Government

Is Iowa no longer a presidential tossup state?

Some pundits think the state has gone from purple to red

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa once again will get more than its share of presidential attention in the run-up to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in early 2020.

But will Iowa be competitive and draw visits from presidential hopefuls during the 2020 general election campaign? Some national pundits don’t think it’s necessary.

That seems surprising, given the state’s recent voting history.

Republican wave elections in 2014 and 2016 had people — inside Iowa and out — wondering if the state was turning red. Iowa’s federal and state representation went from almost perfectly politically purple to Republican domination.

Democrats bounced back somewhat in this recently completed midterm elections, flipping two Republican-held congressional seats. But the GOP still won handily at the state level, winning the competitive race for governor and two of three competitive down-ballot statewide races.

Apparently this was sufficient for some pundits to declare Iowa out of play of the 2020 presidential election.

For example, Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said last week in a tweet that he thinks there will be six truly key swing states in 2020, and that Iowa will not be among them. Wasserman said Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina will decide 2020. He wrote off Iowa (and Ohio) as “solid red states.”

And Michael Halle, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign focusing on battleground states, told the New York Times that Democrats should abandon campaigning in Iowa and Ohio and focus instead on Arizona and Georgia.

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“It’s kind of scary because Ohio and Iowa are two states that Obama won in both his presidential campaigns, and now they’re just not competitive in the way they once were,” Halle told the Times. “We are at a place where we need to expand the map.”

Iowa has enjoyed tossup status in recent presidential elections, and thus the frequent presidential campaigning that comes along with that, despite the state’s relatively few electoral votes.

But Wasserman and a few others in the pundit-sphere think the political parties can start writing off Iowa in a presidential election, and thus not worth the effort needed to win here.

Republican Donald Trump did defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton here in 2016 by 9 percentage points. And the GOP also enjoyed a string of successes in other federal and state races in 2014 and 2016. Not to mention the state’s demographics — older, fewer minorities, fewer residents with college degrees — are making it look more and more like a Republican-voting state.

But that analysis seems somewhat shortsighted given Iowa’s history beyond just two years ago. Before swinging to Trump in 2016, Iowa went for the Democratic presidential candidate in six of the previous seven elections, including twice for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

And while they were not statewide victories, the success of Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne in this year’s congressional races showed Iowans have not abandoned the idea of voting for Democrats for federal office.

Given Iowa’s long-term history and its tendency to swing from election cycle to election cycle, it seems a bit early to write the state off as already in the bag for Trump in 2020.

We’ll see whether the candidates, campaigns and political parties agree in a couple of years.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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