Latest look at Iowa early vote numbers compared to 2012

Hillary Clinton urged her Iowa supporters to cast early ballots at a Des Moines rally yesterday, a short walk from the Polk County Elections Office. Her campaign needs to bank as many votes before November 8 as possible to counteract the traditional Republican advantage among election-day voters.

Republican strategist David Kochel has portrayed Iowa as a lost cause for Clinton, thanks to the large proportion of white, non-college-educated voters. Some Democratic activists felt demoralized last week after two opinion polls showed Donald Trump ahead by 8 percent and 7 percent. I’ve always expected a close presidential result here and think the next few Iowa polls will indicate a tight race, thanks to Trump’s disastrous performance in Monday’s debate.

But delivering this state for Clinton will require stronger early GOTV than what Iowa Democrats have produced so far, especially among women, who were more likely than men to vote early in the last presidential election.

Iowa Democratic early voting still lags well behind the party’s 2012 numbers. The big question is how much of the shortfall reflects deliberate tactical choices as opposed to a voter enthusiasm problem.

After the jump I’ve enclosed tables showing how many absentee ballots Iowa voters have requested and county auditors have received as of today and September 28, 2012 (the same number of days before the November 6 general election). Democrats have gained some ground since last week but are still more than 56,000 ballot requests (nearly 42 percent) behind the numbers from four years ago. Republicans were ahead of their 2012 early vote numbers last week; they are now slightly behind that pace. No-party voters have requested about 17,000 fewer absentee ballots this year than they had by this point in the last presidential campaign. That’s probably bad news for Democrats, because Barack Obama received more early votes than Mitt Romney did from Iowans affiliated with neither party.

You can view every day’s absentee ballot numbers here. I draw on figures released by the Secretary of State’s office but present the data in a different way.

P.S.- Ruline Steininger, the 103-year-old Des Moines woman who starred in a recent Clinton campaign video, stood with Clinton yesterday before casting her own early ballot. She told reporters, "I’m 103. That’s the reason I voted early. I’m not taking any chances." Unfortunately, Iowa law would prohibit Steininger’s vote from being counted if (God forbid) she passes away before November 8. Some states, including Virginia and Hawaii, require early votes to be counted in the same circumstance.

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University of Iowa's Robillard to resign as top medical official; reasons unclear

One of the most powerful figures at the University of Iowa over the past year and a half is stepping down as vice president of medical affairs and dean of the medical school. I enclose below this morning’s news release from the university, which did not explain Jean Robillard’s decision but said he "will remain on the faculty of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics. A search for his successor will commence immediately, with Robillard continuing as vice president and dean until a new leader is named." Whether one or two people will be hired to replace him is not yet clear.

Robillard served as dean of the Carver College of Medicine for four years before becoming vice president for medical affairs in January 2007. As chair of the presidential search committee formed in February 2015 and as interim university president beginning last August, he played a central role in recruiting and eventually selecting the UI’s current President Bruce Harreld. Not only did Robillard lead the public search for Sally Mason’s successor, he attended secret meetings that were part of a parallel process and disbanded the search committee immediately after Harreld was named as a finalist over "significant faculty opposition." He refused to meet with investigators from the American Association of University Professors, who later declared that the presidential search had been "manipulated to reach a foreordained result." The handling of that search prompted the AAUP to sanction the University of Iowa this summer.

Although Robillard is 72 years old, his retirement—which a university spokesperson called "completely voluntary"—is surprising. Harreld told journalist Jeff Charis-Carlson last October that he did not plan high-level staff changes in the health care division: "’I think that’s in very good hands,’ Harreld said of the leadership of Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president for medical affairs and a member of the presidential cabinet." Soon after, Robillard helped orchestrate renaming the children’s hospital after alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, without public input. Jerre Stead was both a longtime business contact of Harreld’s and a co-chair of University of Iowa Health Care’s $500 million capital campaign beginning in 2011. He was an important figure in the behind-the-scenes events that led to Harreld’s hire.

In February of this year, the university reorganized its health care operations to allow Robillard to serve as medical school dean while continuing as VP for medical affairs. Harreld sanctioned the reshuffle, which the Iowa Board of Regents approved retroactively two weeks later, even though "Changes this high in the administrative level at one of Iowa’s public universities typically require approval from the Iowa Board of Regents," Charis-Carlson reported at the time.

Building a "kid-friendly, state-of-the-art" children’s hospital has been a focus of Robillard’s work for years. That facility is set to open in December; cost overruns raised its price tag by some 25 percent over the budget the Board of Regents approved in 2012. Charis-Carlson reported in April on the controversy surrounding the multi-million-dollar contract to furnish the new hospital, which UI officials awarded without competitive bidding to a company with ties to an regent.

Last week, nurses and labor union members protested the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics over chronic under-staffing at the main hospital, despite rising occupancy rates.

