Iowa’s new congressional map passed the Iowa State House (90-7) and Senate (48-1) on April 14. Governor Terry Branstad signed it into law on April 19. Iowa lost a Congressional district in reapportionment because the state gained only slightly over 120,000 residents over the last decade.
Redistricting plans in Iowa are drafted by an independent government agency, the Legislative Services Agency, which gives the maps to legislature and governor for approval. Currently, Democrats control the State Senate, while Republicans control both the State House and the governor’s seat. Democrats hold three of the state’s five current Congressional seats.
Iowa has very strict requirements for its redistricting. Plans must create districts with equal population, preserve the integrity of political subdivisions such as counties and cities, be contiguous and be reasonably compact. Political data, such as the location of the homes of incumbents or party registration status, cannot be taken into account by the Legislative Services Agency, though the Legislature and Governor can consider incumbents and election data when reviewing the Agency’s proposals.
The new plan puts Iowa’s only two Republican congressmen into the same district. Steve King, currently of the fifth, and Tom Latham, currently of the fourth, have had their seats combined into a single northwestern district, the fourth. Recognizing that King likely had an edge in that new district, Latham has announced that he will instead run in the new third Congressional District, in the southwest of the state, against fellow incumbent, Democrat Leonard Boswell.
In the fourth District, Democrat Christie Vilsack announced she will run against Representative King. Vilsack is the wife of Tom Vilsack, Iowa’s former governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The race will likely be a tough one for Vilsack as the new fourth leans to the right. The district voted for McCain in 2008 by a margin of less than two percent and for Bush in 2004 by over ten percent. This makes it by far the most Republican of the new districts.
The new map also puts Democrats Dave Loebsack of the second and Bruce Braley of the first into a new northeastern district, the first, which includes both Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids. Loebsack announced that he plans to run for the new second in the southeast of the state, a district that includes Iowa City and currently contains no incumbent.
Governor Brandstad said, “We can have some pride in the fact that Iowa has a system for reapportionment that is fair, that really gives the people an opportunity to choose their congressmen and their representatives and senators in a competitive system that isn’t really designed to skew it in favor of one party or the other…Although nothing is perfect, I think they’ve done a very good job…I don’t think either party has any advantage out of this.” (04-19-2011 – Redistricting Plan Enacted)
Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, Braley seems likely to win re-election in the 1st, while Loebsack looks strong in the second. In the fourth, the odds favor King over Vilsack. The third is the most competitive with the incumbents Boswell and Latham running against one another. Latham has significantly more fundraising cash left over from prior campaigns and the district is more conservative than Boswell’s previous district. But the new third district voted for Obama in 2008 by about six percent. The new third includes three counties from Latham’s former district (Dallas, Madison and Warren) and only Polk County from Boswell’s. But Polk County is home to Des Moines, and so Boswell’s former constituents outnumber Latham’s by three to one.
It is possible that Democrats could win all four seats in November 2012. Or there could be an even 2-2 split. The ultimate 2012 result of the new map is difficult to predict.