Slew of candidates line up in Iowa races

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has served in the Senate for 40 years.

Alex Hanson

Now that the presidential election seems distant in Iowa, political eyes are on several federal and state races in Iowa ahead of the June 7 primary.

This year, 249 candidates filed the necessary paperwork to get on the ballot in either federal races or state legislature races, according to documents made available Friday from the Iowa Secretary of State.

Iowa’s U.S. Senate race — once thought as an easy shoe-in for longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley — now has the attention of national Democrats during the fight over a Supreme Court nominee. 

Iowa House races promise to be interesting as well, with toss-up races in Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts, and conservative firebrand Steve King getting a primary challenge from a Sioux City state senator.

Here are the candidates who have filed to be on the ballot and what to watch for in each race:

Iowa’s U.S. Senate race

Incumbent: Chuck Grassley, R-New Hartford. A staple in Iowa Republican politics, Grassley has easily won re-election to the Senate six times, but national Democrats are now targeting the seat because of Grassley’s powerful position on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is charged with holding hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland — President Barack Obama’s pick to replace the late-Antonin Scalia. 

Challengers: Four Democrats are fighting to get on the November ballot against Grassley, most notably former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, or “The Judge Grassley Can’t Ignore.” 

Judge, who served alongside former Gov. Chet Culver and as Iowa’s first female agriculture secretary, looks to have the backing of national Democrats, as evident with a trip to Washington D.C. just days after announcing her intentions.

Grassley’s campaign spokesperson Eric Woolson tweeted:

Speaking to reporters on a conference call last week, Judge tried to tie Grassley to Republican front-runner Donald Trump, saying Grassley does not need permission from the billionaire businessman leading the party’s nomination fight while also stirring controversy.

“I’m well aware of Chuck Grassley’s opposition to hearings, but I strongly urge him to reconsider this position,” Judge added. “He is the only person in Washington with the power to make hearings happen. For 35 years he has waited to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Now that he has the job he also has the power that comes with it. That power includes scheduling a hearing for Judge Garland.”

State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is also on the Democratic ballot. Along with making the Supreme Court fight a campaign issue, Hogg has been campaigning across the state declaring that Iowa deserves better than dysfunction in the nation’s capital.

Also on the ballot: Former state Sen. Tom Fiegen, D-Clarence, a bankruptcy attorney and outspoken supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Former state Rep. Bob Krause, D-Fairfield, who also ran in the 2010 Democratic primary, has been campaigning since late 2014. 

Robert Rees, a former conservative talk radio host on Des Moines’ 98.3 The Torch/KWQW-FM, had announced his intention to challenge Grassley in the Republican primary, but announced last week that the state of the race had changed and he was having trouble collecting the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.

“Incumbents are almost never voted out,” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science. “Anyone wanting to beat Grassley needs a huge Democrat turnout and must attract lots of independent, no party voters.”

Despite the national attention, Roll Call still rates the Senate race as “Safe Republican.”

Iowa’s 1st District

Incumbent: Rod Blum, R-Dubuque, who is in the middle of his first term in D.C. The Dubuque businessman was able to fend off former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy in the 2014 midterm in a district that voted heavily for Obama in 2012. 

Blum had two primary challengers in 2014, but no other Republicans have filed for the seat this cycle.

Challengers: Blum has two challengers on the Democratic side, including 2014 candidate Murphy, D-Dubuque, and Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon.

Vernon, who was the Democratic choice for lieutenant governor in 2014, jumped in the race first and has the backing of most statewide and national Democrats, and high-profile groups such as EMILY’s LIST, a pro-choice Super PAC backing women who support abortion rights.

Murphy decided to jump in the race again and already has the backing of some unions in the district. He is enjoying name recognition in Dubuque and from his first run.

Roll Call rates the first district as “tilts Democrat.”

Iowa’s 2nd District

With only one candidate from each party filing, the general election is set in Iowa’s 2nd District.

Incumbent: Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, who is now in his fifth term in Congress. 

Challenger: Chris Peters, R-Coralville. The Iowa City area doctor is largely unknown and was a last-minute filer for the Republican primary. Peters has no campaign infrastructure at this point, but state GOP chair Jeff Kauffman told the Quad City Times last week he thinks Peters will be a good candidate.

Peters, who graduated from the University of Kansas, lists himself as lifetime member of the Libertarian National Committee on his LinkedIn page.

State Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, was planning to challenge Loebsack, but dropped his bid last week.

Roll Call rates the race as “safe Democrat.”

Iowa’s 3rd District 

Incumbent: David Young, R-Van Meter, who, along with Blum, is in his first term in Congress. Young was one of six candidates in 2014 and came in fifth in the primary, but no candidate reached the 35 percent threshold, which triggered a county convention, which ultimately picked Young.

Challengers: Joe Grandanette, R-Des Moines, who is a retired elementary school teacher and ran in 2014, will challenge Young in the GOP primary.

On the Democratic side, three candidates have lined up.

Jim Mowrer, D-Des Moines, who was the Democratic nominee in Iowa’s 4th District but failed to beat out King, has moved to the 3rd District and already has the backing of many statewide Democrats.

Desmund Adams, D-Clive, who is a businessman in the Des Moines area, is also running, along with Mike Sherzan, D-West Des Moines, a retired businessman.

Roll Call rates the race as a “tossup.”

Iowa’s 4th District

Incumbent: Steve King, R-Kiron, who has been serving in Congress since 2003. King, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, was easily re-elected in his 2014 race.

Challengers: King faces a serious primary challenge from state Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who announced his candidacy last week.

Bertrand told the Sioux City Journal that King had become institutionalized after over a decade in Washington, and that King trying to gain a national following has made him an ineffective congressman.

In a statement following Bertrand’s announcement, King said “a couple of wealthy and petulant establishment Republicans” were funding Bertrand’s challenge because they want to own a congressman. He added that a number of Republicans had reached out to King to inform him that they had been asked to challenge him.

“I’ve now been informed an offer was accepted,” King said. “What was the offer my opponent accepted? He needs to answer this question to the citizens of the 4th Congressional District.”

On the other hand, King upset many Iowa conservatives who support the Renewable Fuel Standard by backing Ted Cruz in the Iowa Caucus, Schmidt said. Either way, a primary challenge to someone like King will not be easy.

“To oppose a sitting Congress member requires the challenger in a primary to get lots of reputable and powerful people to endorse and physically stand by the challenger,” Schmidt said. “We will see if that happens.”

On the Democratic side, Kim Weaver, D-Sheldon, who is chair of the O’Brien County Democratic Party, will be the nominee for Democrats. Weaver, an ISU alumnae, has called out King for his position on immigration while minimally campaigning so far.

Roll Call rates the race as “safe Republican.”

A full list of candidates for all federal and state offices is available on the Secretary of State’s website here.