Government

Iowa voters still have a purple streak

But this election shows it's a different shade

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa is purple again.

But it’s a different shade of purple.

For years Iowa had remarkable political balance in its state and federal offices. Its reputation as a politically purple state was well-earned:

l Iowa kept sending Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley back to the U.S. Senate for the better part of three decades.

l In 2013 and 2014 the federal delegation was an even 3-3 split of Democrats and Republicans.

l The state voted for Republican governor Terry Branstad in 2010 and 2014 and Democratic President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

l From 2011 to 2016 the state Capitol was under split control.

But the 2014 and 2016 elections ushered in consecutive waves of Republicans. The federal delegation went from 3-3 to 5-1 in favor of Republicans, and the GOP gained majorities in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature while still holding the governor’s office.

People began to wonder: Is Iowa turning red?

The 2018 midterm elections seem to suggest Iowa still has a purple streak. But Tuesday’s results brought a different brand of balance.

Instead of 50-50 splits within the various levels of government, Iowa voters this time favored Democrats in the federal races and Republicans at the state level.

Democrats Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne won in the state’s competitive 1st and 3rd congressional districts, knocking off Republican incumbents Rod Blum and David Young.

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Now three-fourths of Iowa’s U.S. House members are Democrats, reversing the previous composition.

And yet at the state level, Republicans retained complete lawmaking control at the Iowa Capitol. Kim Reynolds won a hotly contested race for governor, and House Republicans held off a challenge to their majority. They lost seats overall but still have a 54-46 edge, pending at least one recount. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans grew their majority.

It was a split decision that had a very politically purple feel to it. But instead of partisan balance within the various levels of government, Iowa’s federal delegation is trending blue while its state representatives remain firmly red.

It looks like Iowa still is purple. It’s just a different kind of purple. Maybe we’ll call it mauve.

Election nuggets

Some interesting results from midterm elections, in Iowa and across the country:

l Iowans cast the most-ever votes in a midterm election, more than 1.3 million. And the turnout rate of 61 percent was the highest since 1994, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

l Ringgold County in southern Iowa had the highest turnout rate at 71 percent. Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa had the lowest turnout rate at 52.5 percent, according to Secretary of State data compiled by The Gazette.

l Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell outperformed his party’s congressional candidate in only central Iowa’s 3rd District. Republican Kim Reynolds, on the other hand, outperformed each GOP congressional candidate within those districts, according to the data.

l Republican incumbent Secretary of State Paul Pate received 18,455 more votes than Reynolds.

l Only one state in the entire country now has a split-control state legislature: Minnesota. It is the first time in more than a century that so few state capitols have been under split control.

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Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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