Bondurant Republican Zach Nunn accomplished Tuesday night what many in Jasper and Polk Counties considered unthinkable six months ago: delivering Iowa Senate District 15 for the GOP.
The 39-year-old, two-term state representative defeated small business owner and DMACC adjunct instructor Dan Nieland, D-rural Altoona, 56.83 percent to 43.02 percent. From an election watch party at BrickHouse Fitness in Bondurant Tuesday night, Nunn stressed bipartisanship, noting what he sees as cross-party support in his vote totals.
“We’re very happy with the support we’re seeing from both sides of the county line,” Nunn said. “The numbers we’re seeing show broad bipartisan support, especially with independents.”
Nunn said he plans to immediately start working with local leaders in both Jasper and Polk Counties, including Jasper County Economic Development Corp. Director and SD15’s retiring incumbent Chaz Allen. Nunn said he spoke with Allen Tuesday night and have discussed “continuing to work together on projects important to Jasper County ... and bring new ideas to the table as well.”
Nunn also commented Tuesday night on the success local Republicans in Jasper County, specifically Jasper County Board of Supervisors candidate Brandon Talsma with whom Nunn campaigned.
“Brandon (Talsma) is a hard worker and a good man. He has the kind of young, refreshing bipartisan outlook Jasper County needs,” Nunn said.
The loss of SD15 makes it even harder for Iowa Democrats who hope to one day retake the majority in the Iowa Senate. As of presstime Tuesday night, Nunn’s victory gives the GOP a 30-19 majority in the chamber, with one independent member.
In Jasper County, Nunn received 7,065 or 54.43 percent of the vote. Nieland logged 5,888 votes or 45.37 percent Tuesday night in Jasper County, according to unofficial results from the county auditor’s office. In Polk County, where both candidates reside, the split was 58.74 for Nunn to 41.15 for Nieland.
District 15 has been held by the Democrats for more than a decade, including by former Sen. Dennis Black of Lynnville, but in 2018 Jasper and eastern Polk Counties Democrats have had an uphill climb in this race. Popular first-term incumbent Allen dropped his re-election bid in July.
After Allen’s departure, the race for SD15 was rocked by constant shake-ups. Jasper and Polk County Democrats passed on Southeast Polk Board of Education member Lori Slings twice, first nominating former Jasper County Democratic Party Chair and Iowa Sen. Matt McCoy campaign staffer Taylor Van De Krol, 26, in August. He exited the race just eight days later citing personal reasons, and the Democrats quickly moved to nominate Nieland on Aug. 22.
But the Altoona horse rancher’s campaign also became swept up in its own turmoil, after it was announced Nieland’s wife, Leesa Marie Parkhill-Nieland, was under federal indictment for alleged Social Security fraud.
The Republicans replaced their nominee, political newcomer Tim Shay of Newton, with Nunn. The former Iowa House GOP majority whip and Iowa Republican Party rising star was able to raise more than $100,000 to take the seat.
That, combined with active voter registration numbers in the district favoring Democrats by only 597, was just too high a mountain to climb for Democrats Tuesday night.
Voter gap shrinking
District 15 was a seat Allen won in 2014 by almost 10 percentage points against Baxter Republican Crystal Bruntz. One of the key differences in 2018 were changes in local voter demographics. Senate District 15 encompasses western Jasper County, including Newton, Colfax, Baxter, Mingo and Prairie City. It also represents Mitchellville and the increasingly suburban areas of Altoona, Bondurant and Runnells.
During the 2014 midterms, SD 15 had 13,936 active Democrats and 12,736 Republicans, according to data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. By Tuesday night, both numbers grew, but Republicans closed the gap by 603 registered voters — 14,632 Democrats to 14,026 GOP voters.
But the largest voting block in the district, non-party voters, continues to grow. There were 15,507 active registered non-party voters Tuesday night in SD 15. That is a more than 11 percent jump from the 13,795 active in 2014.
After the 2020 census, the district lines will once again be redrawn and SD 15 could see another demographic shake-up, but Nunn said Iowa’s redistricting process is “truly reflected in a blended community like (SD 15) — Democrats, Republicans and independents.”
Looking at the numbers, Iowa does a good job with it’s legislative services agency making nonpartisan calls,” Nunn said. “(Senate District 15) is one of the fairest drawn districts in the country.”
Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 firstname.lastname@example.org