ELECTION 2020

Race for control of Iowa House extends beyond state's borders

Outside groups focused on women's health care, gun safety spend hundreds of thousands trying to flip chamber

State representatives stand at their desks June 3 during the Pledge of Allegiance in the Iowa House chamber in Des Moine
State representatives stand at their desks June 3 during the Pledge of Allegiance in the Iowa House chamber in Des Moines. Lawmakers returned that day after suspending the session when the coronavirus pandemic surfaced in Iowa in March, prompting state officials to close the state Capitol. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

DES MOINES — The battle for the majority in the Iowa House is not being waged in Iowa alone.

National organizations are investing in Iowa, in particular to help Iowa Democrats achieve their goal of swinging the political balance at the Iowa Capitol.

In particular, a women’s health care group and coalition of two gun safety groups have invested heavily in Iowa Statehouse races, pouring in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Both groups are supporting Democratic candidates.

National forecasters include the Iowa House in any discussion of U.S. legislative chambers most likely to flip; the National Journal ranked it No. 5 on its list.

Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage in the Iowa House. Going into the 2020 elections, that slim edge is the most tenuous portion of the party’s complete control over the state lawmaking process, which the GOP has held for four years. Republicans have a much wider, 32-18, advantage in the Iowa Senate, and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds is not up for reelection until 2022.

So the race for the House majority gives Democrats their best shot at once again having a seat at the table when state laws are made. Democrats need to flip a net four seats to regain a House majority they have not held for 10 years.

And the Democratic cavalry arrived.

The coalition of gun safety groups spending in Iowa House races includes Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.

Everytown has spent roughly $800,000 here, half on digital and radio advertising and half on direct mail literature.

“We’ve gone in big and we’re there to help flip the chamber,” Charlie Kelly, senior political adviser to Everytown for Gun Safety, said in an interview.

Kelly said the gun safety groups form a powerful “one-two punch” with Everytown’s financial resources and Moms Demand Action’s grassroots infrastructure.

“That’s something that can really make a significant difference up and down the ballot,” Kelly said. “It really moves the needle in these (statehouse) races.”

Emily’s List this past week announced it had spent more than $400,000 in the Iowa House majority race. It is the largest investment in any statehouse race across the country, the group said.

Emily’s List is a national organization that supports female candidates in favor of abortion rights for political office.

“The path to taking back control of the Iowa state House runs through EMILY’s List-endorsed women,” Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. “Given the GOP’s relentless attack on reproductive freedom and their shameful record of voting to shortchange Iowa families, it is critical to flip this chamber by electing pro-choice Democratic women who will get to work and fight for their communities. With early voting in full swing and so much at stake for women and families, we are confident that our historic investment will make the difference in the final push toward Election Day and help get our women over the finish line.”

Democrats have targeted roughly a dozen Republican-held seats in their bid to regain the majority in the Iowa House. And statehouse races, even the competitive ones, are typically low-money affairs.

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Investments like these from Everytown and Emily’s List, if employed properly, could provide a real boost to those Democratic candidates.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Monday in The Gazette. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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