Democrats suffered big losses in the Iowa House and Senate last night. Assuming no results change through recounts, the House is likely to switch from 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans to 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats. I've seen some online references to a 58-42 split, but that's not how the count looks based on unofficial results posted on the Secretary of State's website.
Democrats maintain control of the Iowa Senate, but their majority shrank from 32-18 to 27-23. Governor-elect Terry Branstad should easily be able to get his agenda through the Iowa House, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal may have trouble keeping his caucus united.
UPDATE: Late returns could change the outcome in two Senate seats; it's possible the chamber could have a 25-25 split, or a 26-24 Democratic majority.
SECOND UPDATE: A few more races could switch as more absentee ballots come in. As of Wednesday evening, Democrat Tom Schueller is now trailing in House district 25 by about 150 votes.
Here's my take on the seats that changed hands and the near-misses.
Democrats only managed to win one of the three open Republican-held seats they were targeting. Dan Muhlbauer beat the worst candidate ever, Dan Dirkx, in House district 51, previously held by Rod Roberts. Muhlbauer took more than 58 percent of the vote to just 41 percent for Dirkx.
In House district 74, which Kent Sorenson vacated to run for the Iowa Senate, Scott Ourth lost to Republican Glen Massie by a little more than a 53-47 margin.
In House district 99, left open when Doug Struyk retired, Mary Ann Hanusa defeated Kurt Hubler by 55 percent to 44.5 percent.
Republicans gained four Democratic-held open seats. They probably would have won House districts 1 and 8 anyway, because the previous Democratic incumbents (Wes Whitead and Dolores Mertz) barely were re-elected in 2008, a stronger year for Democratic turnout. Jeremy Taylor beat David Dawson in House district 1 by about 54 percent to 46 percent.
Tom Shaw beat Susan Bangert in district 8 by 67 percent to 33 percent; the Iowa Democratic Party put virtually no resources into holding that district.
Kurt Meyer lost to Republican Josh Byrnes by a wide margin in House district 14, nearly 61 percent to 39 percent. Hard to say whether Mark Kuhn could have held that seat if he'd run for re-election.
In House district 84, formerly held by Elesha Gayman, Republican Ross Paustian defeated Sheri Carnahan by 57 percent to 43 percent. That would have been a tough hold for Gayman.
Democrat Chris Hall held House district 2 (long held by Roger Wendt), beating Cate Bryan by 54 percent to 46 percent. Iowans for Tax Relief had put tens of thousands of dollars into Bryan's campaign.
Republicans barely missed on the open House district 7, previously held by Marcella Frevert. Democrat John Wittneben has a 38-vote lead over Lannie Miller in the unofficial results.
Democrat Anesa Kajtazovic became the youngest woman ever elected to the Iowa House as well as the first Bosnian immigrant elected to the Iowa legislature. She easily won House district 21, previously held by Kerry Burt, by nearly 59 percent to 41 percent over John Rooff.
Democrat Mary Wolfe won the open House district 26 by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin over David Rose. The independents must have broken heavily to the Republican in this district, because it has a strong Democratic registration advantage.
Newton has gone through very tough times these past few years, but Democrat Dan Kelley held the open House district 41 with 51 percent of the vote to nearly 49 percent for Gabriel Swersie.
Republicans defeated 12 Democratic House incumbents. Only one of the Democratic "six-pack" that defeated labor legislation will head back to the house: Brian Quirk in House district 15. Dolores Mertz retired, and the other four "six-pack" members lost last night.
Former Iowa Senate Republican leader Stew Iverson beat two-term Democratic incumbent McKinley Bailey in House district 9 by 53.4 percent to 46.6 percent.
Doris Kelley lost House district 20 by nearly a 54-46 margin to Walt Rogers, who came 22 votes short of defeating Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson in 2008.
The big six-pack surprise loser was Geri Huser, who was endorsed by business groups and didn't seem to be a top target for Republicans. Unofficial returns have her 159 votes behind Kim Pearson in House district 42.
As expected, Larry Marek lost House district 89 with just 43 percent of the vote to nearly 54 percent for Jarad Klein, whom Marek narrowly defeated in 2008.
Mike Reasoner, another fairly conservative Democrat, lost House district 95 to Joel Fry by nearly a 57-43 margin. Reasoner had been re-elected easily in the past.
Democrats lost several districts that Republicans had targeted for the last couple of cycles. First-term incumbent John Beard lost by just 227 votes (51 percent to 49 percent) to Bob Hager in House district 16. The district was competitive in 2008, but Republicans had struggled to recruit a candidate here earlier in the year.
