Clue to a mystery in Iowa House district 7?

Republicans made huge gains in the Iowa House on November 2, defeating 13 Democratic incumbents and winning four Democratic-held open seats. Republicans fell just short in several other House races, and one that puzzled me was in district 7, covering Emmet and Palo Alto Counties and part of Kossuth in north-central Iowa.

Democrat Marcella Frevert retired after representing the district for 14 years in the Iowa House. The district leans a bit Democratic in voter registration, but open seats tend to be harder for parties to hold than districts where they have established incumbents. Clearly district 7 was winnable for the GOP; the certified results put Democrat John Wittneben just 32 votes ahead of Republican Lannie Miller.

For some reason, the Iowa GOP and allied groups didn’t invest nearly as much in Miller’s campaign as in other House Republican candidates. But why?

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Iowa House and Senate results nearly final

County auditors have been certifying election results this week, and the Iowa House is almost certain to be split 60-40 in favor of Republicans. Three seats were determined by extremely narrow margins. Democrat Donovan Olson does not plan to seek a recount in House district 48, where he trails Chip Baltimore by fewer than 30 votes. Republican Roger Arthur does not plan to seek a recount in House district 18, where he finished 36 votes behind Andrew Wenthe. Republican Lannie Miller has not decided whether to ask for a recount in House district 7, but John Wittneben’s margin of 32 votes is unlikely to be overturned in a recount.

The Iowa Senate is headed for a 26-24 Democratic majority. Certified election results put Democrat Keith Kreiman 12 votes behind Mark Chelgren in Senate district 47, while Democrat Tod Bowman is 71 votes ahead of Andrew Naeve in Senate district 13. If I were Kreiman, I would ask for a recount to be sure, but even a tiny margin of 12 votes (0.06 percent of the votes cast in that Senate race) probably wouldn’t be reversed.

Jennifer Jacobs reported in the Des Moines Register,

Election results show that voters angry about the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay-marriage ruling played a role in defeating Kreiman.

In 2006, Kreiman won 71 percent of the votes in his home county, Davis County. This year, 774 more Davis County residents voted on judicial retention than in 2006.

Davis County was one of seven counties where the anti-retention vote was above 70 percent.

I suspect Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ strong Congressional campaign played at least an equally important role in Chelgren’s win. Senate district 47 includes Miller-Meeks’ home base, the Ottumwa area, and she worked extremely hard all year.

Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley tried to psych out Democrats this week by saying he has “thought about” trying to convince state senators to switch to the GOP: “I think there are individuals that we know that clearly were put in tough situations over the past two or three years and might be more prone to that, but we thought about it. We’ll analyze where we are and proceed accordingly.”

Two Democrats flipping together could give Republicans a majority in the upper chamber, but I very much doubt that will happen. The moderate Democrats in the Senate caucus have more pull with Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal than they would as junior members of a Republican majority. Also, it’s not as if McKinley could promise party-switchers a smooth ride to re-election. U.S. Representative Parker Griffith of Alabama got crushed in a GOP primary this year after deserting the Democratic Party. An incumbent in a vulnerable Iowa Senate seat would not survive a Republican primary after voting for I-JOBS and all four of Chet Culver’s budgets.

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First take on the Iowa House and Senate results (updated)

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.

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