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ERIN MURPHY: Iowa’s no longer a presidential toss-up state, some suggest

November 17, 2018

Iowa will once again get well more than its fair share of presidential attention in the lead-up to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in early February of 2020.

But will Iowa be competitive and draw presidential visits during the 2020 general election campaign? Some national pundits don’t think it’s necessary.

That seems surprising, given the state’s recent voting history.

Republican wave elections in 2014 and 2016 had people -- inside Iowa and out -- wondering whether the state was turning red. Iowa’s federal and state representation went from almost perfectly politically purple to Republican domination.

Democrats bounced back some in this recently completed midterm elections, flipping two Republican-held congressional seats. But the GOP still won handily at the statewide level, winning the competitive race for governor and two of three competitive down-ballot statewide races.

Apparently this was sufficient for some pundits to declare Iowa out of play for the 2020 presidential election.

For example, Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said this week in a tweet that he thinks there will be six truly key swing states in 2020, and that Iowa will not be among them. Wasserman said Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina will decide 2020. He wrote off Iowa (and Ohio) as “solid red states.”

And Michael Halle, who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign focusing on battleground states, told the New York Times that Democrats should abandon campaigning in Iowa and Ohio and focus instead on Arizona and Georgia.

“It’s kind of scary, because Ohio and Iowa are two states that Obama won in both his presidential campaigns, and now they’re just not competitive in the way they once were,” Halle told the Times. “We are at a place where we need to expand the map.”

Iowa has enjoyed toss-up status in recent presidential elections, and thus the frequent presidential campaigning that comes along with that, despite the state’s relatively few electoral votes.

But Wasserman and a few others in the pundit-sphere think the political parties can start writing off Iowa as a safe Republican state in a presidential election, and thus not worth the effort needed to win here.

Republican Donald Trump did defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton here in 2016 by 9 percentage points. And the GOP also enjoyed a string of successes in other federal and state races in 2014 and 2016.

Not to mention the state’s demographics --- older, fewer minorities, fewer residents with college degrees --- are making it look more and more like a Republican-voting state.

But that analysis seems somewhat short-sighted given Iowa’s history beyond just two years ago. Prior to swinging to Trump in 2016, Iowa went for the Democratic presidential candidate in six of the previous seven elections, including twice for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

And while they were not statewide victories, the success of Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne in this year’s congressional races showed Iowans have not abandoned the idea of voting for Democrats for federal office.

Given Iowa’s long-term history and its tendency to swing from election cycle to election cycle, it seems a bit early to write the state off as in the bag for Trump in 2020.

We’ll see whether the candidates, campaigns and political parties agree in a couple of years.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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