Did Big Grove Swing Back?

Desserts donated to the election call center

There was only one new face at the Democratic election night call center for Big Grove and Solon Precincts. Five of the six of us are regulars at this biennial event.

Six people doesn’t seem like many but between us we finished every phone call needed an hour before the polls closed. Experience pays, leaving more time for refreshments while waiting for results.

While the group wanted to know the night’s winners, my question was whether Big Grove Precinct would swing back after Joni Ernst and Donald Trump won here in 2014 and 2016. The answer is yes.

Fred Hubbell won the precinct by two votes over Kim Reynolds in the governor’s race. Of 1,107 votes cast, Hubbell won 545 to Reynolds 543. Libertarian Jake Porter got 11 and Communist Workers Party candidate Gary Siegwarth got 8. Democrat Zach Wahls won 650 of 918 votes cast over Libertarian Carl Krambeck with 264. These wins were expected.

Of the four general elections since redistricting after the 2010 U.S. Census, two baselines measure Big Grove Precinct’s performance: Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republican Bobby Kaufmann (HD73), who won seven of eight races against different opponents. Here are some numbers indicating votes cast in their specific races:

Loebsack’s results:

2012: 1,123 votes cast, Loebsack 588 to John Archer 496.
2014: 948 votes cast, Loebsack 484 to Mariannette Miller-Meeks 463.
2016: 1,147 votes cast, Loebsack 576 to Christopher Peters 571.
2018: 1,099 votes cast, Loebsack 592 to Christopher Peters 480.

Kaufmann’s results:

2012: 1,089 votes cast, Kaufmann 528 to Dick Schwab 561.
2014: 937 votes cast, Kaufmann 611 to David Johnson 325.
2016: 866 votes cast, Kaufmann 837 to Write-Ins of 29.
2018: 1,091 votes cast, Kaufmann 591 to Jodi Clemens 500.

2014 was a midterm election and overall votes cast in these races dropped from 2012 and in Loebsack’s case regained in 2016. Kaufmann ran unopposed in 2016 and many voters skipped the race rather than fill in the oval for a Republican. 2018 was also a midterm election although turnout was roughly 16 percent higher than in 2014. The political climates in Washington, D.C. and Des Moines motivated Democrats to get to the polls as indicated by Loebsack’s midterm increase from 484 to 591 votes (22%). Republicans best year was 2016 when Trump won the presidency, Christopher Peters lost to Loebsack by only five votes, and Kaufmann had his highest vote total ever. Based on this analysis, 2018 marked a return to normal voting patterns in Big Grove Precinct. Including the Kaufmann win, voters swung back.

Democrats had competitive races for House District 73 in 2012 and 2018. In 2012, Dick Schwab was well known in the precinct where a couple of us encouraged him to run for the open seat. His involvement in the community provided a deep base of support, especially his work for Dollars for Scholars, the Bur Oak Land Trust, and his contributions to building the Solon Public Library. Subsequent Democratic candidates had to work harder for votes here. David Johnson hitched his wagon to the politics of Bernie Sanders in 2014 and hardly campaigned in the precinct. His efforts helped precinct swing voters get used to voting for Kaufmann. When Democrats failed to nominate a candidate in 2016, Kaufmann found additional voters willing to fill in the oval for him, yielding the high water mark of his appeal in the district. Jodi Clemens found herself in a position of having to persuade Kaufmann voters to switch back to Democratic and she didn’t get to enough of them to win the precinct. Clemens did the work of a campaign, but damage was already done in 2014 and 2016 as Kaufmann gained support equaling that of Dave Loebsack. 2018 results are likely the new norm going into 2020, the last election before re-districting. If a Democrat runs and wins House District 73 in 2020, it will again be a tough row to hoe.

After the aberrations of 2014 and 2016, Big Grove Precinct swung back to normal. Democrats don’t like the new normal with Bobby Kaufmann as our state representative. It’s hard to fathom how Governor Kim Reynolds garnered so many votes given the failure of privatized Medicaid and the egregious bills she and Terry Branstad signed during the 87th Iowa General Assembly. The almost identical number of votes for Dave Loebsack and Bobby Kaufmann indicates a belief among voters that both are less partisan, can work across the aisle, and perhaps are unbeatable here. Such belief belies the reality of the candidates. In order to create an environment that recognizes the partisan reality it will take a lot more cultural support than knocking doors and making phone calls from phone banks will ever provide.

Eventually the septuagenarians among us at the call center will take the path of our octogenarian friend who first campaigned for Aldai Stevenson. She didn’t make any calls this cycle but talked the election up among friends and baked a pie for election day. Hopefully new people will step up and get involved in local Democratic politics in 2020 and beyond. I’m reasonably confident they will.

Note: 2018 vote totals had not been canvassed by the county auditor at the time of this writing. They may change once the canvass is completed.

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