Iowa voters have preserved the status quo in Iowa politics. Iowans re-elected incumbents up and down the ticket, capped by the re-election of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and of Governor Tom Vilsack. Their victories were spurred in large part by a comprehensive voter turn-out effort by Democrats that led Harkin’s GOP opponent, Greg Ganske, to urge fellow Republicans to “learn a lesson” from their failure.
A bright spot for Republicans, though, was the re-election of three G-O-P Congressmen — Jim Nussle, Jim Leach and Tom Latham. Democrat Congressman Leonard Boswell won re-election, too.
It also appears that Iowa’s Democrat Governor will be checked by a Republican-led Legislature, as Republicans won a majority of seats in the House and Senate, which ensures their party controls the Legislature’s debate agenda. The 13 gambling referenda on the ballot yesterday were approved, ensuring the continued operation of state-licensed gambling boats and race track casinos in Iowa. Despite a steady barrage of negative campaign advertising on radio and television stations throughout the state, election officials say voter turn-out may have been as high as 60 percent in Iowa, far stronger than in most other states.
Harkin easily defeated Republican Congressman Greg Ganske to win a fourth term in the U.S. Senate despite a campaign scandal involving a former Harkin aide who secretly taped a Ganske fundraiser.
“This campaign was not about getting me to tonight, it was about getting America to tomorrow,” Harkin told cheering supporters.
Ganske, during a speech to campaign supporters gathered in Des Moines for an election night party, delivered a bit of a lecture to Republican party leaders.
“The Democrats taught us something tonight,” Ganske said of Democrats’ voter turn-out efforts that yielded thousands of early absentee votes. “I’m telling my fellow Republicans across the country, look at what happened here in Iowa tonight and be prepared, and to my fellow Republicans here in Iowa, next time we are going to do better.”
In Iowa’s other marquee race, Democrat Tom Vilsack won a second term as Governor, defeating Republican Doug Gross, an attorney from Des Moines who had served as chief of staff to former Republican Governor Terry Branstad.
“Tonight, the election ends. Tomorrow, Iowa’s future begins,” Vilsack said as his supporters clapped, cheered and whistled.
Gross told his supporters he won’t give up on his agenda. “I’m convinced that the people of Iowa will be prepared to accept change in the long term,” Gross said. “And I want to tell you this, that I’m not going gently into that good night.”
The man at the head of Iowa’s Republican party, chairman Chuck Larson, Junior, of Cedar Rapids, was forced to defend the party’s election strategy in the face of the Gross and Ganske defeats. Larson told reporters the election wasn’t about party affiliation, but about incumbency.
“Clearly, historically, Iowans have returned the incumbent more often than not,” Larson said. A bright spot for Republicans was the re-election of three Republican Congressmen — Jim Nussle, Jim Leach and Tom Latham. Nussle, who won Iowa’s new First Congressional District which includes Davenport, Dubuque and Waterloo, says last night’s election results on a national level are a “mandate for the President” since Republicans retained control of the House and appear to have wrested control of the U.S. Senate from Democrats.
“It’s time to get back and start governing this country,” Nussle said. Nussle defeated Democrat Ann Hutchinson, the Mayor of Bettendorf, who says she feels positive about the race and just fell a little short.
“I still have a year left on my term as Mayor of Bettendorf, so right now I’m going to focus on that,” Hutchinson said when asked about her political future. “Of course, I sold my business and left my job in order to (run for Congress), so I’m going to have to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”
In Iowa’s Second Congressional District which stretches from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City down to Burlington in southeast Iowa, Congressman Jim Leach moved from Davenport to Iowa City to seek re-election and defeated Dr. Julie Thomas, a pediatrician from Cedar Rapids.
“I think the political scientists are going to be looking at the effects of negative advertising and maybe concluding that it’s more successful than one would like,” Leach said of his race.
Leach cautions that Republicans will have a tough road ahead despite holding the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
“After a very divisive set of campaigns and after such shocks to the economy and to the poltical system from abroad, we’re going to have to work awfully dilligently to bring a sense of healing to the political process.”
In Iowa’s Third District, Congressman Leonard Boswell of Des Moines — a Democrat — won re-election, defeating Republican Stan Thompson, a lawyer from Des Moines who was running for the elected office for the first time. Thompson says he’ll “live to fight another day. Mark my words, that next time we will win…and I’d certainly like to have an opportunity at some point in time.”
In the Fourth District, Republican Congressman Tom Latham of Alexander won re-election, vowing to make tax cuts a priority.
“High taxes and the regulatory burden really slow down the economy,” Latham said. Latham defeated John Norris of Ames, a lawyer who’s been a key behind-the-scenes person in Democratic party politics. On election night, Norris was reluctant to talk about his political future.
“I missed opening day of pheasant hunting season for the first time in 30 years, so I hope to fit that in later this week, and it looks like good weather this weekend, so maybe Jackie (his wife) and I can go canoeing… that’s all that’s on my mind right now,” Norris said.
Iowans did elect a new member of Congress, from the sprawling western Iowa district that emcompasses 32 counties. Republicans outnumber Democrats in
the district by 58,000, and Republican Steve King of Kiron, a state Senator, easily cruised to victory over Democrat Paul Shomshor.
[This report includes dispatches from Dar Danielson who was stationed at Iowa Democratic Party headquarters and Travis Ford who was stationed at Iowa Republican Party headquarters on Election Night.]