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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.
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.
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.