Voters will elect a new state representative for Iowa House district 90 in a special election on September 1. The southeastern Iowa district leans slightly Democratic in terms of voter registration, but political scientists have found that special elections and by-elections often favor opposition parties, whose supporters are more motivated to turn out. (Democrats control both chambers of the Iowa legislature as well as the governor’s chair.)

Neither Republican Stephen Burgmeier nor Democrat Curt Hanson has highlighted same-sex marriage rights during the brief campaign in district 90, but a major advertising campaign funded by the National Organization for Marriage is likely to put the issue front and center during the final stretch.  Burgmeier is one of three Republican supervisors in Jefferson County, most of which lies in Iowa House district 90. He made a show of posturing against same-sex marriage on April 27, the day the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. He mentioned his support for giving Iowans “a right to vote on the definition of marriage” in the press release announcing his candidacy for the special election.

However, the Republican-aligned interest groups that are staffing his campaign have decided to focus on taxes and the state budget (for instance, in this television ad). The issues page on Burgmeier’s campaign site does not mention gay marriage or abortion. That has angered a right-winger who calls Burgmeier a “sellout” and is running in district 90 with an emphasis on social issues.

Chase Martyn of Iowa Independent posted yesterday that the National Organization for Marriage “has purchased $86,060 worth of television and radio ads” to help Burgmeier. That is a major ad buy for an Iowa legislative district. Martyn uploaded an independent expenditure report (pdf file) that the group filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, but that document didn’t include information about the content or placement of the ads.

I don’t know yet how the NOM is framing the marriage equality issue for this campaign. I also haven’t heard whether the ads mainly support the Republican or also attack the Democratic candidate. I have asked Iowans in the viewing area for this district to post comments in this thread at Bleeding Heartland.

I hope the NOM’s Iowa ads turn out to be as laughable as the group’s “Gathering Storm” commercial from April, which spawned many parodies on YouTube and a brilliant response from Stephen Colbert.

The Democratic candidate for the special election is Curt Hanson, a retired driver’s education teacher who has won various teaching awards. Hanson is campaigning on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, health care, education, and balancing the budget. He doesn’t mention marriage equality or the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on his site’s issues page.

Democrats hold a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House. House Speaker Pat Murphy strongly supported the Varnum v Brien ruling and has made clear he will block efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to the House floor. A victory in this special election would be a shot in the arm for the Republican Party of Iowa, which has suffered net losses of seats in the Iowa legislature for four straight elections. In fact, Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn has called the district 90 special election a “must win.”

If Burgmeier is successful on September 1, expect his campaign strategy to be copied in competitive legislative districts next year. Republican candidates can focus on economic issues while outside groups pay for ads attacking gay marriage.




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