Ballot Watch: Plains States
This is Ballot Watch. Today is the 12th in the series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections. Some of these covered topics in common with multiple states, but the remainder look at a state level.
This is the middle of the country. Most of this territory is deeply Republican, though Iowa and Missouri are more closely balanced. Of these six states, Kansas and Nebraska have nothing of particular interest going on in November. The other four are described below the fold, with significant help from a couple of our regular commenters.
Editor’s note: Thanks to mclever for writing this section.
Due to redistricting, Iowa now has four districts instead of five, and the new districts are all more balanced. According to Roll Call and RealClearPolitics, all four congressional races in Iowa are competitive this year:
Congressional District 1 consists of the northeast quadrant of the state and is the least likely to change hands. District 1 may seem safe for incumbent Representative Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo) with a PVI of D+5, but the district added nine Republican counties and gave up three Democratic counties, which potentially gives Representative Ben Lange (R-Independence) a chance in the rematch of 2010. Independent Republican groups are already spending about $350,000 in advertising in the hopes that they might steal a long-shot here, but Braley has outraised Lange by over a hundredfold, is well-liked by his constituents, and is therefore likely to keep his seat. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball calls this seat “Leans Democratic”, while Roll Call and The New York Times considers it “Likely Democratic”.
Congressional District 2 consists of the southeast quadrant of the state where the incumbent Representative Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa City) is facing a solid challenge from John Deere attorney John Archer (R-Bettendorf) in this allegedly PVI D+7 district. Considering that current voter registration numbers suggest only a slight Democratic advantage, this race could be much closer. Loebsack lost his home turf in Linn County to redistricting, which also added Archer’s home turf in Scott and Clinton counties along with another seven Republican counties. Republican PACs are running ads on Archer’s behalf that mimic many of the pro-Romney ads. However, with Johnson County in his pocket, and a three-to-one fundraising margin, the edge in this race goes to Loebsack. Roll Call and Sabato consider this “Leans Democratic”, while The New York Times calls it “Likely Democratic”.
Congressional District 3 features a high-powered showdown between two long-time incumbents: eight-term Representative Leonard Boswell (D-Des Moines) vs. nine-term Representative Tom Latham (R-Des Moines). Both candidates are relatively moderate representatives of their respective parties, so neither has a distinct partisan advantage. After redistricting, Boswell retains only a single county from his original constituency. However, Latham had to move south from District 4 to avoid a Republican vs. Republican matchup against Representative Steve King (R-Odebolt), so the southwestern District 3 isn’t his natural turf, either. Both candidates are advertising heavily and negatively, though Latham has twice as much money to spend. In this PVI D+1 district with slightly Republican-leaning registration numbers, the winner of District 3 is anyone’s guess. Roll Call and Sabato look at this district as “Leans Republican”; The New York Times thinks it’s a tossup.
Congressional District 4 promises fireworks between outspoken incumbent, Representative Steve King (R-Odebolt), and beloved Iowa native, Representative Christie Vilsack (D-Ames) in the mostly rural northwest quadrant of the state. King is a staunch, Tea Party conservative and frequent Fox contributor who gained recent notoriety for his remarks comparing immigrants to dogs. Vilsack is the wife of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. She is a lifelong teacher, an advocate of technology and literacy programs, and the executive director of a women’s health research organization. In any other Iowa district, Vilsack would probably win easily, but the Iowa Secretary of State currently shows District 4 with a substantial Republican voter registration advantage of 180,000 to 125,000 with 170,000 independents. Both candidates have raised about the same amount of money. On balance, King is likely to keep his seat; Roll Call, Sabato, and The New York Times all consider this seat “Leans Republican”. Nonetheless, if any Democrat can win in this district, it’s Vilsack.
There are no ballot measures or Constitutional amendments up for vote in Iowa, but voters do have an indirect method of influencing policy through retention votes for the state Supreme Court justices. In 2009, the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously that denying marriage licenses to gay couples was unconstitutional. In 2010, three of those justices were up for a retention vote, and all three were narrowly rejected, becoming the first state Supreme Court justices ever to lose their seats due to the voters. This year, Justice David Wiggins faces a retention vote, and conservative groups led by Bob Vander Plaats are campaigning hard to punish justices who “legislate from the bench.” The liberal group, Justice Not Politics, has also launched a “Yes on Retention” campaign in hopes of saving Wiggins’ seat, but they face a significant financial disadvantage.
