URBANDALE — House Speaker Pat Grassley told a conservative group Wednesday he expects an all-out effort by Democrats in 2020 to take back the Iowa House and break Republican control of the Statehouse the GOP has enjoyed since 2016.
“The House is going to be the target,” said Grassley, a New Hartford Republican who is in his 14th year as a lawmaker and his first as House leader.
He told members of the Westside Conservative Club that Democrats are focusing their efforts on “states where they think they can flip one chamber” to be able to disrupt GOP agendas as they did in Washington, D.C., by seizing control of the U.S. House in 2018 and stalling many initiatives sought by Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump.
Republicans have made major policy changes in Iowa in the past three legislative sessions with GOP governors — first Terry Branstad and now Kim Reynolds. The legislative majorities that now stand at 32-18 in the Iowa Senate and 53-47 in the Iowa House.
With Democrats needing four victories in Iowa House races to gain control, Grassley said there is plenty of evidence that “the House is going to be the focus on where the Democrats are going to be coming after this election” as a way to get a seat at the negotiating table and impede GOP priorities.
Grassley said he feels Republicans are in good shape to defend their majority, with nine seats held by Democrats in areas Trump won in 2016 and with a surge in enthusiasm and fundraising.
That surge, he said, provided Grassley more than $500,000 cash on hand in the just-completed reporting period — the most ever raised by a speaker in an off-election year.
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“I feel pretty good about that. It really shows that Iowans are behind the House, and they want to be helpful to us to make sure that we maintain the majority,” he told the breakfast gathering. “I think there’s a lot of momentum and a lot of support for House Republicans.”
DEM CONFIRMS ANALYSIS
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, a Charles City Democrat, did not dispute Grassley’s analysis.
“We’re definitely set on picking up at least four more seats to get to 51 in the House,” he said. “There’s no question it’s going to be a hotly contested race for the majority in the Iowa House. We see a lot of enthusiasm. People are anxious to run. We were very pleased with the quality of recruits that we’ve got in key districts across the state.”
Prichard said Iowa’s 2020 caucus season — marked by a throng of Democratic candidates crisscrossing the state and flooding airwaves with campaign commercials — has helped build organizational strength and generated excitement.
But finding strong, local candidates in House districts, with a message that Democrats can make the state better for working Iowans, will be key to the 2020 legislative races.
“The state has seen what one-party control of all of state government has done, and it’s been very hard on working families and workers,” Prichard said. “We haven’t moved the ball forward. We’re losing ground on education, we’re losing ground on health care, we’re just not addressing problems.
“So, if the premise is that everything is doing fine, therefore keep the same regime in place, I don’t accept that premise,” he said. “I think we can do much better for the people of Iowa.”
CAUCUSES MOTIVATING GOP
Grassley said he rejects the narrative that the influx of Democratic presidential hopefuls in Iowa is hurting Republicans’ 2020 chances.
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Saturation by the opposition party, he said, may actually be helping Republicans heading into an election in which Trump and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst are expected to lead the ticket — notwithstanding the impeachment proceedings underway in Washington.
“What they’re hearing from these Democratic candidates running around the state,” Grassley said, “they realize that if that’s what we’re going to get if we voted for the other side — that’s motivating our side. I think it may actually backfire in some of these districts.”
He also debunked any notion GOP candidates would not want to run with Trump on the ballot, telling the conservative group, “I’m finding that there’s actually probably the opposite. We’re probably having as good of luck, if not better, than when Trump wasn’t on the ballot as we are right now with people wanting the opportunity to run with Trump.
“There are nine seats in the Statehouse right now that the Democrats control that Trump and Gov. Reynolds both won in their last elections that we don’t currently hold. So I look at that as an opportunity,” he said. “I’ve got nine seats to be able to play in, that I would say the president is going to run very well, that gives us the opportunities to not only keep the majority but there are opportunities to grow the majority.”
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