Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Iowa Republican Senate Goals: A Two-Cycle Process

Iowa Republican Senate Goals: A Two-Cycle Process

Last week Craig Robinson at the Iowa Republican was very optimistic about picking up seven state Senate seats in 2010 to take over the chamber. But today, buried deep in an article about minority leader Paul McKinley maybe running for governor, is this more realistic goal (emphasis added):
McKinley has been the 4th Republican Leader in the State Senate since 2006. Such rapid turnover is one contributing factor for why Republicans are out-numbered by Democrats 32 to 18. Senate Republicans are bound to gain seats in 2010. Even if they only pick up three seats in 2010, Republicans will look favorably on McKinley in the future if he leads them in a successful effort now.

That would put them at the short end of 29-21 in January 2011, and 2012 is a total crapshoot because the whole deck is shuffled by redistricting (I seem to be mixing my gambling metaphors). No one knows how the district lines will be drawn and how many seats will be up.

I followed this pretty closely in 2001-02, and redistricting years prompt more musical chairs than typical cycles. People realize their district looks bad, or that a run for another office looks good, or someone gets squeezed out in a backroom deal.

Some districts come up empty, with no incumbent living in the lines. Some come up with two or even three senators (as happened in current district 45, which explains Sandy Greiner's reluctant 2002 return to the House after a two-year visit to the Senate).

In 2002, there were ten "extra" contests for two-year terms. One was a two-senator faceoff where Republican Dick Drake topped Democrat Tom Fiegen. Both had been elected to four year terms in 2000, and if either one had decided to step down, the way the law works, the other would simply have kept the seat without an election (note that Drake retired only two years later). Other states handle this differently; the half of the seats that are up in the zero year are all two year terms. Then in the redistricting year, all seats are up: half for two years, half for four.

In addition to the Drake-Fiegen race, there was one other two-senator race, where Republican Dave Miller beat Democrat Mark Shearer (in the same seat where Greiner got burned), but they were both elected in `98 and thus due to run anyway. We also had nine empty even-numbered districts with two-year terms, for a grand total of 35 contests.

They called it the "double witching hour" in 1992: redistricting and presidential in the same year. Assuming roughly the same proportion of empty districts--and it's really dangerous to assume anything about Iowa's nonpartisan, tear up the whole map and start over districting system--and assuming that the GOP picks up their three seats in `10, that means the Republicans have about 35 theoretical targets to pick up four seats in 2012, against a presumed Obama tide.

In any case, Robinson's between the lines note today indicates that Republicans see retaking the Iowa Senate as a two-cycle process, with Phase 2 of the plan yet to be written.

No comments: