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Tuesday's Iowa Special Election Will Be A Suburban Referendum On Pandemic Mandates vs GOP "Freedom"

When he died July 29, Iowa state Rep. John Landon was one of the most well-liked members of the legislature-- and by members of both parties. Landon represented part of Ankeny in the fast-growing suburbs just north of Des Moines (HD-37). The district's party registration favors the GOP:

  • Republicans- 10,899

  • No party affiliation- 9,422

  • Democrats- 9,358

In 2016, Trump beat Hillary in the district 50.5% to 42.1% and then 2 years, in the gubernatorial election, later Republican Kim Reynolds beat middle-of-the-road Democrat Fred Hubbell 50.6% to 47.5%. Last year, Biden narrowed the gap considerably-- 50.1% to 48.0%-- demonstrating a suburban antipathy for Trump. Will Trump's absence from the ballot on Tuesday mean fewer low-propensity Trump voters show up? Or will it mean few Trump-haters will show up? Keep in mind, last year, when Landon was challenged by Democrat Andrea Phillips, it was one of the highest turnout races in the state, extremely expensive and with a relatively close result-- Landon being reelected 14,309 to 12,578.

The Democrats are running Phillips again and the GOP candidate is Mike Bousselot. As of Thursday, the Democrats had spent over $350,000 and the Republicans had spent $250,000. "Much of the money," reported Stephen Gruber-Miller for the Des Moines Register, "is being spent on television and digital advertising, where the two candidates are hammering messages about who should make decisions about kids' safety in schools and funding for police.

Both candidates have tapped into strong feelings about kids returning to school as COVID-19 cases rise again.
In one Phillips ad, a narrator emphasizes that she's a mom.
"Ankeny parents want to be able to send their kids to school safely," Phillips says in the ad. "And they want that decision to be left in the hands of school."
She said she's talked to people who feel like the state government "chose to pull the rug out from under the school boards" by passing a law banning school districts and local governments from enacting mask mandates. That law is now the subject of two lawsuits and a Department of Education investigation.
"I hear from a lot of parents and grandparents who want to be able to send their kids to school following CDC guidelines or to have the local school boards have that control," she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking in schools and that people wear masks in areas with high coronavirus transmission regardless of their vaccination status.
Bousselot says decisions about whether students should wear a mask at school should be left to parents, not school boards.
"Mike Bousselot believes in Iowans making choices that work for them at their own kitchen tables, not having choices handed down to them from government bureaucrats," a narrator says in one of his advertisements.
Bousselot pointed to Iowa's vaccination rate, which is at about 52% for the total population and 66.7% for those 12 and older who have received at least one dose. Children under 12 remain ineligible for vaccination.
"I trust parents," Bousselot said. "As I’ve said, the ultimate form of local control happens at our own kitchen tables in our houses, rather than in the Statehouse or the White House."

The state legislature currently has 58 Republicans and 41 Democrats. If Phillips wins, it will be 58-42. Does that even matter? The Republicans failed to pass some their extreme legislation-- including anti-LGBTQ bills and cuts to unemployment benefits-- last session and intend to bring those bills up again next year. Another Democrat in the legislature is the last thing they would like to see now.

Some good news though-- Democrats requested more than 5 times more absentee ballots than Republicans:

  • Democrats- 2,261

  • Republicans- 398

  • unaffiliated- 159

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