Although the red tidal wave that was supposed to wash over America did not muster much gusto, it certainly lapped over us. Republicans swept Iowa in Tuesday’s midterm elections, and have little holding them back from driving the state farther right. Voters anxious over inflation and rising interest rates chose lower taxes and less government spending, tighter reins on what’s taught in school, and almost without doubt a ban on abortion.
Control of Congress remains to be determined as this is written the morning after. Republicans will not enjoy huge gains in the U.S. House, and control of the U.S. Senate is up in the air. Election denier Kari Lake (a former Iowan) trailed in her Republican bid for Arizona governor, and Democrat Mark Kelly held his senate seat there. Pennsylvania trended Democrat. Georgia is a toss-up between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker. It is a mixed picture nationally.
Not so here. Democrat Mike Franken, who had been making a tight race of it with Sen. Chuck Grassley just three weeks ago, lost by 12 percentage points — the same spread of the final Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa Poll last weekend. Despite his rural roots, Franken was trounced in Northwest Iowa and Buena Vista County. Independents who did not know who he was swung late and hard to the familiar Republican Grassley, first elected to the Senate in 1980. Let the parlor game begin trying to guess when Grassley, 89, retires and leaves the choice of his successor to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Reynolds’s re-election never was in doubt. That was clear when leading Democrats like Rob Sand and JD Scholten checked in with the big players and found there was no interest in throwing their money to the wind. Deidre DeJear, who earlier ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, conducted a weak and under-funded campaign whose fate was sealed.
The Iowa Legislature will remain firmly in GOP control. We welcome Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, as our new state senator, and Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, as our new representative. They’re friendly, accessible, strong proponents for rural schools, and of course for lower taxes and less regulation. We are sure they will look out for Buena Vista County in Des Moines. Thanks to Jim Eliason of Storm Lake for running for the House as a Democrat, a quixotic quest as the results showed.
The Democratic opposition in Iowa is all but dead. Reynolds said she intends to push a conservative agenda that includes vouchers for private schools, restrictions on abortion and tax cuts. The governor is perfectly positioned on the national stage as the 2024 presidential nomination process begins in Iowa. Democrats will not pay attention to Iowa, and again will overlook rural concerns, as Reynolds and the legislature get to work.
“Our message for you tonight is this: We are not stopping. We are not slowing down,” Reynolds said at her victory rally.
Iowans strongly approved of a constitutional amendment enhancing gun rights beyond the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. In Buena Vista County, the amendment drew 78% support. Abortion was reported in exit polls to be the second-most important issue to voters nationally, next to inflation; in Iowa, support for abortion rights was not at all apparent in the congressional or statehouse election results. The main message we got from the Grassley campaign ads was that Franken should move to California and “leave us alone.” That was the voter sentiment: just leave us alone. We’re not sure that’s a constructive agenda, but it is where Iowa is at. And, if you think government will leave you alone to make your own choices, think again.
We will miss our friend State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, who lost to Republican Roby Smith. Fitzgerald was a big backer of Storm Lake’s Vision Iowa project and always a candid and engaging official. He wore out his welcome after 40 years. So did Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat who lost to Brenna Bird. Miller was not much of a counterweight to the governor lately. State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, held onto a tenuous lead Wednesday with some votes to be recounted.
It also is worth noting that Sarah Trone Garriot defeated Senate President Jake Chapman in the Des Moines suburbs. Chapman tried to make arrogance a virtue, and voters rightly told him to take a hike. That’s at least one result Iowa Democrats can savor.
The election was clean and clear. There was no rigging. Things ran smoothly across Iowa. You can have confidence that your vote is counted accurately. Our thanks to the election workers who cheerfully steered us along. Democracy worked across America, delivering its mixed and complicated message that will guide us immediately back into 2024 campaign mode as the Iowa Caucuses rev up.