Democrats Hope to Chip Away at House GOP Majority
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — It hasn't received as much attention as the fight for control of the narrowly divided Iowa Senate, but Democratic leaders said they are hopeful for big changes in the Republican-dominated state House as well.
House GOP leaders, who gained a 20-seat majority in the 2010 election, said Democrats are engaged in wishful thinking.
Which party controls each legislative chamber will make a giant difference for whether Republicans can move ahead with proposed tax cuts, education changes and social policy moves related to same-sex marriage and abortion.
Much of the focus has been on the Senate, where Democrats last session held a 26-to-24 seat majority and used that advantage to block many efforts backed by House Republicans and GOP Gov. Terry Branstad.
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy said he's optimistic Democrats will at least narrow the Republican's majority in that chamber.
McCarthy said the redrawn districts gave Democrats a small voter registration edge in some districts where Republicans are defending seats. Republicans also had 14 House members retire after last year, which McCarthy said makes those seats more attainable for Democrats.
"There will be some surprises on election night on both sides," said McCarthy, who is seeking a fifth term. "I think we're clearly going to pick up seats. The question is how many."
It would take a significant Democratic sweep for the party to win the 11 seats needed to take control of the House. Although most think that's doubtful, the Nov. 6 election follows redistricting and many incumbent retirements as well as a strong field of candidates on both sides, making it especially hard to predict what will happen.
Republican leaders expressed confidence they would gain seats in both chambers, enabling them to move ahead on an ambitious agenda.
"You'll see a property tax bill being completed. You'll see us address regulatory reform," House Majority Leader Kraig Paulsen said. "I think you'll see a strong message of Iowa being open for business and you'll see employers investing more heavily here in the state and you'll see the economy improve."
Republican lawmakers also have been clear in their support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Iowa since a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling that a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman violated the Iowa Constitution. Referring such an amendment to voters is a multi-year process that would require action by lawmakers elected in 2012 and again in 2014.
Paulsen said the gay marriage issue could easily be dealt with early on so lawmakers can move on to other issues.
"I think it's a very simple question and it shouldn't take much time at all. My guess is it ends up with bipartisan support," he said. "The code of Iowa says one thing and the Supreme Court says something different. It's up to the electors of Iowa. They can vote on it and that's how we move forward. Until we deal with it it's going to be there."
Republicans also have promised to renew efforts to end public funding of abortions. Such cases are rare in Iowa, but state law allows Medicaid payments to be used for abortions in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity or to save the life of the mother when the woman doesn't have money or insurance coverage to pay for the procedure.
Republican and Democratic leaders say the presidential race is unlikely to have a significant effect on legislative races, which tend to be decided on the merits of individual candidates.
In the 2010 election, tea party-backed Republicans were elected to statehouses across the country.
A handful of Iowa legislative races may indicate whether tea party influence remains significant. Those races include:
— Tea party activist Steve McCoy defeated Carlisle Mayor Ruth Randleman in the primary even though she had been endorsed by Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. McCoy faces Democrat Scott Ourth.
— Army veteran and Iowa Army National Guardsman Jim Carley, a tea party activist, faces Democrat Joe Riding in an Altoona area race.
— The Boone area rematch between incumbent Republican Chip Baltimore and Democrat Donovan Olson. In 2010, Baltimore defeated the then-incumbent Olson by 23 votes.
— An eastern Iowa race in which incumbent Republican Nick Wagner of Marion is challenged by Democrat Daniel Lundby.
— A Sioux City area race between incumbents placed in the same district after redistricting. Democrat Chris Hall seeks to win the District 13 seat also sought by Republican Jeremy Taylor.
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