The Governor of Missouri is up for reëlection this year. The incumbent, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, is being challenged by Republican businessman Dave Spence. Nixon has consistently polled well above Spence, even when accounting for house biases. While his reëlection is hardly assured, this election leans pretty far in Nixon’s direction.
Amendment 3 would change the current nonpartisan process for selecting judges in the top state courts to a partisan process. Republican state Senator Jim Lembke sponsored the bill to move the judicial branch of the state out of the hands of the élite judiciary to the hands of the highly partisan state legislative branch. I don’t care what party is in control; I hate the idea of the judicial branch becoming increasingly partisan, regardless of the level of government.
The Missouri Municipal Police Amendment would allow for the City of Saint Louis to take control of their municipal police force, which is currently managed by a board dominated by Governor-appointed commissioners. The City has been trying to wrest control from the Governor for some time, and this would allow the City to exclude the Governor entirely from the process.
Congressional District 2 has no incumbent, as the moderate (DW-NOMINATE –0.118) Representative Dan Boren (D-Muskogee) is retiring. Redistricting has added some conservative territory from Rogers County, and some liberal territory from Marshall County, leading to a somewhat unpredictable shift from the old district’s Cook PVI of R+14. Businessman Rob Wallace is representing Team Blue on the ballot, while plumber Markwayne Mullin represents Team Red. Obviously, this District will cast its votes for Mitt Romney, but in the local political arena, the outcome is far less clear. Mullin has outraised Wallace by a three to two margin. Prognosticators are split on this one: The New York Times believes it’s “Likely Republican”, Roll Call and Sabato see this race as “Leans Republican”, but RealClearPolitics considers this race a tossup.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Max for writing this section.
As was the case with most Congressional districts, Congressional District 15 was redrawn after the 2010 Census. Guadalupe County, formerly in District 28, was relocated to District 15, which stretches down to the Rio Grande. Ironically, the county is predominately Republican and had lobbied the Legislature to be realigned into District 21, served by Representative Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). But with the new District 35 gerrymandered to run from downtown San Antonio up the I-35 corridor into the eastern half of Austin, the proposed marriage was never to occur. District 15 is served by Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-Mercedes), who has represented the district since 1997. He defeated three challengers in the Democratic primary with a 55 percent majority. He will be challenged by Republican Dale Brueggemann of Guadalupe County, who defeated five challengers and then won a runoff, plus a Libertarian and an Independent. There has been no meaningful polling. The District has a Cook PVI of D+3.
Congressional District 23, in the southwestern part of the state, has the one seat generally considered to be competitive. The incumbent, freshman Representative Quico Canseco (R-San Antonio), won his seat in 2010 by just shy of five points. This Cook PVI R+4 district has moved between the two parties since its creation, to the Democrats in the wave of 2006 and to the Republicans in the wave of 2010. Canseco’s challenger is state Representative Pete Gallego. Canseco has outraised Gallego by a two to one margin. This race will probably depend heavily on President Obama’s coattails. Roll Call and Sabato both see this race as a tossup, but The New York Times thinks it “Leans Republican”.
My second home district when I’m in Corpus Christi is Congressional District 27, which also was heavily redrawn. Formerly, the District ran from Corpus Christi down to Brownsville and was heavily Democratic and Hispanic, with Representative Solomon Ortiz (D-Corpus Christi) serving since its inception in 1983 until losing by 800 votes out of 100,000 to current Representative Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) in 2010. With the new redistricting, it now runs from Corpus Christi north into what was formerly District 14, which is served by Ron Paul (R-Lake Jackson), and northwest into Bastrop. As a result, the District lost many of its Hispanic voters, down from 70 percent to less than 50 percent, and picked up many of the Libertarian/Republican Paulistas. Farenthold was considered vulnerable previously, but the change is considered the most favorable of all districts, with respect to retaining the incumbent, moving to R +7. Farenthold is expected to retain the seat against almost token opposition. In the primaries, the Republican Party held a 38,000 to 20,000 vote advantage.
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