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AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Iowa’s state primaries

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With the drama surrounding the state’s presidential caucuses far in the rearview mirror, Iowa voters now turn to primaries on Tuesday for the narrowly divided U.S. House as well as the Republican-controlled state legislature.

One race in the 3rd Congressional District may play a decisive role in determining which party will win control of the chamber in November. Competing for the Democratic nomination are Lanon Baccam, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official and Afghanistan war veteran, and Melissa Vine, a mental health counselor and leader of a nonprofit that supports women who have experienced trauma. They hope to unseat U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn, a first-term Republican who barely edged Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne in 2022. Nunn is unopposed for the GOP nomination.

Home to the state capital of Des Moines and much of the state’s Democratic base, the 3rd District is the most competitive of the Iowa’s four U.S. House seats. Voters there gave Republican then-President Donald Trump a slim advantage over Democratic challenger Joe Biden in 2020, 49.2% to 48.8%.

The Republican incumbents in the 1st and 4th Congressional Districts have both drawn primary challengers from their right flanks. In the 1st District in southeastern Iowa, U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks faces David Pautsch, an advertising executive, former Army tuba player and Gold Star father. Miller-Meeks entered the final stretch of the primary campaign with nearly $1.9 million in the bank, compared with just slightly more than $6,000 for Pautsch. By mid-May, she had spent about $1.4 million on the race, nearly 50 times his spending. The winner will face former state Rep. Christina Bohannan, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Miller-Meeks defeated Bohannan in the 2022 general election, 53% to 47%. Voters in the 1st District preferred Trump over Biden in 2020 by a margin of about 3 percentage points.

In the sprawling 4th Congressional District in western and northwestern Iowa, U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra seeks a third term but first must overcome a challenge from Kevin Virgil, a former CIA officer and retired Army Ranger. Like Miller-Meeks, Feenstra also far surpasses his challenger in terms of fundraising. As of mid-May, Feenstra had spent $3.3 million on the race and had nearly $1.1 million in the bank. At that same point, Virgil had spent about $83,000 and had slightly more than $4,000 on hand. Virgil does have the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represented the area for nearly 20 years but who lost his bid for a 10th term to Feenstra in the 2020 primary. The 4th District is the safest congressional seat for Iowa Republicans. Voters there backed Trump in 2020 with 62% of the vote, compared with 36% for Biden.

Further down the ballot are nearly two dozen contested primaries for the state legislature, mostly on the Republican side. Half of the 50 state Senate seats and all 100 state House seats are up for election in November. Republicans have a lock on Iowa’s state government, with a Republican governor, a supermajority in the state Senate and a near-supermajority in the state House.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY DAY

Iowa’s state primaries will be held Tuesday. Polls close at 9 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote coverage and declare winners in contested primaries for the U.S. House, the state Senate and the state House. There are key races in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts and in state House District 34.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Only voters registered with a party may participate in that party’s primary, but any voter may register or change party affiliation on the day of the primary.

DECISION NOTES

In the 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary, the key county to watch is Polk, home of Des Moines and the district’s Democratic base. The rest of the district is made up of smaller, more rural counties mostly along the Missouri border that all went for Nunn in the general election.

The places to watch in the 1st Congressional District are Johnson County, home of Iowa City, and Scott County, home of Davenport.

In the heavily Republican 4th Congressional District, the biggest sources of votes are Story County, where Ames is located, and Woodbury, Pottawattamie and Sioux Counties along the South Dakota and Nebraska borders. Woodbury is home to Sioux City.

In Iowa state primaries, a candidate must receive at least 35% of the vote to win their party’s nomination. If not, the nominees are chosen at party conventions. This applies only to races with three or more candidates, which on Tuesday are the Republican primary in state Senate District 38 and the Democratic primaries in state House Districts 34 and 53. Winner determinations could be delayed in these races if a candidate hovers near the 35% threshold.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Iowa does not have an automatic recount law, but candidates may request and pay for a recount. Candidates do not have to pay for recounts when the margin is less than 1% of the total vote or fewer than 50 votes, whichever is larger. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE

As of May 1, there were about 2.2 million registered voters in Iowa. Of those, about 30% were Democrats, 35%% were Republicans and 35% were not registered with any party.

In the 2022 primaries, turnout in Iowa was about 7% of registered voters in the Democratic primary and about 9% in the Republican primary. About 25% of Democratic primary voters and 16% of Republican primary voters cast their ballots before primary day that year.

As of Monday, a total of 29,877 ballots had been cast ballots before primary day, about 39% in the Democratic primary and about 60% in the Republican primary.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE-COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In Iowa’s 2022 primaries, the AP first reported results at 9:12 p.m. ET, or 12 minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 2:29 a.m. ET with about 99% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 154 days until the November general election.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

By ROBERT YOON
Associated Press

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