Iowans will head to the ballot box Tuesday, casting the final votes in primary elections that will determine matchups in key races across the state, from Congress to the Statehouse.
A trio of Democrats are vying for the chance to run for the U.S. Senate, campaigning on issues like abortion, gun violence and voting rights.
Three Republicans are fighting for their party’s nomination in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, arguing over who’s best to take on Democrat Cindy Axne.
And in a handful of deep-blue Des Moines-area legislative districts, the winners of Tuesday’s contested Democratic primaries are likely to go on to win the general election.
Early voting began May 18. As of Friday, 55,370 Iowans had cast ballots.
This year’s early voting window is shorter than in the past — 20 days, down from 29 — after Republicans in the Iowa Legislature passed sweeping changes to elections in 2021. But turnout has already exceeded the 50,610 people who cast ballots in the 2018 primary election.
Still, it falls far short of the more than 420,000 people who cast ballots in the 2020 primary election. That was during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many Iowans were self-quarantining in their homes, and Secretary of State Paul Pate sent absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter. The Iowa Legislature has since banned that practice without legislative approval.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. Here’s a closer look at key races:
Franken swarms Democratic primary opponents with TV ads
The final weeks of the Democratic U.S. Senate primary race have been marked by a flurry of television and digital ads. Retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken has outspent his next-closest Democratic competitor, Abby Finkenauer, more than 5-to-1.
Finkenauer, a former U.S. representative from Cedar Rapids, has spent nearly $300,000 on ads, according to data provided by advertising analytics firm AdImpact on May 31. That was dwarfed by the nearly $1.6 million Franken spent.
Finkenauer entered the race last summer as the perceived front-runner, garnering major endorsements and tallying more than $1 million in fundraising during her first quarter.
But Franken’s latest fundraising reports indicate he may be closing that gap. He outpaced Finkenauer during each of his last two fundraising periods, though she’s raised more during the election cycle.
In his last financial report before the primary, which covered the seven weeks ending May 18, Franken reported raising $1,034,655. Finkenauer raised $653,119. To date, Franken has raised about $2.8 million and Finkenauer has raised about $3.7 million.
Glenn Hurst, a rural physician and city councilor from Minden, has raised more than $100,000 this election cycle. He has not aired TV ads.
“I don’t move in circles of money,” Hurst said during a May 19 debate on Iowa PBS. “… But what we have had is steady support from our coalition.”
Although the winner is expected to take on Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, he also faces a primary Tuesday.
Republican state Sen. Jim Carlin has challenged Grassley from his right, arguing that the senator has not fought hard enough against vaccine mandates, is too supportive of Democratic President Joe Biden’s agenda and should not have voted to certify the 2020 election.
Grassley, who has raised about $5.7 million to date, is expected to win handily.
Still, Carlin has motivated some deep red conservatives who favor his brand of Trumpian politics, even as former Republican President Donald Trump endorsed Grassley. Carlin, a Sioux City attorney, has given more than $400,000 of his own money to the campaign, bringing his total fundraising to about $500,000.
Grassley has tapped into his war chest, airing about $464,000 worth of TV and digital ads in the closing weeks of the campaign. The ads have emphasized his conservative bona fides and taken aim at Biden and the Democrats to help juice turnout and ensure his voters don’t take the primary for granted. Carlin has placed about $16,000 worth of ads.
If Carlin earns a large enough share of the vote, it could embarrass the Grassley campaign. Grassley has not faced a primary challenge since his 1980 election to the U.S. Senate race. That year, he defeated a more moderate Republican, Tom Stoner, by 32 percentage points.
GOP will name a candidate to take on Axne in high-profile 3rd District
Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District is expected to be one of Republicans’ top targeted races in November as the party tries to knock off perceived vulnerable incumbents like Axne. But first, they need a candidate.
Johnston businesswoman Nicole Hasso, West Des Moines activist Gary Leffler and Bondurant state Sen. Zach Nunn are on Tuesday’s Republican primary ballot. Despite the stakes for the general election, the primary race has generated few fireworks.
All three have concentrated their fire on Biden and Axne, who they say have failed to meet global challenges in Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as domestic ones like rising inflation and gas prices.