Republican Dan Rasmussen avenged his 2008 loss to Gene Ficken by winning House district 23 back for the GOP. Rasmussen won by 206 votes (51-49 percent) according to unofficial results.
Ray Zirkelbach lost to Lee Hein in House district 31 by nearly 54 percent to 46 percent. Zirkelbach and McKinley Bailey were both Iraq War veterans, incidentally.
Eric Palmer defeated a conservative incumbent in 2006 and survived a rematch in 2008, but he couldn't win a third term yesterday. Guy Vander Linden took House district 75 by about 53 percent to 47 percent.
Nathan Reichert had been the first Democrat in decades to represent House district 80 in the Muscatine area. The GOP failed to take him out in 2008, but Mark Lofgren won nearly 58 percent of the vote yesterday to just 42 percent for Reichert.
Donovan Olson of Boone hadn't been seriously challenged in a while, but he fell a heartbreakingly 28 votes short against Chip Baltimore in House district 48. I hope Olson will consider seeking a rematch in 2012, but that probably depends on the new district lines
The biggest surprise for me last night was seeing Paul Shomshor lose House district 100 in Council Bluffs. Shomshor had held this seat since winning a 2003 special election, but he lost to Mark Brandenburg, 53 percent to 47 percent. I wonder if home-town Secretary of State candidate Matt Schultz had some coat-tails for Republicans here, because the GOP win in House district 99 was by a larger than expected margin.
So, Democrats should end up with 41 seats in the new Iowa House, gaining Muhlbauer's district but losing 16 seats they previously held (4 open, 12 incumbents). As bad as that sounds, it could easily have been worse. The following Democratic House incumbents were re-elected by less than 1 percent of the vote:
Andrew Wenthe leads by 28 votes in House district 18.
Tom Schueller has only a 15-vote lead according to unofficial returns in House district 25. WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Schueller now trails by about 150 votes--looks like he will lose.
Roger Thomas won by just over 1 percent of the vote in House district 26.
As I mentioned above, John Wittneben won the open House district 7 by a tiny fraction of the vote too.
Democratic incumbents Phyllis Thede (district 81) and Kurt Swaim (distict 94) won by more than a 1 percent but less than a 2 percent margin.
Mark Smith won by only a little more than 2 percent in House district 43.
Outgoing House Speaker Pat Murphy didn't even get 52 percent of the vote in House district 28.
As I wrote last night, five Iowa Senate seats were considered highly competitive going into this election. I had hoped Democrats would hold one or two of those, but Republicans swept all five.
Rick Mullin lost the open Senate district 1 in Sioux City to Rick Bertrand, 51 percent to 49 percent. I have to believe Steve Warnstadt could have held this seat if he hadn't retired.
For months Democrats kept telling me Rich Olive was in great shape for re-election, but he lost Senate district 5 to Rob Bacon by 54 percent to 46 percent.
Bill Heckroth was stuck in the most Republican-leaning Democratic-held Senate district, and having two Grassleys on the ballot probably didn't help him either. He lost Senate district 9 to Bill Dix by nearly 58 percent to 42 percent. This seat had been in Republican hands for decades before Bob Brunkhorst retired in 2006.
I am disappointed in Staci Appel's campaign in Senate district 37. Perhaps she would have lost anyway in a Republican wave, but it should have been a lot closer than a 59 percent to 41 percent win for Kent Sorenson.
Becky Schmitz put up a good fight in Senate district 45, but former state legislator Sandy Greiner was practically like an incumbent in this district. Greiner took nearly 51 percent of the vote to around 44 percent for Schmitz. A conservative running as a third-party candidate took nearly 5 percent in that district.
So, Democrats hold 27 seats in the next Iowa Senate, and Republicans hold 23 if the current results stand.
It's worth noting that in the open Senate district 13, Democrat Tod Bowman leads Andrew Naeve by only 38 votes according to unofficial returns. The result could change in a recount.
The other narrow escape in the Senate Democratic caucus was Keith Kreiman, who took just under 51 percent of the vote in district 47. Republican Mark Chelgren, known to RAGBRAI riders as "Chickenman," finished a little less than 300 votes back.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: Kreiman is not out of the water--this one is probably headed for a recount. As more absentee ballots come in, Chelgren has taken a 13-vote lead. NOVEMBER 9 UPDATE: Chelgren appears to have won this seat by 12 votes.
Any comments about the statehouse races are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: In the comments, Bleeding Heartland user Iowa_native says 300 absentee ballots haven't been returned in Boone County (HD 48). If many of those were postmarked yesterday and arrive today or tomorrow, Donovan Olson has a chance of making up the 28-vote deficit. This one is probably headed for a recount. NOVEMBER 9 UPDATE: Olson still trails by a couple dozen votes--too much ground to make up.