Wednesday, June 01, 2011

District of the Day: Senate District 28, House Districts 55 and 56

District of the Day: Senate District 28, House Districts 55 and 56

UPDATE December 22: Wenthe retiring, Thomas staying, Beard running for Senate.

Senate District 28

Registration: D 11590, R 13174, N 15205, total 39999, R+ 1584
No Incumbent

House District 55

Registration: D 5909, R 6694, N 7269, total 19895, R+ 785
Incumbents: Andrew Wenthe, D-Hawkeye and Roger Thomas, D-Elkader

Wenthe's old district was anchored by Oelwein and included most of Fayette, the eastern half of Bremer and part of northern Black Hawk. It had a Republican lean about the same as this seat.

Thomas had all of Clayton County, the smaller part of Fayette, and a bit of northern Delaware (up to but not including Manchester). That district had an even party split, so this turf is less hospitable.

The new district changes radically. It includes the part of north Fayette where Wenthe lives and just three townships of Clayton plus the city of Elkader, which happens to be where Thomas lives. Oelwein is out; the district is now dominated by Decorah and most of Winneshiek, which neither one of them had before (see below).

Wenthe and Thomas seem to be working out their pair, at least according to Wenthe:
"Politically, it wasn't the most perfect map for either Roger or me," Wenthe said. "But that's sort of how the system works and we both voted for it because it was deemed to be a well-constructed map."

Wenthe said he or Thomas could move into the open Senate District 28, which covers parts or all of Winneshiek, Fayette, Allamakee and Clayton counties. Or one could move south to challenge Rep. Dan Rasmussen, R-Independence, in House District 64.
Based on which district has more of the old turf, the Senate seat seems to be a better fit for Thomas. The Senate district has all of his Clayton base plus all of Allamakee, most of Winneshiek and north Fayette, going south to Fayette and Wadena. House 64 goes south to Oelwein and Independence so that move would be more apropos for Wenthe.

House District 56

Registration: D 5681, R 6480, N 7936, total 20104, R+ 799
Incumbent: Bob Hager, R-Dorchester

This was a heartbreaker for Democrats in 2010. Just two years earlier, Democrats saw enough of an opportunity when longtime Republican Rep. Chuck Gipp retired that they had a four way primary. Decorah Democrat John Beard, who'd done well in an unsuccessful 2004 Senate race, won that with a majority and gained the seat for the Dems with an 1800 vote November win, in a seat which on paper had an 1100 voter registration edge for the GOP.

And as of filing deadline in 2010, Beard was unopposed. But Republican Bob Hager got in late, and the climate of 2010 was too much for Beard. (If you want to think of it as a silver lining, if Beard had won a second term, House 55 would have been an all-Democratic triple-up with Wenthe and Thomas.)

The friends and neighbors dynamic explains this race nearly as much as partisanship. The old district was close to half and half, Allamakee and Winneshiek. Beard won Winneshiek but Hager won Allamakee by just a little more, for a 257 vote win in the district.

Hager, who's announced for a second term, sheds Winneshiek in the new plan and picks up pretty much all of Clayton County from Thomas (except Roger's hometown Elkader). The new lines give him 300 fewer Republicans, but he does get the pink elephant at the Miss Marquette casino which should make for a great photo op.

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