Thursday, June 09, 2011

District of the Day: Senate District 34, House Districts 67 and 68

District of the Day: Senate District 34, House Districts 67 and 68

Senate District 34

Registration: D 12637, R 13206, N 15441, total 41336, R+ 569
Incumbent: Swati Dandekar, D-Marion Liz Mathis, D-Robins

UPDATE Entire fall of 2011: I'm sure you know the story.

Dandekar has won national attention as the first woman of South Asian descent in American elected office (take that, Nikki Haley). Her heritage was the subject of whisper campaigns in her first House race in 2002, but once emailed smoking guns surfaced, Republicans had little choice but to scuttle their own candidate. Dandekar, who seemed to be ahead before the nastiness went above ground, became the first Democrat to win the Marion House seat in decades. She's had close races but held on, moving up to the Senate when Republican Mary Lundby stepped down in poor health in 2008. (Lundby had intended to run for the Board of Supervisors in a new district system that kicked in that year, but left that race and passed away just days after her Senate term officially expired.)

Dandekar is up in 2012. Any Democrat in a swingy seat with two GOP House members has to worry a bit, but Dandekar has cut a moderate profile and drawn some bipartisan support, much as Lundby did.

The geography changes a lot, but more than half the seat is still Marion. In fact, since it grew to 34,768, more than the ideal House district size, Marion is split between House districts for the first time ever.

More than any other in the state, this district looks like it was drawn by redistricting consultant Jerry Mandering. But it follows city limits and other regular boundaries; it's the city limits themselves that are a mess, a legacy of last decade's annexation war between Robins, Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and Marion.

House District 67

Registration: D 5803, R 6916, N 7570, total 20312, R+ 1113
Incumbent: Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha

And the speaker gets to represent all four of those cities. Paulsen used to have a rural-urban mix and took in most of the land area of Linn County. Now he gets an all-metro district, losing eight small towns and three of the four corners of the county. (Most of that goes into open House 95, where Democratic incumbent  Nate Willems is running for Senate instead.) Paulsen keeps Hiawatha and Robins, both of which grew in population and area last decade. He loses the part of Cedar Rapids between the south side of Hiawatha and 42nd Street (precinct 46 and 47). Instead he gets the Bowman Woods area northeast of Council Street and Collins Road (precincts 29, 30, 31). He also gets the 4th ward of Marion, which is basically everything north and west of Indian Creek and is the more Republican part of town.

The old district was a swing seat, with a slim Democratic edge, and Paulsen had relatively close races his first three terms. Then in 2008, his opponent dropped out after voting had already started; the name on the ballot with a D after it still got 42%. Soon after the 2008 election, he took over as Minority Leader from Christopher Rants, and that helped establish him to the point that he avoided opposition in 2010. This new seat gives him an 1100 edge in Republican registration, which combined with his stature as speaker should leave him time to help other folks.

UPDATE July 22: Democrat Mark Seidl, last seen challenging Renee Schulte in 2010, is redrawn into this district and will challenge Paulsen.

House District 68

Registration: D 6834, R 6290, N 7871, total 21024, D +544
Incumbent: Nick Wagner, R-Marion

Wagner keeps the remaining three-fourths of Marion. But he loses the rural stuff he had to the north in Marion and Maine townships. Instead he goes south to the Johnson County line, picking up Bertram, Ely and their surrounding townships. This turns a Republican leaning swing seat into a Democratic leaning swing seat.

Wagner lost to Dandekar in the 2006 House race, but by a credible margin of 685. He came back to win a top tier open seat race over Gretchen Lawyer in 2008, one of the few GOP gains in that Democratic wave year. But to use a sports analogy it was kind of a sacrifice fly; the Dems gave up Dandekar's House seat to take the Senate seat. Surprisingly, Democrats made no effort at all in 2010 as Wagner walked over in an uncontested election.

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