Democrat Wins Iowa State Legislative Special Election in District Trump Swept

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A nasty ad attacking Democrat Phil Miller for obeying the law on transgender bathroom access didn’t work for Republican Travis Harris. Photo: YouTube

Political people everywhere have been following this year’s special elections for portents of the next two election cycles. While congressional elections (all but one being in districts or states previously represented by high-level Trump appointees) have gotten the most attention, some state legislative contests bear watching, too. One especially interesting election took place yesterday in the 82nd House district of Iowa.

At first glance, nothing much happened: A deceased Democratic House member, Curt Hansen, was replaced by another Democrat, Phil Miller, a veterinarian and local school board president. But Miller’s healthy 54/44 win over Republican Travis Harris was significant in two respects.

First, this district (in southeast Iowa) is pretty evenly divided between registered Democrats and Republicans, making it an interesting test case. It’s one of those rural/small town Midwestern areas that swung heavily to Donald Trump last year (he carried the district by a 58/37 margin; Obama won it by a narrow 50/48 margin in 2012). So there’s no sign of any fundamental partisan realignment underway, at least down ballot.

Second, the GOP candidate tried to use transgender bathroom access as a cudgel against his opponent. As school board president, Democrat Miller was a steady and law-abiding presence during a 2016 dispute at a local school over this issue, which was painfully punctuated earlier this year by the suicide of a 14-year-old transgender student who had been serially harassed during the furor. The controversy had mostly abated until the Travis Harris campaign used it to go after Miller for being some sort of liberal extremist because he obeyed federal laws and regulations:

It is unclear how the transgender issue ultimately affected the race, aside from the fact that it obviously did not work for Harris. It’s possible his example will discourage similar tactics elsewhere this year and next. And although it would be unwise to read too much into this or any other special election, Miller’s easy win could be a sign that Trump’s surge in places like Iowa’s 82nd district won’t continue for his party’s candidates in 2018.

Democrat Wins An Iowa Special State Legislative Election