News from the Iowa Senate district 18 debates

UPDATE: More recent absentee ballot numbers are here, and a precinct-level analysis of the early voting is here.

Democrat Liz Mathis and Republican Cindy Golding debated two nights in a row this week. Highlights from their encounters are after the jump, along with updated absentee ballot numbers for the Senate district 18 special election.

Mathis is maintaining her early vote advantage, according to the latest numbers released by the Linn County Auditor’s Elections office. At the end of the day on October 27, 8,216 absentee ballots for the November 8 special election had been issued.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: About 90 percent of the absentee ballots requested in Linn County are for voters living in Senate district 18. The other 10 percent have gone to voters in other areas holding local elections on November 8.

Of the 8,216 ballot requests:

4,170 (51 percent) went to registered Democrats

2,083 (25 percent) went to Republicans

1,955 (24 percent) went to no-party voters

Eight went to to voters with some other registration.

At the close of business on October 27, the Linn County Auditor’s office had received 3,777 absentee ballots for the special election. That number includes people who voted early in person at the auditor’s office as well as those who filled out their absentee ballots at home. The returned ballots broke down as follows:

2,088 (55 percent) came from registered Democrats

962 (25 percent) came from Republicans

726 (19 percent) came from no-party voters

One came from a voter with some other party registration.

UPDATE: Here are more recent numbers from the end of Friday, October 28. Of 8,454 absentee ballot requests,

4,252 (50 percent) went to registered Democrats

2,187 (26 percent) went to Republicans

2007 (24 percent) went to no-party voters

Eight went to voters with some other party registration.

Of the 4,473 ballots that had been returned to the Linn County Auditor’s office by the end of October 28,

2,457 (55 percent) came from registered Democrats

1,150 (26 percent) came from Republicans

864 (19 percent) came from no-party voters

Two came from voters with some other party registration.

That’s excellent news for Mathis, because she sounded shaky during her first debate against Golding on October 26. The video isn’t available on YouTube to my knowledge, but local viewers who missed the debate can watch it on KCRG’s 9.2 channel at 1:00 Monday afternoon and 8:00 Tuesday evening. Todd Dorman was one of the moderators and posted his take here. The candidates disagreed on many issues, and Golding objected to Mathis’ claim that she would be a rubber stamp for Governor Terry Branstad. By way of example, Golding said that she opposes raising the gas tax now. Mathis also spoke against a gas tax hike.

Golding seemed much more sure-footed on her core issues – cutting business regulation, reducing/reforming taxes and breaking what Republicans see as a logjam in the Senate. Her victory would create a 25-25 tie which she contends will force the parties to work together.

Mathis was much less sure footed, and seemed to sense at times that she wasn’t doing well. I asked a question from the audience about eliminating Iowans’ ability to deduct federal taxes from their state taxes, “federal deductability,” and she clearly didn’t understand what I was talking about. And when I asked about watershed management, she talked about Palo being a small town that had a rough time, then seemed to lose her train of thought. […]

I think Golding’s weakest performance was on education, which she said Iowa schools would be improved by “an attitude change,” but not necessarily new funding. She complained that elementary schools no longer group kids by skill level for reading instruction. They do that at my kids’ school, a block from the site of the debate.

Golding distanced herself at times from Branstad, but at no point did Mathis turn to Golding and say I’m not Mike Gronstal. He’s not running here. I am. I think that was a mistake.

Projecting confidence is very important in a televised debate. Mathis of all people should be able to do that, having worked in local tv news for decades. Even if Golding got some facts wrong, like her comments about reading instruction, viewers will probably not be aware of her mistakes because she sounded sure of herself.

Iowa is one of only three states that allow residents to deduct their federal tax payments from their adjusted income for state tax purposes. Democrats offered a tax reform proposal during the 2009 legislative session that would have repealed federal deductibility. The package cleared the Iowa Senate but stalled in the then Democratic-controlled Iowa House. Federal deductibility is a non-issue now, because the GOP-controlled state House would never repeal it. Nevertheless, Mathis should be ready to answer questions on the issue.

Paul Deaton posted a more positive spin on Mathis’ October 26 performance at Blog for Iowa. I am just not convinced that running against “gridlock” or partisan “bickering” is a good strategy for Mathis. Gridlock is fine by me if the alternative is a fast-track for the Republican policy agenda. Mathis keeps promising to reach across the aisle, but without the 26 Iowa Senate Democrats standing firm throughout the 2011 session, we’d have no growth in K-12 education budgets for two years in Iowa rather than just one.

The League of Women Voters of Cedar Rapids and Marion hosted Mathis, Golding and Constitution Party candidate Jon Tack on October 27. That forum wasn’t live-streamed anywhere to my knowledge, so I had to rely on James Q. Lynch’s report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. It sounds as if there were fewer sharp exchanges between the candidates the second time around. Both candidates repeated their opposition to raising the gasoline tax. Tack spoke against a gas tax increase as well.

Both Mathis and Golding described education as a high priority, but Golding indicated that she would not support increasing state funding for education. Governor Terry Branstad’s education reform proposals would certainly cost more money to implement.

On commercial property taxes, Mathis endorsed an approach that would help primarily small businesses. That sounds similar to what Senate Democrats proposed during the 2011 legislative session. House Republicans and Branstad favored larger commercial property tax cuts for all businesses, but I haven’t seen Golding directly endorse that approach. At the League of Women Voters forum, Golding asserted that Mathis’ proposal would hurt services currently funded through property taxes.

Golding may have contradicted herself at one point in last night’s forum. Referring to education spending, Golding said Iowa has “a limited pot of money”:

She wants to see Iowa “once again become No. 1 in the nation and do that within the constraints of the current budget without asking taxpayers to dig deeper in their pockets, with finding ways to conserve money and put tax dollars to our critical needs.”

She would seek to alleviate the property tax burden by requiring the state to fully fund those services it mandates, such as mental-health programs. Golding said she lobbied to preserve some of those services after former governor Chet Culver’s 10 percent across-the-board cut.

“We need to fund critical services, but not on the backs of property taxpayers,” she said.

I don’t understand how state legislators can fully fund mental health and other services while also holding the line on the overall state budget. The Iowa House and Senate need to pass a plan restructuring mental health programs during the 2012 session, and it’s going to cost a significant chunk of change.

For those interested in how Golding and Mathis are presenting themselves to Senate district 18 voters, Iowa Independent posted photos of several direct-mail pieces from each candidate. Golding seems to be hitting all the important Republican notes. I doubt Tack’s third-party campaign will affect GOP prospects unless he starts making a more direct conservative case against Golding. From what I’ve seen, she is not giving him openings there.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Jeff Patch of The Iowa Republican blog uploaded this video of the October 26 debate to YouTube:

I am still not aware of any online video showing the League of Women forum on October 27.

  • Your comments

    are pretty much on the mark, at least related to Debate 1.  Too bad Debate 2 was not streamed.  I already posted my impressions elsewhere on this blog. Liz’s performance also highlight an earlier comment I made concerning TV types and politics.  A skilled tv reporter/anchor does not necessarily translate into a successful neophyte political candidate. Yes, the name recognition and public performance skills are good, but will only take you so far. You need to have a facile command of the issues of the day, and that’s where a seasoned politician or party activist can offset those presentation skills.  Those experienced candidates can spout talking points with ease and sound good. I support Liz, but in the debate I saw, Golding seemed to have her shtick down and Liz was a little like a deer in the headlights.  That’s what happens when you take an anchor off prompter.  

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