Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Smooth hedge nettle

This week’s featured plant is a species I learned to identify only a few weeks ago. Far from the most impressive flowers you’ll see blooming in moist habitats during the summer, smooth hedge nettle (Stachys tenuifolia) "is easy to overlook," since it "tends to be rather small-sized and non-descript." This member of the mint family is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I took all of the enclosed pictures along the Windsor Heights or Urbandale bike trails.

The foliage of smooth hedge nettle strongly resembles that of American or Canada germander, which grows in similar wet places and was the focus of a Bleeding Heartland post last month. At first glance, the flowers are hard to tell apart too, but hedge nettle blossoms have an upper lip that is absent on germander flowers.

Some hedge nettle species are also known as woundwort. That name may ring a bell, because General Woundwort is a memorable character from the fantastic adventure story Watership Down. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, make time to read Watership Down sometime. That book has been one of my favorite novels since I read it as a child. My kids enjoyed it too when we read it together a couple of years ago.

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Patty Judge, in new tv ads: "Washington changed Chuck"

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Patty Judge took the fight to 36-year Senator Chuck Grassley in her campaign’s first two general election television commercials, launched on Tuesday. Both 30-second spots assert that Grassley has "changed" during his long tenure in Washington. One spot features Judge delivering the message alongside a cardboard cutout of the incumbent. A string of "ordinary Iowans" question the cardboard Grassley during the other ad. Scroll down for videos and transcripts.

Grassley hasn’t run any commercials since the two ads his campaign aired before the June primary, which Bleeding Heartland analyzed here and here. I’m surprised he didn’t prepare a spot to run during the Rio Olympics, after reporting more than $1.2 million in contributions during the second quarter and nearly $6 million cash on hand as of June 30. Judge’s campaign raised $347,707 during the second quarter and had only $228,292 cash on hand at the end of June.

Three of the four Iowa polls released this month showed Grassley’s support barely above 50 percent; Judge was running 9 or 10 points behind. The most recent survey, conducted by CBS/YouGov, found Grassley leading Judge by only 45 percent to 38 percent. An incumbent polling below 50 percent traditionally signals an opening for the challenger.

But contrary to KCRG’s misleading headline and write-up, a 45-38 lead is not a "statistical tie." The margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent in CBS/YouGov’s poll means that assuming professional sampling methods, there’s a 95 percent chance that Grassley’s support is between 41 and 49 percent, and that Judge’s support is between 34 and 42 percent. In other words, Grassley is extremely likely to be ahead if CBS/YouGov’s respondents are representative of the likely voter universe. He’s just not dominating the race by the kind of margins he’s enjoyed over previous Democratic opponents.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble reviewed data from earlier re-election campaigns pointing to Grassley’s strong performance among no-party voters, as well as his "crossover appeal" for thousands of Iowa Democrats.

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Iowa Senate district 8 preview: Mike Gronstal vs. Dan Dawson

No Iowa Democrat has frustrated Republicans more over the last six years than Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. The 26 to 24 Democratic majority in the state Senate has kept dozens of bills on the conservative wish list from reaching Governor Terry Branstad’s desk. After a net gain of six Iowa Senate seats in the 2010 wave election, many Republicans were confident that gaining control of the upper chamber was only a matter of time. However, Democrats managed to keep that one-seat majority despite a new map of political boundaries that gave Republicans lots of opportunities in 2012. Another GOP landslide in 2014 failed to deliver any net gain for the party in the Iowa Senate.

I’ve long believed Gronstal was well-positioned to win re-election again. Earlier this year, the Iowa Firearms Coalition PAC made the same calculation, leaving Gronstal’s district off its list of targeted Iowa Senate races.

But even if Senate district 8 isn’t among the most promising GOP pickup opportunities, Republican leaders will invest resources in this race, especially since their preferred challenger, Dan Dawson, won a three-way GOP primary. A television commercial introducing Dawson to voters is already in the can.

Follow me after the jump for a closer look at Senate district 8, its recent voting history, the two candidates, and likely themes of the general election.

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Two Iowa Democratic blogs merge

Pat Rynard announced today that the Iowa Starting Line blog has merged with the Iowa Daily Democrat. Both websites launched in early 2015. Iowa Starting Line will host the new site, with writers from the Iowa Daily Democrat including Rick Smith and Mike Glover providing regular content. Former State Senator Jack Hatch, Charlotte Hubbell, and Tim Urban "will help with financing and guest writing." Rynard commented,

Over a year and a half ago, I launched Starting Line to help Democrats where they were struggling in 2014: online messaging and social media. We have accomplished that goal. During the 2014 campaign, conservatives in Iowa held too big an influence in key campaigns thanks to their online news and social media advantage. Today, progressive outlets are overwhelming the dominant force in Iowa thanks to both our efforts and those of Bleeding Heartland, Blog for Iowa and John Deeth. It’s a complete sea change, and it happened in really just one year.