Nunn, the only candidate to previously hold elected office, entered the race as the expected front-runner, with experience in the state Legislature and a military background. But Hasso surprised political observers, keeping pace with his fundraising early in the race.
Nunn has run the most traditional campaign, touting the conservative legislation passed by Republican majorities in the Iowa Statehouse. Hasso has positioned herself as an outsider willing to take on the establishment on issues like critical race theory and the “woke” left. Leffler, who attended the Jan. 6 rally at the U.S. Capitol, has occupied the Trump lane, though the former president has not weighed in on the race.
Nunn has raised about $750,000 to date, compared to Hasso’s $600,000. Leffler has proudly said he has not solicited big campaign donations, instead relying on face-to-face campaigning.
Nunn is the only Republican candidate to air ads, putting about $100,000 into TV and digital advertising. But outside groups have already spent more than $6 million on television and digital advertising in the district, with much of it going to pressure Axne on her votes in Congress.
The National Republican Congressional Committee does not weigh in on primary races, but organization spokesman Mike Berg said that the organization will be ready to back whoever emerges as the nominee.
“Cindy Axne is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country because she voted for Joe Biden’s reckless spending spree that caused the worst inflation crisis in 40 years,” he said in a statement. “Republicans will do whatever it takes to defeat her this fall.”
Axne has about $2.8 million in the bank and has tried to stake out relatively moderate positions on issues such as police funding while taking a strong stand on protecting Americans’ access to abortions.
She said she’ll be watching primary election returns to see who she’ll be facing in November.
“You know, they’re very right wing,” Axne said in an interview. “… One has a voting background that I think is pretty bad for Iowa. One is an insurrectionist who was at the attack on our Capitol. And another one stirred up trouble in our schools, from my perspective. So I think that I’ve got an opportunity to run against any one of them. I have done nothing but deliver for this state.”
Some metro races likely to be decided by primary elections
The winner of a six-way Democratic primary race for House District 36, which includes downtown Des Moines, is all but certain to be elected in November. Republicans have not nominated a candidate for the Des Moines-based Democratic stronghold.
The bigger question is whether any one candidate can win the 35% vote share needed to claim the nomination. If nobody does, the race will go to a special nominating convention, where Polk County Democrats’ Central Committee members elected from precincts within that legislative district will choose the nominee.
The candidates are Austin Baeth, an internal medicine physician; Jaylen Cavil, an organizer with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement; Gabe De La Cerda, a social worker; Chris Disbro, a small business owner and founder of the Iowa Hemp Association; Shannon Henson, a personal injury and insurance claims attorney; and Jake Porter, a retired state preservation consultant.
A battle over the open south side Iowa House District 30 seat has grown contentious as two Democrats face off. Eddie Mauro, who runs a Des Moines-based insurance company, is running against Megan Srinivas, an infectious disease physician who works at Broadlawns Medical Center. Mauro has attacked Srinivas for previously registering to vote as a Republican. And a group of Srinivas’ endorsers have called on Mauro to exit the race over what they say are “unacceptable” tactics and bullying.
The winner will face Republican Jerry Cheevers, who lost races for the seat in 2018 and 2020 to then-incumbent Democratic Rep. Bruce Hunter. Hunter retired at the end of his term.
Senate District 17 also has no incumbent after the redistricting process created a rare opening. Democrats on the ballot are Izaah Knox, executive director of the Des Moines nonprofit Urban Dreams, and Grace Van Cleave, a former Democratic operative and current small business owner.
Republicans, Democrats to pick challengers to other statewide office holders
Primary elections for auditor and secretary of state will also be on the ballot Tuesday.
Two Republicans are vying for auditor: former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa and former Alcoholic Beverages Division comptroller Todd Halbur. The winner will take on incumbent Democrat Rob Sand in November. The state auditor serves as the “taxpayer’s watchdog,” reviewing state and local governments’ financials.
And two Democrats — Joel Miller and Eric Van Lancker — are running for secretary of state, the office that oversees state election administration and business filings. Miller is the Linn County auditor and Van Lancker is the Clinton County auditor. The winner will take on incumbent Republican Paul Pate.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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