Two weeks before the special election in Iowa Senate district 18, the number of absentee ballots requested and returned favored Democratic candidate Liz Mathis over Republican Cindy Golding by a two to one margin. Details are after the jump, along with other recent news about the race.
According to the Linn County Auditor's Elections office, exactly 7,800 absentee ballots for the November 8 special election had been issued as of October 25. Of those ballots requested,
4,021 (51.6 percent) went to registered Democrats
1,930 (24.7 percent) went to Republicans
1,842 (23.6 percent) went to no-party voters
Seven went to to voters with some other registration.
At the close of business on October 25, the Linn County Auditor's office had received 2,312 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:
1,274 (55.1 percent) came from registered Democrats
614 (26.6 percent) came from Republicans
424 (18.3 percent) came from no-party voters.
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.
It's not clear how much support each candidate has received from early no-party voters, since both parties are presumably contacting independents who were identified as supporters of their candidates in previous elections. But Iowa Democrats have certainly banked more votes for Mathis than Republicans have banked for Golding. Early GOTV was an important factor in the 2009 special election in Iowa House district 90. Democratic candidate Curt Hanson had about a 700-vote lead in absentee ballots going into election day and ended up winning that race by about 100 votes.
Early voting helps candidates by reducing the chance that bad weather on election day will keep supporters home. Absentee ballot drives also shrink the universe of voters who need to be contacted on November 8.
I wouldn't advise Democrats to start celebrating yet. Iowa Democrats lost several statehouse races in 2010 despite building big apparent leads in early voting. The Senate district 1 race in Sioux City was one example.
In addition, Iowa Republicans have generated a lot of early votes in past elections by mass-mailing absentee ballot request forms. It's possible that GOP-funded direct mail hasn't worked its way through the system yet and will produce a late wave of absentee voting for Golding.
Mathis raised more money than Golding during the early weeks of the special election campaign, but it's hard to tell which side will end up spending more money by November 8. Many outside groups are funding voter persuasion or mobilization efforts in Iowa Senate district 18. The National Organization for Marriage and Iowa-based FAMiLY Leader are putting a lot of money behind Golding. Labor unions and groups linked to organized labor are supporting Mathis with volunteers as well as campaign contributions.
I chose to donate to a GOTV drive being organized by Progressive Kick and Working Families Win rather than to the Mathis campaign directly, in part because major donors are matching gifts to the Progressive Kick Iowa Fund dollar for dollar.
Tonight and tomorrow night, Mathis and Golding will appear at candidate forums in the district. The Cedar Rapids Gazette and KCRG-TV are organizing tonight's event (7 pm at Linn-Mar High School, 3111 10th St., Marion). The League of Women Voters of Cedar Rapids/Marion are hosting the October 27 event (7 pm at the Kirkwood Training and Outreach Center, 3375 Armar Drive in Marion). Bleeding Heartland will cover news from those forums in a forthcoming post. If either candidate makes a big mistake, momentum could shift during the final ten days of campaigning.
I hope Mathis will not be afraid to draw contrasts between herself and Golding on specific issues. When Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman asked the Democratic candidate about various policies, he didn't get many concrete answers. Golding was more forthcoming in her interview with Dorman. Then again, she also said some strange things. For instance,
She spent much of our interview condemning regulations she says are costly, even "silly," from health insurance mandates to unemployment taxes to the specific calendar dates the state uses to restrict applying manure to frozen ground.
I don't understand what Golding has against unemployment taxes. How else should state government fund unemployment benefits, which support the economy while serving as a critical safety net? The Golding campaign did not respond to my request to clarify whether the candidate is against unemployment benefits generally or believes that they should be funded through different means.
I am amazed that an organic farmer like Golding can't see the benefits of restricting the application of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground. The specific dates mentioned in Senate File 432, adopted in 2009, weren't pulled out of the air. They're in the statute because manure applied at certain times of the year is much more likely to end up in Iowa waterways.
I do think the Republican candidate made a valid point about job creation incentives:
Golding in particular panned Mathis' plan to give a $2,000 credit to businesses that hire unemployed Iowans.
"The reality of what it takes to make the decision to hire an employee is lost on people who have never hired an employee," Golding said. "If it's the wrong person, or if I do not have the business to sustain that person's salary, it will cost me a heck of a lot more than $2,000 if I have to lay off that person."
Both parties have supported tax credits to spur new hiring, but Golding is correct that no business owner would hire an employee solely to snag a $2,000 tax credit. Businesses hire when managers expect more demand for goods and services than the company can meet with its current workforce.
Mathis has put forward a bipartisan message and doesn't play up her party affiliation on her campaign website. She didn't even mention being a Democrat in this video paid for by the Iowa Democratic Party. Golding co-chairs the Linn County Republicans, but I was intrigued to see her distance herself from the state GOP. Dorman writes,
And she's critical of the "help" she's getting from the Republican Party of Iowa. Golding said she convinced the party to pull a TV ad comparing her Democratic opponent, Liz Mathis, to our "celebrity" president. She cringed when I mentioned it. Still, I noted this convincing came after the ad had run for quite a while.
"If it were me, we wouldn't even be doing television. This is a local campaign," Golding said.
I have not been able to find that commercial online. For whatever reason, the Iowa GOP didn't put the video on its YouTube channel. The ad doesn't mention Mathis by name but asserts that we don't need another celebrity politician like Barack Obama. As Dorman points out, the spot was in rotation for some time, so I wonder whether Golding had it pulled or whether the ad buy simply reached its natural end. Few campaign commercials run on television for more than a couple of weeks.
Any comments about the Senate district 18 campaign are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa is also working on GOTV in Senate district 18. From a recent blog post:
With two weeks until the election, One Iowa supporters are stepping up and answering the call to action to make sure that the pro-equality voice is heard in SD 18. To date, our incredible volunteers have had over 1,200 conversations, have identified 700 new pro-equality voters, and have collected over 180 early votes in SD 18. Their efforts will make the difference in this election.
University of Northern Iowa has ramped up their efforts on campus to turn out voters, have been recruiting new volunteers and supporters and have been active on Facebook to help us get the word out. So far, they have had 4 phone banks and have had over 500 calls, and have identified nearly 300 new supporters! Way to go!