Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iowa Legislative Primary Challenges May Be Brewing in 2010

Primary Challenges in 2010 Legislative Races?

"Ed Fallon is preparing an Update that some Democrats won't like," the former legislator told his Facebook pals Monday morning. Perhaps it has something to do with his June 1 release that said he's working on recruiting primary challengers for legislative Democrats "who consistently stand in the way of progress."

Primary challenges to incumbents in courthouse offices are relatively common, especially in counties where one party dominates the November general election. But challenges to legislative incumbents are relatively rare and portrayed as "divisive."

In a sign of just how far a party will go to protect legislative incumbents, candidate Matt Ballard was denied access to the Iowa Democratic Party's database in his challenge to incumbent Geri Huser. Huser rewarded the party by opposing key labor and tax reform bills.

Huser would be near the top of anyone's short list for a primary challenge. Fallon named no names, but Bleeding Heartland looks at the "six pack" of Democrats who blocked labor's priority bills:
Good opportunities for primary challengers include districts that are relatively safe for Democrats in the general election. That points to "six-pack" members Huser (House district 42), Brian Quirk (district 15) and Doris Kelley (district 20).

Challenging the rest of the group is somewhat more risky. McKinley Bailey (district 9), Larry Marek (district 89) and Dolores Mertz (district 8) represent marginal districts.

In recent history, Republicans have been more inclined to primary incumbents. 2006 saw three legislative Republicans knocked off, including the two-fer in the Quad Cities: Dave Hartsuch beat Maggie Tinsman in Senate District 41, while in House 82 Linda Miller defeated Joe Hutter (who tried and failed again in the fall as an independent). On the other side of the state, Matt Windschitl unseated Paul Winderdyke in House District 56.

Maybe the thinking is that the Dems may be maxed out on districts, so it's time for the "better" half of the Daily Kos mantra "more and better Democrats." Look at the 2006 Republicans: all three of the winners were to the right of the incumbents, so from the ideological perspective it worked. I'm sure conservative Republicans felt as warmly about Tinsman as labor Dems feel about Mertz. But Hartsuch almost lost that general election, and it's hard to envision a Democrat other than Mertz carrying her district; she only survived by a few dozen votes herself in 2008.

Another barrier to primary challenges may be the timing. 2010 is the last election with the current map. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “When you strike at a king, you must kill him”, and an ambitious would-be legislator may want to bide her or his time. The new map may give them a better advantage against the incumbent, or even create open turf. So why make the enemies now?

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