The race to become Iowa’s next governor is a coin flip, says one prominent national political forecaster.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a project of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, last week rated Iowa’s gubernatorial race a tossup.
Previously, the Crystal Ball had rated the race as “leans Republican.”
The Nov. 6 ballot has three names on the ballot for governor: Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, Democrat Fred Hubbell and Libertarian Jake Porter.
Crystal Ball said the rating changed because the overall environment in Iowa continues to lean in Democrats’ direction, noting polls show President Donald Trump’s approval under water and Democrats leading in competitive congressional districts that Trump won in 2016.
Crystal Ball also has rated those congressional races, in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, as tossups. Republicans are the incumbents in those districts.
Crystal Ball also notes the uneven historical success rate for successor incumbents — incumbents such as Reynolds — who are running for the office but did not win the previous election to get there. Reynolds became governor in 2017 after former Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China.
Crystal Ball reports that nationally since World War II, just 54 percent of candidates for governor — who had not previously won the statewide election — are successful in winning election, compared to the 74 percent re-election rate for incumbent governors.
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The report also notes Hubbell’s ability to raise money for his campaign, including using his own funds, which could reduce or even negate the advantage created by Reynolds building her campaign war chest because she didn’t have a primary race this year.
“All in all, we feel there is sufficient uncertainty in Iowa to make tossup a more appropriate rating for the gubernatorial contest,” the Crystal Ball report says.
Iowa Democrats welcomed the news.
“Democrats are fighting like hell today and every day for the chance to serve the people of Iowa, and we’re starting to see it pay off,” state party spokeswoman Tess Seger said in a statement.
Crystal Ball added a caveat that the Republican Governors Association has a substantial financial advantage over its Democratic counterpart, and that could help in competitive races like Iowa’s.
The Republican group gave Reynolds’ campaign $1.3 million in January; the Democratic Governors Association recently donated its first $250,000 to the Hubbell campaign.
Porter TV ad
Porter, the Libertarian candidate for governor, has announced the first television ad for his campaign.
In the 30-second ad, which also can be found on YouTube, Porter describes his Libertarian philosophy and says, “I like to say we take the good from the Republicans and the Democrats and we toss out the bad,” and that he “will be a governor for all Iowans.”
Hubbell’s first TV campaign ad since the primary started airing earlier this month, and Reynolds began airing ads just before the primary election in June.
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Democrats in races for three statewide offices are enjoying significant fundraising advantages over Republican incumbents.
The first campaign fundraising reports in the general election were filed last week, and the Republican officeholders for secretary of agriculture, state auditor and secretary of state all were outraised by their Democratic challengers.
In the ag secretary race, Democratic challenger Tim Gannon raised more than $85,000 to the $46,000 raised by Republican Mike Naig, who Reynolds appointed to the job this year when the incumbent took as job in Washington, D.C.
Deidre DeJear, the Democratic challenger for secretary of state, raised nearly $71,000 to the $8,000 raised by Republican incumbent Paul Pate.
The biggest contrast was in the state auditor’s race: Democratic challenger Rob Sand raised more than $100,000, while Republican incumbent Mary Mosiman raised roughly $17,000.
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for The Gazette and Lee Enterprises. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and @ErinDMurphy on Twitter.