to cushion their losses. My pick for the big upset: Frank Best over Tom Sands in Louisa County based House 87.
Democrats are within reach of two-thirds in the Senate, which would mean Republicans would lose their de facto veto over Governor Culver's appointments--IF Democrats stick with the governor. But those intrigues will give us something to talk about this winter.