CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Democrats have maintained control of the Iowa Senate by holding a Linn County seat Republicans “believed with all of their heart and soul that they were going to have,” said Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.
Gronstal said Democrats “recruited well” in nominating Democrat Liz Mathis’ as their candidate in Iowa Senate 18, which he called a Republican-leaning district despite the fact Mathis will succeed another Democrat.
According to unofficial results from the Linn County Auditor’s Office, Mathis defeated Republican Cindy Golding 13,184 (55.8 percent) to 10,283 (43.5 percent) in the district that wraps around northern and western Linn County. Jon Tack of the Constitution Party received 151 votes.
Senate 18 includes parts of Marion, Cedar Rapids and Walford as well as Fairfax, Palo, Hiawatha, Robins, Alburnett, Center Point, Walker, Central City, Coggon and Prairieburg.
Mathis, 53, thanked voters and pledged to “go to the Capitol and fight for you every day.”
Throughout the campaign, Mathis talked about ending gridlock in the Senate, where Democrats will maintain a 26-24 advantage. Without offering specifics, she touted a five-point plan to create Iowa jobs and promised to work with Republicans to enact her proposals.
“The voters of this district, when presented a choice, chose the Democrat,” Gronstal said.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky of Coralville saw Tuesday night’s results as affirmation that Senate 18 voters “know that Democrats are the best choice to continue moving Iowa forward and made their voice heard tonight at the polls.”
Democrats lost the governor’s office in 2010 and saw Republicans pick up six seats in the Senate and the House flip from Democratic control to 60-40 GOP majority.
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However, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad downplayed the significance of Tuesday’s outcome and called the race an uphill battle given Mathis’ strong name recognition.
Mathis is best known for more than a quarter century as an Eastern Iowa television news reporter and anchor, including time at KCRG-TV9, owned by the same company that owns The Gazette. That name recognition advantage trumped Golding’s “great background and great
business experience,” the governor said.
The issues “were clearly” with Golding who was an excellent candidate and worked hard, but Mathis had “star power” that carried the day, said Assistant Minority Leader Steve Kettering, R-Lake View.
Assessing the strategy
Branstad said, “The Democrats have way outspent the Republicans in this special election.” He cautioned against reading too much into the results. Special elections, Branstad said, are “an indicator of that particular district at that point in time.”
Gronstal called that “nonsense.”
It was clear that Republicans had a strategy to capture the seat and knot the chamber at 25-25 but that strategy backfired, Gronstal said.
“This was their hand-picked race,” Gronstal said, referring to Branstad’s appointment of Marion Democrat Swati Dandekar, whose seat Mathis will fill, to the Iowa Utilities Board.
“They chose to appoint a Democrat from the Senate, a Democrat that came from a district they believed they would be able to win,” Gronstal said. “Now they’re saying, well, it doesn’t really mean anything. That’s nonsense.”
Mathis, 53, is the chief information officer for Four Oaks, a child welfare and juvenile justice agency where she oversees legislative advocacy, public relations, marketing and development. She and her husband, Mark, who owns the advertising agency ME&V, live near Robins and have two children. She grew up on an Iowa farm and is a University of Iowa graduate.
Same-sex marriage impact
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Although neither candidate made it an issue, same-sex marriage captured the spotlight in the campaign. Same-sex marriage opponents believed that a Golding win — and a 25-25 Senate — would provide an opportunity to discuss a House-passed resolution to put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot. Gronstal promised to block any attempt to discuss the issue.
Mathis supports a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage. Golding said that until Iowans have a chance to vote on the matter political energy will be focused on that single issue at the expense of Iowa’s priorities.
The issue motivated groups on both sides to get involved in the campaign with their checkbooks as well as volunteers and other aid.
The fight will continue, Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, said Tuesday night. He expects same-sex marriage opponents will “redouble their efforts to take away the rights of loving, committed gay and lesbian couples.”
The election is over, but the battle is far from over,” Price said.
Labor support for Mathis
Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO President Ken Sagar called Mathis’ win “a clear signal that voters are rejecting the anti-education, anti-working family agenda of Branstad and his followers in the Iowa Legislature.”
Union families volunteered tirelessly to get out the vote because working Iowans understood what was at stake in this election, Sagar said.
“Iowa voters want to see their elected officials work together to create good jobs, not slash education and attack collective bargaining rights of teachers, firefighters and nurses,” he said.
The race was expected to be expensive and reports show nearly $1 million was spent on a seat that pays $25,000 a year. According to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Finance Disclosure Board, Mathis raised $690,036 in cash and in-kind contributions, mostly from the Iowa Democratic Party. Golding raised $250,325 in cash and in-kind contributions.
The candidates’ final reports aren’t due until Jan. 19.