Until We See More Data, Republicans Looking Fine In Iowa

One of my favorite political authors, Josh Kraushaar, recently wrote an article warning Republicans to be wary of Iowa.  They already had ample reason to be.  The state only has voted Republican twice since 1988 (GW Bush and Trump) and two of the state’s four Congressional districts flipped blue last November.

But, until we know more about the 2020 Democratic field, it is hard to see if the state really is that competitive.  Indeed, there are signs the once purple state is at the very least light pink.

Consider past history.  Since the new decade the state has moved from having a Democratic Governor and legislature, a Democratic Senator and three Congressman to having both Senators be Republican, have a Republican Governor and legislature.

It tends to be ignored if one just looks at the Congressional results but the GOP held the Governorship and state legislature while even gaining seats in the state senate.  Iowa saw more of the regional realignment than anything else.  Since urban areas turned out more Democrats benefited at the Congressional level.

This leads some like Kraushaar to contemplate the state might be vulnerable, particularly for freshman Senator Joni Ernst.  Ernst surprised in 2014 with her commanding victory, a sign of things to come two years later for Trump.  We obviously don’t yet know who her challenger will be but one could make the case events could make her vulnerable.

As Kraushaar notes, “The state’s gold-standard Des Moines Register poll found Trump’s favorability rating among Republicans dipped last month to 77 percent, a small but significant erosion that foreshadows trouble with his own base. And just 67 percent of Iowa Republicans said they’d definitely be willing to reelect Trump, another red flag for his reelection campaign.” 

This is concerning but does anybody think Trump won’t rally Republicans around him when he faces a more liberal opponent?  Nationally, Trump still gets over 80 percent GOP support and it is hard to see him failing to get this support among partisans.  Especially in a rural Republican heavy state.

Other factors leading to potential concern are the tariffs Trump is leveling.  So far, his base is sticking with him but Republicans, especially farmers, are feeling the pinch from such actions.  This might be why Trump is backing off of them and more severe rhetoric against China.

Beyond the urban/rural and class realignment occurring in Iowa to a lesser extent is also mini demographic shift.  Iowa has always had a migrant class but it has grown more pronounced due to the growth of urban areas service sectors.  While Kim Reynolds won the Governorship partly on immigration it damaged House candidates whose reelections could not rely on a GOP vote trough in Representative Steve King’s 4th district.

Ernst and Trump, running statewide, don’t face the same perils as individual Congressmen.  They have sources of support they can dig deep into for every vote.  Indeed, the major handi-cappers of the contest have Ernst at no worse than “likely Republican.”

This is where I think Kraushaar goes off the rails a bit though. “Count me skeptical. If Trump struggles to turn around his political fortunes, Ernst will be among the first Senate Republicans to suffer the consequences. Unlike nearby Midwestern states like Missouri and Indiana, where the electorate has steadily gotten more conservative, Iowa is still a perennial swing state that has a storied populist history. Trump delivered ample rhetoric to win over these blue-collar Iowa voters in 2016, but they’re not sold on the results.”

Most analysts missed 2016’s populist uprising and states like Iowa and Ohio were ground zero.  Even in 2018, amid a Democratic wave, these states stayed Republican.  That, more than anything else, tells us what we need to know.  Despite winning nationally by eight points Republicans won the statewide vote by three points (an eleven point shift).  Ohio performed the same way.  We can talk about 2020 giving Democrats an opening but 2018 shows Iowa is hardly still purple.

Unless Trump wins in a surprising place he needs to win Iowa.  Plus, if Iowa is in play by 2020, Republicans have a lot more to worry about than just that state.

But, inevitably, Democratic prospects will hinge on who they nominate.  The odds are decent a Democratic candidate like Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren, progressive populists, are unlikely to make it out of a racially and gender obsessed Democratic Party.  Which means more elitist and technocratic candidates like a Corey Booker or Kamala Harris are front-runners. Obviously, a lot can happen, but if candidates like Harris end up being the party’s nominee Iowa voters are hardly likely to give the party its Electoral Votes.  Or an additional vote in the Senate.





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