Five things to watch in today's Iowa primary elections

Turnout, women on the ballot and more

Cedar Rapids residents vote early at the Public Service Center on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids residents vote early at the Public Service Center on Thursday, May 31, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

Nineteen months after Donald Trump was elected president and Republicans swept to full control of the Iowa Statehouse, primary voters will go to the polls on Tuesday.

The last year and a half has seen political turmoil in Washington, D.C. and sweeping changes in Des Moines.

Iowa Republicans have used their newfound power to push through strict new abortion prohibitions, stripped public employee unions of most of their bargaining rights and passed a $2 billion tax cut package.

Democrats have seen the moves as an abomination and yearned for the chance to go back to the polls and win back power, even as Republicans have celebrated their victories and are eager to defend their gains.

While not a general election, the primary is nonetheless an important step as the parties speed toward a November confrontation.

Here are five things to watch as returns come in and winners are declared:

1. Democratic Race for Governor


For more than a year, a crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for governor have scurried about the state criticizing the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Now, there are five remaining.

Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell has been leading the public polls, though there have been precious few of those, so there is some uncertainty going into Tuesday.


State Sen. Nate Boulton, who had been running second in the polls, bowed out of the race nearly two weeks ago after allegations of sexual misconduct were published in the Des Moines Register. But his name still appears on the ballot.

That’s left Hubbell, union leader Cathy Glasson of Coralville; John Norris of Des Moines, a longtime aide to Tom Vilsack; former Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire of Des Moines; and ex-Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn, of Ames, in the running.

For much of the year, the flood of candidates has prompted speculation that no one would get 35 percent of the vote, the threshold necessary to avoid a special convention. And while Boulton’s exit from the race has tamped down some of that talk, it still is a possibility.

Reynolds faces no primary opposition.

Read more: We posed five questions to each of the Democrats running for Governor

2. New Voting Law

Beginning in 2018, Iowa law requires voters to present a government-issued identification in order to cast a regular ballot and have it counted on Election Day. This is a change for the state, and there will be a lot of interest in how voting goes.

The approved forms of ID include an Iowa driver’s license, Iowa non-operator ID card, Iowa voter ID card, U.S. passport or U.S. military or veteran’s ID card.

Preregistered voters who do not have the necessary ID will be asked to sign an oath verifying their identity, and be allowed to cast a regular ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

If a person is not registered, they can still register and vote if they offer proof of identity and proof of residence. Proof of residence includes a property tax statement or utility bill. If a person do not have this proof, they can vote a provisional ballot and present the proof later, according to the Scott County auditor’s office.

No eligible voter will be turned away at the polls, election officials say.

The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Read more: What you need to vote in June 5 primary elections

3. Democratic Turnout

A lot of eyes will be on not just who wins at the top of the Democratic ticket, but on how many votes are cast.

Two years ago, only a little more than 100,000 people turned out for the Democratic primary, even though there was a contested race for the right to run against Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who was thought to be vulnerable because of his unwillingness to give President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, a hearing.

That tepid turnout preceded massive Democratic losses that fall.

Primary turnout isn’t necessarily a predictor of what happens in the fall, but Christopher Larimer, a political-science professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said turnout is one of the things he’ll be watching. He notes about 27 percent of the Republican electorate voted in the 2014 Republican Senate primary, won by Joni Ernst, who went on to capture the seat in the fall.

“It was a year when Republicans were feeling pretty good going into the midterms,” he said.

Some Democratic analysts have said this year looks more like 2006 than 2016. Then, there were competitive races for governor and Congress, and Democratic turnout topped 152,000.

So far, there appears to be Democratic enthusiasm. More than 29,000 people had voted early in the Democratic primary as of late last week, which is higher than in 2014, though it’s not clear how many of those people would have turned out today anyway.

Read more: Early voting up despite shortened window


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4. Women on the Ballot

A record number of women are on Iowa primary ballots today. There are 99 women running for statewide, congressional or Statehouse seats.

“We’re going to be tracking the success of those women,” said Diane Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

At a minimum, 65 of those women will move to the general election, Bystrom said. But it’s likely to be more. “We’re really confident it will be a record breaking year,” she said.

The 2016 election and the #MeToo movement have motivated women to get on the ballot. Bystrom added there has been an increase in both the number of Democratic women and Republican women on the ballot.

Read more: Number of women running for office in Iowa surges

5. Statewide Races

Over the last year, Republicans have watched most of the media attention focus on the Democratic gubernatorial race. But there also is a five-way Republican primary for the right to run for state Secretary of Agriculture.

Bill Northey, the former secretary, left the job earlier this year to take a position in the Trump administration, prompting a scramble to replace him.

Mike Naig of Des Moines, who was appointed secretary after Northey left, is competing with Ray Gaesser of Corning, Chad Ingels of Randalia, Craig Lang of Brooklyn and state Sen. Dan Zumbach of Ryan.

The winner here must also get 35 percent of the vote or go to a special convention.

Democrat Tim Gannon of Des Moines faces no primary opposition.


There also is a Democratic primary for Secretary of State between Jim Mowrer of Des Moines and Deidre DeJear of Des Moines.

Incumbent Secretary of State Paul Pate of Des Moines, a Republican, faces no primary opposition.

Read more: Iowa ag secretary candidates talk about priorities

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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