Party Leaders Unconcerned with Down-Ballot Effect on Statehouse Races

Nov 1, 2016

While all eyes are on a recently tight presidential race, politicos in Iowa are considering another razor thin margin: that of the Iowa Senate. With a Republican governor and the GOP holding 57 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives, the outcome of one or two state senate races could determine whether the Republicans get a Statehouse trifecta.

Adding to the complication? Earlier this summer, State Senator Dave Johnson changed his registration from Republican to Independent following Donald Trump’s remarks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. That shifted the Senate’s makeup from a simple 26-24 Democratic-Republican split to a 26-23-1 split.

Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, dismisses the idea that Johnson’s decision is a a sign of larger downside of Trump’s status as standard bearer of the party.

“There’s a lot of theories as to why Senator Johnson defected from the party, some of them have not a whole lot to do with Donald Trump and his comments, so I’m going to let Senator Johnson talk about motive there,” says Kaufmann.

But Senator Johnson’s defection highlights a larger issue in the race for the statehouse: the down-ballot effect of the two least popular presidential candidates in history.

Senate Majority Leader and Democratic State Senator from Council Bluffs Mike Gronstal dismisses the idea that Clinton’s presence at the top of the ticket will deter anyone from voting for Iowa Democrats.

“Here’s the historic reality: the top of the ticket doesn’t determine outcomes in Iowa, okay? In 1996, when Bill Clinton was cruising to easy re-election, Republicans took the Senate away from the Democrats. At the same time, the House went from 36 seats to 47 seats. So the top of the ticket doesn’t really matter.”

Kaufmann is similarly unconcerned.

“The quality of candidates that we have and the amount of doors and personal contacts that they’re making, and their emphasis on jobs and education, I believe is going to resonate with voters, regardless of who is at the top of the ticket,” Kaufmann says.

“I think that Senator Gronstal and I have found one area of agreement in terms of the quality of the candidates in legislative races,” he adds with a laugh.

In this edition of River to River, Gronstal and Kaufmann join host Ben Kieffer, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell, and Lee Enterprises’ Des Moines Bureau Chief Erin Murphy to discuss the upcoming statehouse elections.