October 24, 2014

Democrats retain control of Iowa Senate

State Capitol

Democrats have retained the majority in the Iowa Senate, securing 26 of the 50 seats. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs was one of the Democrats who had been targeted by Republicans.

“We ran the best get-out-the-vote effort we’ve ever had in Pottawattamie County,” Gronstal says.

 “A lot of hard work, a lot of knocking on doors — I knocked on over 13,000 doors myself, so it was a gratifying win.”

Gronstal was also in charge of recruiting other Democratic candidates and directing senate races throughout the state.

“Republicans pulled out all the stops, in every way possible,” Gronstal says. “The target was on our back and we just had people go out and knock on doors and talk to their constituents and make the case that they could better represent them in the legislature.”

According to Gronstal, President Obama’s get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa did not provide a “direct” coattail effect for Democratic candidates for the Senate, but it did generate enthusiasm among Democratic volunteers.

“I think there was some benefit to having that energy there and having Iowa be a targeted state and lots of visits by the president and the vice president and the former president,” Gronstal says. “All of those things, I think, encouraged local Democrats to believe they had a good opportunity.”

Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, told reporters last week that he was “optimistic” Republicans would win control of the state senate because there was “momentum for change,” but Gronstal dismisses that and other statements from Republicans as “hype.”   

“I think you saw that across the country and in Iowa Republicans kind of hyped their chances in an attempt to build momentum instead of doing the fundamentals and that’s turning out votes on Election Day,” Gronstal says.

Governor Branstad says the message of the 2012 election is that Iowa voters want the two political parties to work together. Divided government is nothing new to Branstad as he’s had a Republican-led legislature for just two of the nearly 22 years he’s been in office.

“I know how to work under these circumstances and I’ve always wanted to treat everybody with respect and dignity and try to make as much progress as we can,” Branstad says, ‘and to recognize that we all have an obligation to serve the people of Iowa.”

Branstad says he saw “great opportunities for cooperation” between Republicans and Democrats, incluidng Grosntal who the governor has criticized publicly for lack of action on bills Branstad supports.

“I’ve worked with him before and I’m hopeful we can accomplish significant things,” Branstad says.

The governor says the last two years “haven’t been easy” as Republicans led the House and Democrats led the Senate — and that’s the partisan divide for 2013.

“But I’m very hopeful,” Branstad says. “I’m very optimistic that we can make significant progress.”

Senate Republican Leader Jerry Behn of Boone says Republican candidates for the state senate just found it too tough to run against the tide of turnout for President Obama.

“It’s pretty apparent that the wave that went through and the stream that was flowing, the president had a lot of momentum last night and I think it was a surprise to everyone,” Behn says, “I would say even (to) the president.”

There were “many, many” races for senate seats where Republican support “just didn’t materialize” as Behn had expected.

“We had 26 individual races this year, typically it’s only 25,” Behn says, “and I really felt we would be competitive in all 26 races and it just didn’t turn out that way.”

One senate race won’t be decided until December 11. That’s the date set for a special election to fill the seat held by the late Senator Pat Ward. She died in October of cancer and, under state law, a special election is automatically scheduled when a candidate listed on the ballot dies before Election Day. Republicans in Ward’s West Des Moines district meet tomorrow night to select a nominee. The Democratic candidate had already been running in the district.