I will update this post as needed. Any insights related to Robillard stepping down are welcome as comments in this thread or as confidential private messages (my e-mail is listed near the lower right corner of this page).

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Joaquin Castro will headline the Iowa Democratic Party's "2016 Gala"

Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas will be the "special guest speaker" at the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2016 Gala, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, according to invitations that arrived in many Democrats’ mailboxes today. Tickets for the October 14 event at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines (formerly Veterans Auditorium) are available online as well.

Castro represented a San Antonio district for five terms in the Texas legislature before being elected to the U.S. House for the first time in 2012. The Progressive Punch database rates his voting record as the 112th most progressive among current House members. The same database ranks Iowa’s Representative Dave Loebsack 152nd.

Castro spoke about his family’s immigration story and Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. I enclose below parts of that speech, background on Castro’s career, and excerpts from his entertaining essay for the Texas Monthly about his first year in Congress. That piece went viral mainly because the author recounted that in 2013, he heard then-House Speaker John Boehner refer to Iowa’s own Representative Steve King as an "asshole."

This summer, Castro confirmed he will consider running against U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.

His identical twin brother, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, is a former mayor of San Antonio and delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte (transcript here). He was on Hillary Clinton’s short list for vice president.

P.S.-I’m still not happy Iowa Democratic Party leaders turned the Jefferson-Jackson dinner into a generic "gala," which could refer to any fancy fundraiser. They could have honored any number of inspiring Democratic figures with a name more appropriate for what should be a celebration of shared political values.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Amazing close-ups of insects on native plants

Iowa naturalist Eileen Miller and I became acquainted through our shared appreciation for wildflowers. Her longstanding fascination with insects inspired her to learn more about the native plants these animals use to feed and reproduce.

Members of the Raccoon River Watershed Facebook group (open to anyone, not just central Iowans) are regularly treated to Eileen’s spectacular pictures of insects and arachnids, such as: an Eastern Comma caterpillar making a shelter, a crab spider guarding her egg sac, a wolf spider carrying spiderlings on her back, some Giant Ichneumon wasps drilling into a dead tree to lay their eggs on larvae of Pigeon Horntail wasps, a male giant water bug carrying eggs on his back, or a little planthopper winged adult emerging from the last nymph stage.

I recently asked Eileen to share some of her favorite pictures of insects feeding on and/or pollinating Iowa wildflowers. Thirteen gorgeous shots are enclosed below.

Eileen’s past contributions to this blog featured golden corydalis, hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon, marsh marigold, snow trillium, hepatica, blue cohosh, pasque flower, and yucca. Two years ago, she provided material for a post about unusual native fungi.

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Seven ways ISU President Leath's airplane excuses don't add up

Iowa State University President Steven Leath tried on Monday to cut off further scrutiny of how he used a university plane. Shorter version of the seven-paragraph statement you can find near the bottom of this post: I did nothing wrong, and I won’t do it again. End of story. Leath has donated $15,000 to the ISU Foundation scholarship fund to cover costs associated with fixing and storing a Cirrus SR22 damaged in a July 2015 "hard landing."

While ISU spokesperson John McCarroll slow-walks my information requests, refusing to send me even the insurance policy that should take his staff minutes to retrieve, now seems like a good time to explain why Iowans haven’t heard the last about this scandal.

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Three ways to vote early in Iowa (2016 edition)

Early voting begins in Iowa tomorrow, 40 days before November 8. Hillary Clinton is coming to downtown Des Moines for a rally less than a mile from the elections office in Polk County, home to about one in seven registered Iowa voters. Donald Trump will rally supporters today in Council Bluffs, Iowa’s seventh-largest city.

More than 43 percent of Iowans who cast ballots in the last presidential election voted before election day. President Barack Obama built up a lead of 137,355 among early Iowa voters, which more than compensated for Mitt Romney’s advantage of 45,428 among those who voted on November 6, 2012.

Strong early GOTV will be important for Clinton and other Democrats for another reason too: Iowa women are more likely than men to vote before election day. Clinton needs high turnout from women to offset Trump’s advantage among men.

Click here for tables showing the latest early vote numbers and here for the same data from 2012. So far, registered Iowa Democrats have requested more than twice as many absentee ballots as have Republicans. However, Democrats are behind their early vote numbers from the last presidential campaign, while the GOP is ahead of its 2012 pace.

Although many people enjoy the experience of going to their local polling place on election day, I encourage all my friends to vote early. Ballots cast in September and October allow campaigns to focus their final GOTV efforts on those who may need an extra push to participate. Voters benefit too, because they won’t have to worry about bad weather, last-minute work obligations, or a family emergency stopping them from getting to the polls on November 8. They also will receive fewer unsolicited phone calls and knocks at the door once their county auditor has processed their ballot.

Iowans have three options for voting early.

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