Many state-based progressive websites have dwindled over the past several years, so the relative health of Iowa’s Democratic-leaning blogosphere provides a welcome contrast. Deeth is the voice of the state’s longest-running Democratic website. Blog for Iowa has also been going for more than a decade and provides a platform for several regular authors. Bleeding Heartland is approaching its tenth anniversary, and while I enjoy writing about Iowa politics nearly every day, I’m proud to run a community site where this year alone, dozens of guest authors have shared their views and knowledge.

Iowa’s newest progressive voice online is Iowa Informer. Gavin Aronsen conceived of the site in part as an alternative news source for the Ames area. He also publishes stories of statewide importance, some of them thoroughly researched. Along with the Fallon Forum, Iowa Informer has become a must-read site for updates on the Dakota Access (Bakken) pipeline project.

Conservatives still dominate Iowa talk radio, but as Rynard mentioned, Republicans were better positioned to drive the online news agenda two years ago. Most famously, The Iowa Republican blog injected a damaging story about U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley into the mainstream media, with a little help from the Des Moines Register’s chief politics reporter Jennifer Jacobs. But The Iowa Republican has not published new content since May. Its demise has left a hole in the state’s conservative blogosphere.

Shane Vander Hart blogs frequently at Caffeinated Thoughts about national politics as well as Iowa campaigns and state government news. David Chung provides good insight on internal party happenings, but he posts infrequently at Hawkeye GOP. Iowa developments are rarely the focus of talk radio host Steve Deace’s regular columns for the Conservative Review or his widely-read Facebook status updates. The Bean Walker, once a Drudge Report-style aggregator for news about Iowa politics, has been defunct for years.

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Forecasters still mixed on whether Iowa is toss-up state or leans Democratic

When Bleeding Heartland reviewed presidential election forecasts nearly two months ago, four projections had Iowa leaning Democratic, while five labeled our state a toss-up. Since then, Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence have each visited Iowa twice. Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine have each visited Iowa once. Clinton’s campaign and allied groups including the super-PACs Priorities USA and VoteVets have spent substantial sums on television commercials here. After the Republican and Democratic national conventions, Clinton improved her standing in many nationwide and swing state polls, but Iowa polls continue to show no clear advantage for either side.

The fourth Iowa poll released this month is another snapshot of a closely contested race. CBS/YouGov surveyed 987 "likely voters" via the internet between August 17 and 19 and found Clinton and Trump tied at 40 percent, with 7 percent of respondents supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson, 2 percent backing Jill Stein of the Green Party, 4 percent "someone else," and 7 percent not sure. The cross-tabs show Clinton leading among women by 44 percent to 38 percent and Trump leading among men by 43 percent to 36 percent. Among the CBS/YouGov respondents who identify as Democrats, Clinton leads Trump by 80 percent to 9 percent (3 percent Johnson, 1 percent Stein). Trump leads Clinton among self-identified Republicans by 76 percent to 4 percent (8 percent Johnson, 0 percent Stein) and also leads independents by 39 percent to 31 percent (10 percent Johnson, 4 percent Stein).

With relatively few Iowa voters undecided and both candidates quite well-known, the election is shaping up as a test of identifying supporters and turning them out, rather than a persuasion game. Speaking with highly engaged Iowa Democratic activists lately, I’ve heard many acknowledge Trump could carry this state, although the general feeling seems to be "I’d rather be us than them." Early voting begins less than 40 days from now on Thursday, September 29.

Time to check in again with leading election forecasters.

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News websites have too few moderators, not too many anonymous commenters

This weekend the Quad-City Times shut off comments on its website. Executive editor Autumn Phillips had been "debating this for months" and discussed the change with some longtime readers as well as with the newspaper’s staff. The last straw was a stream of racist or otherwise offensive off-topic comments below a story about man who had died after being attacked in an area public park.

I’ve been watching this for years at newspapers across the country. It’s not unique to the Quad-City Times, though the prejudices vary by region. Every once in a while, I see a lively, on-topic debate. In a sea of ridiculousness, hate speech and online bullying, I occasionally read thoughtful perspectives I hadn’t considered. Unfortunately, that isn’t the norm and it’s been a very long time since I believed in the dream media companies once had about providing a town square for the community to meet and use our journalism as a launching pad to connect, debate and bring about change. […]

Today, if you want to comment on an article, you won’t be able to post anonymously on our website. You’ll need to use one of the other forums we provide. […]

It takes courage to share an opinion when your name is attached. Knowing that, it’s my hope that disabling comments on will contribute to a civil equilibrium, a return to thoughtful discourse and elevate the discussion around the important issues we are facing in the Quad-Cities and as a nation.

I support Phillips’ decision and wholeheartedly agree that for the most part, newspaper comments sections are a "sea of ridiculousness, hate speech and online bullying."

But the key problem isn’t anonymous commenters. It’s the failure to moderate.

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