Government

One retirement could flip two Iowa seats

GOP could gain Senate seat, Democrats could gain House seat

Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant
Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant
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DES MOINES — A new candidate has emerged for an Iowa Senate seat, and the ripple effect could cause two seats in the Iowa Legislature to flip — in opposite directions.

Rep. Zach Nunn, a Republican from Bondurant, announced Thursday that he will run this fall for the Iowa Senate.

Nunn will be running for the seat vacated by the recent retirement of Chaz Allen, a Democrat from Newton.

Nunn will face Taylor Van De Krol, who earned the Democratic spot on the ballot at a nominating convention. Van De Krol is a former Iowa Senate staffer and former Jasper County party chairman.

The district includes most of Jasper County, including Newton, and the eastern edge of Polk County, including Altoona. Politically, the district is fairly balanced: as of Aug. 1, there were 14,492 active registered Democratic voters, 13,785 Republicans and 15,025 no-party voters, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.

Nunn’s experience in the Iowa House and on the ballot makes him a formidable candidate. Should he win, that would flip control of the seat from the Democrats to Republicans, strengthening the GOP’s grip on the upper chamber.

But Nunn’s run for the Senate also opens up his Iowa House seat, and that gives Democrats an opportunity to flip that seat in turn.

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That House district, which includes that same eastern portion of Polk County (but nothing in Jasper County), is similarly politically balanced. Republicans have the slight edge here, with 8,028 active registered Republicans, 7,241 Democrats and 7,684 no-party voters.

It’s very much the kind of district in which a Democrat could win, especially if there is national momentum for the party in the election. And it is the kind of seat that would be extremely helpful to Democrats’ hopes of regaining control of the House in this fall’s election.

The Democrat running for the House seat is Kent Balduchi, a lawyer and former firefighter from Altoona. Republicans in the coming weeks will nominate someone to replace Nunn on the ballot.

So one series of moves — Allen’s retirement and Nunn’s candidacy — created the potential for Republicans to pick up a seat in the Senate, but also for Democrats to pick up a seat in the House.

Former Republican backs Hubbell

Speaking of flipping parties, retiring Iowa Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan, who in 2017 left the Republican Party to become independent, last week endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell.

Hubbell faces Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Libertarian Jake Porter this fall.

That a state legislator who as recently as two years ago was Republican is now endorsing the Democrat in the race for governor is staggering on the surface. But Johnson’s disillusion with the GOP has been rapid in the Trump era, and he quickly obtained a similar distaste for his former party’s agenda at the Iowa Capitol, voting and speaking out against many Republican bills and policies, including big-ticket items such as the collective bargaining overhaul and privatized Medicaid management.

Johnson’s former fellow Republicans in the Legislature felt Johnson was more Democrat than Republican the past two years anyway.

“Fred and my colleague (Sen. Rita Hart, Hubbell’s running mate) listen to Iowans. They will deliver forward-looking leadership that invests in our future. I stand behind their vision to get Iowa growing the right way,” Johnson said in a statement.

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Added Hubbell, “I’m proud to have earned the endorsement of Sen. David Johnson, who has proved that more can be accomplished by working across the aisle to do what’s best for every Iowan.”

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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