Iowa House speaker predicts GOP gains in 2016

Julia Mazzone RSLC News

The Gazette

An Iowa legislative leader is predicting that excitement being created by the Republican presidential nominating contest will help fuel gains in the Legislature, including winning control of the Senate now controlled narrowly by Democrats.

“We have an exciting year underway, and I think next year is even going to be a greater year,” Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Thursday during a conference call from the Republican State Leadership Committee national meeting in Boston.

Paulsen, who chairs the group’s legislative caucus, the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, conceded that the conventional wisdom is that Democratic turnout is better in presidential election years, he’s not sure that will hold true in 2016.

The 17-way race for the GOP presidential nomination “is quite possibly the most exciting nomination process in recent history,” Paulsen said. “On the Democratic side, you have a coronation.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, called that “wishful thinking” on the Republicans’ part.

“I’m guessing they will come out of this caucus season more divided than ever,” he said. “Whoever wins, the others will be sitting on the sidelines.”

RSLC President Matt Walter predicted traditional turnout models that favor Democrats may not hold true in 2016. In 2012, as President Barack Obama was winning re-election, Republicans posted a net pickup of legislative chambers with gains and expansions in key battleground states including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin.

However, in 2012, Paulsen saw his 59-41 majority reduced to 53-47. The Senate remained 26-24 in favor of Democrats.

The Iowa Senate is one of six chambers where the RSLC will spend part of its $40 million budget, Walter said.

Iowa Republicans have to defend 13 seats, while Democrats must defend 12.

In Iowa, he said, “this map provides more opportunity for Iowa Republicans than the off-presidential election year map does. There a lot of things to be excited about there.”

The key, he added, will be the quality of the candidates.

“I think you’re going to see (the) GOP caucus put forth best field of candidates we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Democrats are equally focused on quality candidates, Gronstal said.

“We’re excited about our candidates and think it’s looking good to keep control and pick up a seat or two,” Gronstal said. “We’re still recruiting in a few areas, but we will have plenty of offense.”