A year after they took a thumping at the polls, Iowa Democrats were cheered Wednesday by a handful of election wins that have, at the least, lifted their spirits a year out from the 2012 presidential election.
Republicans and Democrats clashed over the meaning of some of the country’s high profile contests Tuesday, as well as a legislative race in the Cedar Rapids area that saw Democrat Liz Mathis score a victory, keeping control of the state Senate in Democratic hands.
“The one thing that I see is that voters sent a pretty strong message that they want to get beyond these ideological agendas,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Instead, he said, they want a focus on jobs.
Some of the highest profile votes Tuesday night came in Ohio, where voters approved a measure overturning a state law limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers. The vote was seen as a big win for labor and the Democrats in what will be an important swing state next year.
Meanwhile Mississippi voters rejected a proposal to define a fertilized egg as a person. And an Arizona lawmaker and aggressive immigration critic was recalled there.
It’s difficult to define the ingredients of any electoral verdict, let alone out of a handful of selected contests across the country. However, Democrats were eager to declare a broad victory, even as Republicans argued against any rendering of a verdict on policies they’ve sought to put in place since winning the midterms last year.
The lesson in Ohio, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters, is that “in an industrial state like Ohio, unions still have a great deal of power.” Particularly when they’re aided by national organizations, he added.
As for Mathis’ win in a state Senate district with two Republican house members, he chalked it up to strong name identification. Mathis worked for more than 25 years as a television anchor and reporter Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.
The Senate district, the 18th, encompassed an area in Linn County, which included Marion.
“Good name I.D. gets you elected,” Grassley said.
Sue Dvorsky, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Mathis focused on education and other bread and butter issues in contrast to a more ideological agenda Republicans have pursued since last year. And while Dvorsky shied away from drawing big picture implications from the win, she did say the election was a chance for the party and its allies to put its organization to work in an election that clearly mattered.
Had Republican Cindy Golding won, the Senate would have been deadlocked between the two parties at 25 each. The election gained statewide and national attention because of the potential implications for same-sex marriage, which was legalized in 2009.
Democratic control of the state Senate has blocked attempts to bring the issue to a public vote.
“It’s been a great opportunity to get our field organization up and moving” while working with its partners, Dvorsky said, “all the things we’re going to have to do next year.”
Harkin said he thought voters were rejecting the idea that the same-sex marriage issue should continue to be litigated in the state. “Voters are saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore,’” he said.
Republicans, meanwhile, pointed out Republican wins across the country.
Like Grassley, Eric Woolson, a longtime Republican strategist, chalked up the win to the fact people know and like Mathis.
“It’s an indication that the Democrats did work very hard to win that district, but they probably had the perfect candidate,” he said.
Republicans were not without wins. They scored big victories in Virginia, a state that Obama won in 2008 but has seen GOP wins since. In addition, a ballot measure in Ohio sold by conservatives as a non-binding referendum on the federal health care reform law also was won by critics of the law. That vote, though, was much less publicized outside the state and drew far less spending.
Woolson said he saw a common thread between the election this year and last in that voters are showing their impatience.
With the economy and jobs topping the polls of voter concerns, it’s an impatience that will be catered to right up until a year from now.
Voters “want results,” Woolson said. “They want to see things done.”