A lot has been said about the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Iowa to replace current Senator Tom Harkin. A quick look at the numbers suggests the political geography favors the Democratic candidate, U.S. Representative Bruce Braley.
Rep. Braley has represented a total of 23 counties in the 1st Congressional district, both before and after the 2010 redistricting cycle (see links for 2012 map and pre-2012 map). The vote totals for Tom Harkin in those 23 counties from the 2008 Senate race against Christopher Reed constituted 35.1 percent of the total vote share for Harkin. Consider also that five of the top ten counties in terms of vote share for Harkin in that race are or have been in the 1st Congressional District (Black Hawk, Clinton, Dubuque, Linn, and Scott).
Over 1 million voters (1,089,991) turned out to vote for Chuck Grassley or Roxanne Conlin in the 2010 Senatorial election in Iowa; the last time a U.S. Senate election in Iowa was held in an off-presidential election year. This represents approximately 54.5 percent of all active voters in the state as measured in December of that year. Assuming a similar turnout rate in 2014, and using the total number of active voters as of December of 2012, the magic number for the Braley campaign would be 545,680 voters (50 percent of all voters plus one).
Based on the proportion of active voters that voted for Harkin in 2008 in each of those 23 counties, recalibrated for the total number of active voters at the end of 2012, Braley can expect to receive approximately 326, 263 votes from counties he is currently representing or has represented in the past. Again, assuming a similar turnout rate as in 2010, this would put him almost 60 percent of the way toward the 50 percent plus one threshold needed to claim victory.
In any statewide race, Polk County is critical. In the 2008 Senate race between Harkin and Reed, 13.9 percent of the vote share for Harkin came from Polk County. Assuming Braley retains Harkin’s 2008 vote margins from the 23 counties, adding Polk County would increase Braley’s vote total to 455,964, or nearly 84 percent of the votes needed to win.
Any Democrat is also going to focus on running up the margin in Johnson County, a traditional Democratic stronghold and the sixth most Democratic county in the state in terms of party registration. Add Johnson County to the mix, using 2008 numbers adjusted for 2012 active voters, Braley can expect an additional 53,375 voters, giving him over 93 percent of the total numbers of votes needed for a victory speech come election night. Put another way, if you add the 5.6 percent vote share coming from Johnson County for Harkin in 2008, Braley can expect 54.6 percent of his total vote share to come from 25 counties.
What does this mean?
On the one hand, the numbers may be over projecting as 2008 was a banner year for Democrats and 2014 is not shaping up to be a Republican or Democrat year; it is, however, a mid-term election which are traditionally bad for the party of the president.
On the other hand, the numbers tell us that we can expect to see Congressman Braley in Polk and Johnson Counties frequently throughout the campaign cycle. For those living in the 1st Congressional District, expect to see the eventual Republican challenger often, as that person will need to focus on minimizing losses in Black Hawk, Dubuque, and Linn Counties, in addition to Polk and Johnson.
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