ANALYSIS: 6 months before the election, is Woodbury County trending purple?

SIOUX CITY | Republicans hope to continue recent trends, while Democrats are looking for a return to the place of a few years back.

The latest voter registration numbers in Woodbury County show a lead for Republicans, but special elections since December have encouraged Democrats that the state’s sixth largest county is ripe for victories in state and local elections this fall.

Six months out from the Nov. 6 general election, political leaders are debating whether Woodbury is a “purple county” — a tossup between the two major parties.

There is one factor that can be hard to quantify: the party holding the presidency in an non-presidential general election year usually loses ground. This year, scores of Democrats upset with the performance of Republican President Donald Trump are revved up to vote against GOP candidates.

While Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Steve King have recently dismissed the notion of a so-called blue wave growing for Democrats this year, Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Dumkrieger said there is a lot of pent-up energy among Democrats.

“We hear it across the board, including our Republican and independent friends who are embarrassed by what is happening in the Trump White House… Democrats are clearly energized and willing to back their energy with real action, like knocking doors and showing up to vote,” Dumkrieger said.

Woodbury County Republican Party Chairwoman Suzan Stewart said King is correctly assessing the political climate in Northwest Iowa.

“A blue wave would have to be of at least tsunami strength. There has not been anything since the tremendous outpouring of support in the 2016 caucuses and general election to suggest much change in support for Republicans in Woodbury County,” Stewart said.

Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill, a Democrat and the county’s chief election official, said the Republicans now hold an advantage in the county, by virtue of having more elected officials in county government and the Legislature.

“It has always been kind of a purple county. It seems it goes through cycles, it will go back and forth,” Gill said.

Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 with a substantial margin in Iowa. That November, there were 20,065 registered Democrats in the county and 17,593 Republicans in Woodbury County.

But as Obama won re-election in 2012, Woodbury County Republicans took a lead in registered voters. In May 2012, six months before the general election, there were 18,094 Republicans and 18,039 Democrats. The voter registrations for the two parties in the county were similar from 2012 to mid-2014, at which point Republicans surged after party primary elections for an open U.S. Senate seat.

With one exception, Republicans have held the lead in May or November since 2013. This month, the most recent from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, there were 19,734 registered Republicans, compared to 17,068 for the Democrats.

Wave or not wave?

The composition of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors has changed in a groundswell in the two most recent general elections. From a 4-1 majority by Democrats in 2014, the makeup swung to a 4-1 advantage for the GOP after the 2016 general election, when Trump easily outpaced Democrat Hillary Clinton in the county as he won Iowa’s six electoral votes and the presidency.

Gill said he’s monitored national reports of a supposed wave year for Democrats. He said voter registration and other factors have him doubting a beneficial wave for Democrats will happen in Woodbury County.

The Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional ballot, for example, has been shrinking in recent months. In February, a CNN poll showed voters preferred electing a Democrat to Congress over a Republican by 16-point. A May 9 poll showed the Democrats’ lead falling to 3 points, within the margin of error.

“On a national basis, it is predicted that there is five to six percent more enthusiasm on the part of Democrats than Republicans,” Stewart said. “That may not even be statistically significant…I think Republicans will be able to more than hold their own.”

This will be the first general election since the state Legislature ended straight-party voting in Iowa. In other words, voters can no longer select all candidates from one party with a single mark.

Gill said the loss of straight-party voting will mean incumbents have an advantage, due to name recognition, which he said is a vital factor, especially in lower level races with little advertising.

Both Dumkrieger and Stewart said they have a fine slate of candidates with a lot of appeal, both in terms of their personal attributes and views on key issues.

Special elections tell different story?

Pundits debate whether the outcome of two winter special elections for legislative seats in Woodbury County territory are a harbinger of things to come in November.

In a special election in December for a vacant state Senate seat, Republican Jim Carlin narrowly defeated Democrat Todd Wendt. Carlin, then a state representative, outlasted Wendt, the former superintendent of the Le Mars school district, by 603 votes in the heavily Republican Senate District 3, which takes in Plymouth County and the Morningside neighborhood in Sioux City. Wendt, the son of the late Roger Wendt, a former Democratic House member from Sioux City, carried Woodbury County by 56 votes.

In a special election in January to fill Carlin’s House seat, Republican Jacob Bossman, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley, won by 12 points over Rita DeJong of Sioux City. The two candidates are headed for a rematch in November.

Gill said Democrats came closer than expected in the two special elections, but they still lost, so it is premature to think they can seize traditional Republican legislative seats.

Stewart noted fewer voters take part in a special election than mid-term general elections, and candidates have much more time to campaign.

“Special elections may not always be representative of the electorate, particularly when the temperature is well-below zero and there are two back-to-back elections,” Stewart said.

Dumkrieger said the special elections “demonstrated that we will outwork our opponents and that voters see the need for a check on the recklessness of one-party Republican control.”

Back to the Woodbury County voter registration numbers, Stewart said, “party registration may be less determinative of ultimate results.” Dumkrieger said they have “some bearing on the initial landscape but don’t seem to foretell an outcome.”

Overall, each county leader said the message of their party will resonate with people, including political independents.

“Democrats have a vision and economic plan for the state and country that doesn’t pit neighbor against neighbor and doesn’t vilify the other side in order to win. We are fighting for the people we meet on the doorstep. We will work to improve their lives in meaningful ways – income, healthcare, retirement security, education, and the future of their children,” Dumkrieger said.

Stewart said Republicans aren’t scared of being on a ticket in the time of Trump.

“Republicans continue to ride their success by putting more money in the pockets of taxpayers, removing burdensome regulations on business, enabling strong foreign policy and creating a climate of business growth. Independent voters will see that and will not forget in November,” she said.

This article provided by NewsEdge.