Friday, June 17, 2011

District of the Day: Senate District 40, House Districts 79 and 80

District of the Day: Senate District 40, House Districts 79 and 80

Senate District 40

Registration: D 10950, R 15759, N 13244, total 39971, R+ 4809
Incumbent: Tom Rielly, D-Oskaloosa

Reilly gained this seat - if you can even call it "this" seat - by 900 votes from Amana-based Republican Neal Schuerer, and won a solid re-elect in the Democratic wave of 2008.

Rielly inherits very, very different lines. His home base of Osky, where he was mayor, and the eastern half of Mahaska is all he keeps. The old seat went north and east: Keokuk and Poweshiek counties, most of Iowa (except Marengo) and a sliver of Tama. Now he goes south and west, picking up the rest of Mahaska, all of Monroe and Appanoose, and the corner of Marion that includes Pella, He also gets rural Wapello County north and west of Ottumwa. So close to all those Democrats in Ottumwa, but his lines stop at the city limits.

Which is too bad for Rielly, because he goes from having a registration deficit of just under 1000 -- tough, but swing territory -- to a deep-red GOP advantage of nearly 5,000. And he's on the even-number cycle so he has to run next year. Rielly is likely to be number two on the GOP target list, right behind Mike Gronstal.

House District 79

Registration: D 4357, R 9263, N 6667, total 20297, R+ 4906
Incumbents: Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa and Jim Van Engelenhoeven, R-Pella
UPDATE July 7: Vander Linden is running, Van Engelenhoeven retiring.

This is the Republican version of the Democratic pair-up in Lee County ten years ago. Two similar sized cities that had always been the anchors of different legislative districts get thrown together. In this corner: Oskaloosa, population 11,463. In that corner, weighing in at 10,352, the world heavyweight champion of tulips and windows, Pella. The two were in districts that didn't even border each other last decade (there was a demilitarized zone of Rich Arnold's district in between).

Vander Linden is the new Guy here. The retired Marine general, whose military duties included piloting the presidential helicopter in the Reagan/HWBush era, beat two-term Democrat Eric Palmer last year in a tall skinny district that paired Oskaloosa to the north with Grinnell and Montezuma. The district line used to wrap around the west end of Osky.

Now it wraps around the east side, hence the problem. Vander Linden's new district mate is Jim Van Engelenhoeven. Van Engelenhoeven went to the House in 1998 when former speaker Harold Van Maanen retired (lots of Vans and Vanders in this neighborood). He got paired up wth Rich Arnold in 2001 but moved a few miles west from Leighton to Pella. In addition to Pella, the district he moved into went west and north. He had most of Marion County, including Knoxville, plus Monroe in Jasper County. Van Engelenhoeven has had oddly redundant races the last two cycles: a primary challenge fro Pella adoption activist Marc Held followed by a fall race against Democrat Pat Van Zante. Both times he won the primary about 3 to 1 and the general about 2 to 1.

The new shared district has only Pella and surrounding Lake Prairie township in Marion County. In Mahaska the line includes Osky and the enclave of University Park, plus the geographic west half of the county: New Sharon, Beacon, Leighton.

The general election is not in doubt with a deep red Republican edge. Whoever stays gets a better district; Vander Linden's turf was dead even while Van Engelenhoeven's old seat was good but not this good. If it does come down to a primary, things like this usually get settled by friends and neighbors: which city can outvote the other? That's what happened in 2002 when Keokuk's Phil Wise narrowly beat Ft. Madison's Rick Larkin.

There is always the option of the Senate race, against a very vulnerable Tom Rielly. Vander Linden is a bit younger and the rising star, and thus the more likely bet. Or maybe they face off in a Senate primary instead of a House race?

There's also a vacant seat next door, but it's a less appealing option...

House District 80

Registration: D 6593, R 6496, N 6577, total 19674, D+ 97
No Incumbent

First off, it's a swing seat, as opposed to the solid Republican House 79 and Senate 40 districts. And Democrats already have an A-list candidate from the first family of Monroe County politics.

Joe Judge, a 33 year old teacher and former county party chair, is the son of former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge and former Sen. John Judge (who succeeded Patty in the Senate when she became Secretary of Agriculture). Given the open seat, the dead-even balance, the prominence of the candidate and the sure to be hot GOTV effort to try to save Senator Rielly, this seat has to be neat the top for Democrats hoping to take back the House.

The House district includes all of Appanoose and Monroe Counties, western Wapello and eastern Mahaska; it comes up to the city limits of Ottumwa and Oskalooosa but includes neither. It lies next to three districts that had paired-up representatives as of Map Day: Republicans Jarad Klein and Betty De Boef in 78, and Van Engelenhoeven and Vander Linden. So if someone moves in, Judge may find himself faced with an incumbent, but none of the possible moves seem like quite the right fit. (The third pair has been resolved: Bloomfield Democrat Kurt Swaim is not running in 82 and Curt Hanson, D-Fairfield, is.) In the old map, Appanoose was in Swaim's district, while Monroe went west into the turf of retiring Republican Rich Arnold.

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