(This story was updated at 11:04 p.m.)
Unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State’s website indicate a Democrat has eked out a win in today’s special election in southeast Iowa for a seat in the Iowa House. Democrat Curt Hanson of Fairfield beat Republican Stephen Burgmeier of Lockridge by just 107 votes.
Hanson – a retired school teacher – and Burgmeier – a farmer who’s a three-term member of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors — were competing for the seat that had been held by Democrat John Whitaker, a farmer from Hillsboro who resigned from the legislature to become state director of the Farm Service Agency.
Hanson’s victory means Democrats retain their 56-44 seat majority in the Iowa House. Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan spoke by phone with Radio Iowa shortly after 10 o’clock when the results were known.
"It’s a great victory. We’re very proud of the team effort that we had in place here with Curt Hanson. He did an outstanding job, was an outstanding candidate. It’s a local race, local issues, and we’re very proud of him tonight," Kiernan said. "It’s a big night."
Hanson received 48.9 percent of the vote compared to Burgmeier’s 47.5 percent. Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn told Radio Iowa "it’s disappointing" to have come so close and not come out on the winning side.
"I think one thing that Republicans can hold their heads high on is the fact that Republicans nearly won a solid Obama/Culver legislative district," Strawn said by phone this evening. "It does show that Iowans have serious concerns about the status quo and one-party rule in Des Moines."
The district covers three southeast Iowa counties — Jefferson, Wapello and Van Buren. Over 8000 votes were cast today, a large turn-out for a special election according to G.O.P. chairman Strawn.
"We turned the folks out that we thought we needed to turn out," Strawn said. "I think turnout was higher than both parties models predicted."
There are absentee ballots which have not been counted yet, but neither Strawn nor Kiernan doesn’t expect those votes to change the outcome.
"We always expected it to be a competitive race. We ran against an incumbent supervisor from another county. Our candidate had not been elected to any office before," Kiernan said. "So we’re excited. We expected it to be competitive and we’re proud of our victory."
Over the next few days Strawn plans to assess the "mechanics" of what the two parties did in the southeast Iowa district, and then move on.
"There are still over 100,000 Iowans that are out of work, the governor’s debt programs are not creating long-terms jobs and state spending has increased over 20 percent under this administration’s watch," Strawn said tonight. "So ultimately that is going to be the record for which Governor Culver and majority Democrats are going to have to answer as we prepare for the 2010 election."
Campaign finance records indicate at least $300,000 was spent by the two major party candidates, the two political parties and outside groups, including an organization that backed Republican Burgmeier and stressed his stand against gay marriage. Kiernan suggests that group’s ads had little impact on tonight’s outcome.
"We approached the campaign differently. It was a local race (with) local issues, had an outstanding candidate and really put a grassroots groundgame in effect that’s proven successful in the last two election cycles for Democrats," Kiernan said.