GOP speakers celebrate local wins as signs of party strength

By: - November 12, 2021 9:45 pm

Sens. Rick Scott, center, and Joni Ernst, right, spoke at the Polk County Republican Party Lincoln Dinner on Nov. 12, 2021. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Central Iowa Republicans gathered in Des Moines Friday night to celebrate victories in the 2021 election and to start planning for the 2022 midterms.

“We’re going to do unbelievably next year, because people are fed up with what the Democrats are doing,” said guest speaker Sen. Rick Scott of Florida.

The crowd of about 200 Republican donors cheered. A massive American flag hung behind the stage at the Holiday Inn, where speakers sat in large, red chairs. Red lights shone on the walls. Through the night, Republicans lambasted President Joe Biden and federal policies while pointing to local races, especially school board elections, as signs of Republican strength in the state and across the U.S.

Republicans run victory lap for local races

Iowa’s school board races are nonpartisan, but several candidates in 2021 ran and won on a conservative platform. In both Ankeny and Johnston, school board members ran against mask mandates and won several seats. Conservative candidates also ran as a slate in Waukee, though they lost the election.

Polk County GOP Chair Gloria Mazza congratulated the school board candidates, regardless of whether they won. Mazza also highlighted the Ankeny mayor and city council races as wins for the Republican parties.

“It’s exciting that we’re no longer running nonpartisan races,” Mazza said.

Scott and Sen. Joni Ernst framed the local races as fertile ground for Republican politics. Scott said he believes “the school board races are going to change the country.”

“We see it starting at the school board. We see it with our supervisors’ races, our city councils. Republicans are rising,” Ernst said. 

Iowa legislative leaders also bragged on recent special election wins. This fall, Central Iowa voters elected Rep. Michael Bousselot in Ankeny and Rep. Jon Dunwell in Newton, both Republicans. Dunwell took a seat that Democrats had held for decades, House Speaker Pat Grassley said.

“The Democrats gave up on that seat … They realized Iowa is shifting away from them,” Grassley said.

Grassley, R-New Hartford, and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said the central Iowa wins were an indicator of Republican strength in 2022.

“We all know that, if we succeed in Polk County, we succeed all over the state,” Whitver said.

Senators pin hopes on Manchin and Sinema to combat spending bill

In D.C., Democrats are still working on a $1.75 trillion social spending bill, with plans to debate it in the House before Thanksgiving. 

Iowa’s Republican delegation, as with all Republicans in Congress, are vocally opposed to the bill. Ernst and Scott encouraged attendees to speak out against the legislation, arguing that it still may not pass.

“The more vocal we are when we talk about how this is disgusting, this is bankrupting this country, there’s a greater chance that we’re going to stop it.”” Scott said.

Ernst said the spending bill was part of the Democrats’ “march toward socialism,” as it includes increased spending for social programs. Ernst also said federal programs which “enable (Americans) to comfortably exist without a job” were exacerbating workforce shortages.

“We don’t need this bill,” Ernst said.

Scott and Ernst both said they remained hopeful that Democratic moderates Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virgina and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona would vote against the bill, tanking it in the Senate.

“My fear is that perhaps Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema find a sweet spot for them, where they can give in and get a little something for their states,” said Ernst. “I worry about that.”

But, Ernst said, “I keep hoping that they’ll stand strong. Let’s all pray, and push — you’ve got to do both.”

Republican leaders emphasize that they were never going to gerrymander

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver spoke at the Polk County Republicans Lincoln Dinner on Nov. 12, 2021. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Grassley and Whitver also reflected on the two special sessions on redistricting. The Iowa Legislature voted in favor of the second nonpartisan proposal, alleviating Democrat fears that the process would make it to a third map — one that lawmakers could edit directly.

“Jack (Whitver) and I have both said the whole time, we’re going to follow the process that’s in place,” Grassley said.

Whitver said Republicans already have a strong hold on Iowa, pointing again to the special elections.

“We don’t have to gerrymander. The Democrats have given up and ignored and talked down to rural Iowa, and that is dark red now,” Whitver said. “We don’t need to gerrymander, they’ve done it themselves by the way they’re treated rural Iowa.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.