💰 Money don't lie
There's a lot to learn from the fundraising numbers in the special election to fill Miller-Meeks' old state senate.
January 24, 2021 | Letter No. 27
While we wait for Congress to make up its mind on whether to take up Democrat Rita Hart’s call for an investigation into the count of the 2020 IA-02 election, there is a special election to fill U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ old Iowa Senate Seat.
Iowa Senate District 41 includes cities like Ottumwa, Fairfield, Keosauqua and Bloomfield. It sits on the fence of Wapello, Jefferson, Davis and Van Buren counties.
Democrats like Steve Siegel, who’ve run for the seat in the past (and primaried this year’s Dem nominee), reminisce about the times when the area was reliably blue. But while he was out knocking doors last week, he told me it’s not been the same since 2010 when a Republican won the seat.
Republican Mark Chelgren was elected to represent 41 in 2010 and served two terms. In both elections, the margin was tight. In 2010, he won with 9,583 votes over Democrat Keith Kreiman's 9,572, an 11-vote margin. In 2014, Chelgren kept his seat with 10,356 votes to Siegel’s 9,982, a much higher 2 percentage point win.
In 2018, the year Miller-Meeks ran, she kept it in the red 4 percentage points.
[Below: This map of Iowa Senate District was prepared by the Legislative Services Agency using U.S. Census Bureau geographic information.]
This year Democrat Mary Stewart of Ottumwa is going up against Republican Adrian Dickey of Packwood.
Stewart ran against Miller-Meeks in 2018 for the district. That accompanied by her work with the League of Women Voters may be a useful step up in next week’s special election. Turnout will likely be low, favoring the most motivated voters.
Dickey told me as much saying that 18 days is hardly enough time to put a campaign together, little less to run it. He’s the president of Dickey Transport, the son of a family with deep Republican roots. While he doesn’t benefit from prior exposure, if you’ve tuned into the radio, he’s been hitting Stewart with ads.
This morning (Sunday), I have a longer piece getting into the nitty-gritty of these candidates. Check press-citizen.com at 6 a.m. For the newsletter, I wanted to foreground how one party was willing to shell out for this race when the other wasn’t.
While campaigns in special elections do not tend to bear deep-pockets, Adrian Dickey far outraised his opponent in large part due to his party's own spending.
As of Friday, Jan. 22, Adrian Dickey had raised $127,617.46 in contributions. The lion's share came from the Republican Party of Iowa who contributed $124,357.46 — 97% of his total money raised.
While maybe normal for a special election, Mary Stewart's fundraising lagged in comparison to Dickey (and to her $300k raised in 2018). As of Jan. 22, she had raised just $29,692.37. The Iowa Democratic Party only gave her $13,843.60 — 47% of her total ($1,000 of which came directly from Johnson County's DemocraticCentral Committee (how’s that for a local connection)).
Still, if you pull out party spending, Dickey didn't raise a fifth of what Stewart did.
According to the state's campaign finance portal — not including the party contributions mentioned above — Dickey had 12 individual contributions amounting to $2,700 with an average contribution of $225.
Meanwhile, Stewart had 277 individual contributions amounting to $16,765.77 with an average contribution of $60. Stewart showed a pretty impressive grassroots fundraising network.
But in total, Dickey had $127,617 to spend; Stewart had $29,692.37. I don’t want to be overly deterministic about fundraising, but this gap suggests a willingness of the state Republican Party to try to fight for this seat. One the state Democrats did not.
Your friendly neighborhood reporter,
Zachary Oren Smith
P.S. Support this love letter
Last Sunday, I got a tremendous response to my letter “Public meetings weren’t made for you.” It got people thinking. It got people talking. And importantly it had people pushing back with ideas of their own.
There is an essay by Heather Alexandra on Kotaku that really informs a lot of my work on this newsletter. Titled “Games Criticism Is A Kindness,” she writes about how spending the time to turn something over, to consider on your own terms — or on someone’s terms — it’s an act of love. It’s an attempt to point a reader to something and ask do you see that too?
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Your friendly neighborhood reporter,
Zachary Oren Smith
6 inches of snow in the forecast
As I’m writing, there is a chance for snowfall Saturday night and on Sunday, but the big weather news is what happens Monday.
Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service of the Quad Cities warned of a winter storm early next week. Six inches of snow are possible with a mix of participation. They anticipate snow to fall from Monday to Monday night, potentially lingering until Tuesday.
Be safe out there.
🏦 There is a way that legislators — particularly those from other districts blend together. While I’ve been thinking about the Senate, this piece from Laura Belin at Blleding Heartland felt like a well-timed look at who is in the Iowa Senate this session, with an eye for what you need to know about them.
🔵 While complaining about the Democratic Party, it’s of note that over the weekend, State Rep. Ross Wilburn was elected to be Iowa Democratic Party chair. He said he hopes to make the party “a better asset to county parties.” We’ll see.
🎒 Rather than hire a contractor to conduct a search, looks like Iowa City Schools will be striking the word “Interim” off the title of Interim Superintendent Matt Degner. The board meeting will be held virtually at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It can be live-streamed by following this link.
👠 Coralville’s Iowa River Landing announced their first retailer since the pandemic began. Anthropologie’s holding company Urban Outfitters Inc. saw its net sales from the last 11 months decrease by 14.3% compared to the same period in the prior year,
😷 At 10 a.m. Saturday, Iowa reported another 1,368 cases of COVID-19 and nine additional COVID-19-related deaths since the state's tally at 10 a.m. Friday. With students already back, I’m wondering where we’re going to be in two weeks.