Democrats used a strong statewide turnout Tuesday to keep control of the Iowa Senate and post gains in the Iowa House that will strengthen their bargaining position with Gov. Terry Branstad and legislative Republicans who will split control of state government for another two years.
Based on unofficial results, Democrats declared early Wednesday that they retained a narrow 26-23 edge in the Iowa Senate after winning 13 of the 26 seats that were on the 2010 general election ballot.
Results were incomplete on the Iowa House side, where Republicans entered Tuesday’s contests with a 60-40 majority, but it appeared that Democrats succeeded in paring down that edge in the first post-reapportionment contests conducted under new district boundaries redrawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency based upon 2010 Census population data.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, who won re-election, said he expected House Republicans to have a 53-member majority once the official canvass of Tuesday’s vote is completed.
“It was difficult night for Republicans and I think the coattails were a little bit longer — quite frankly from what I can tell — than even the Democrats had anticipated,” Paulsen noted.
Senate Majority Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, who managed to stave off a tough challenge, said Democrats held onto their majority by winning key open-seat races in Senate Districts 18, 42 and 49 and unseated incumbent Republican Sens. Merlin Bartz of Grafton and Shawn Hamerlinck of Dixon.
“This was a hard-fought and hard-won campaign, but our advantage was a group of moderate, well-qualified candidates who worked hard to earn every vote,” said Gronstal, who held off a surprisingly strong effort from Republican Al Ringgenberg to win his seventh Senate term. Republicans had targeted Gronstal for defeat by casting him as an obstructionist and “dictator” who has stalled efforts to bring a constitutional amendment before voters defining marriage as only between one man and one woman and has impeded property tax reform by targeting relief to small businesses, protecting homeowners from a tax shift, and insuring that local governments are held harmless in the process of revamping their major source of revenue.
Paulsen said it will require bipartisan cooperation to address taxation, job creation and budget facing the state now that voters have decided they want split-control government to continue at the Statehouse for the next two years.
“We’re ready to go to work for the taxpayers,” he said.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, issued a statement early Wednesday, saying “Although there are races yet to be decided, we feel proud that our focus on jobs and the economy has resonated thus far with many in the middle class. Regardless of the outcome, we will work in a bipartisan way to grow our economy.”
In Tuesday’s balloting, Senate Majority Whip Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, Senate President Pro Tem Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, and assistant majority leader Steve Sodders, D-State Center, were re-elected to new four-year terms.
Reapportionment threw incumbents Bartz and Wilhelm together into a new District 26 in northern Iowa that proved to be more favorable for Wilhelm, who eked out a narrow 120-vote victory. Also, Muscatine Democrat Chris Brase managed to upset Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, in Senate District 46.
In a matchup of House incumbents, Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, downed Sioux GOP Rep. Jeremy Taylor by an advantage of 6,317 to 5,595 votes.
Two Linn County Republican House members also lost in their re-election bids.
In a rematch of the 2008 election, former Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, recaptured the seat he lost to Rep. Renee Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, by besting her with 54.9 percent of the vote to Schulte’s 44.9 percent in House District 66. Meanwhile, Democrat Daniel Lundby upset Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, in House District 68.
Republicans claimed the Senate District 48 seat when Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, outpolled Nate Willems, a Lisbon Democrat who left the House to make an unsuccessful Senate run. However, another state representative, Janet Peterson, D-Des Moines, who migrated to the Senate, was successful in defeating Republican Vicki Stogdill.
“Although there are races yet to be decided, we feel proud that our focus on jobs and the economy has resonated thus far with many in the middle class. Regardless of the outcome, we will work in a bipartisan way to grow our economy.”