By Lynn Campbell
A new poll, absentee ballots and fundraising numbers all point to Democrat Liz Mathis having the advantage going into Tuesday’s special election in Iowa Senate District 18.
But that didn’t stop Republicans and conservative groups from putting on a full-court press Monday, in an attempt to win the key seat that could alter control of the Iowa Senate.
“I think it’s an uphill battle for the Republicans to win that seat,” Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, said Monday at his weekly news conference. “The Democratic candidate is very well known, had been a TV anchor for a long period of time.”
Mathis, of Robins, leads Republican Cindy Golding of rural Cedar Rapids, 52 to 46 percent in the race for Iowa Senate District 18, according to a poll of 878 likely voters released Sunday by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling company in Raleigh, N.C. The survey, taken Friday through Sunday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
Democrats also continue to lead Republicans by nearly two-to-one in returning absentee ballots. As of Saturday afternoon, Democrats had cast 4,079 ballots or nearly 51 percent of the 8,068 ballots returned to the Linn County auditor’s office, while Republicans had cast 2,201 or 27 percent.
In addition, Mathis leads in fundraising. She reported raising $64,306 between Oct. 15 and Nov. 1, compared with Golding’s $42,038. Mathis also had four times as much campaign cash to spend in the final week leading up to Tuesday’s special election -- $58,630 compared with Golding's $14,641, according to reports filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
Branstad noted Monday that Democrats have outspent Republicans in this special election. He also said that while Golding “has a great background and great business experience and is a hard worker … I think she has a considerable name recognition disadvantage.”
Robo-calls went out Monday by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, to 35,000 voters in Iowa Senate District 18 in support of Golding. The calls were financed by the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, a political action committee which backs conservative candidates.
“With Cindy Golding in Des Moines, Republicans will wrestle control away from the big spending Democrats and put us one step closer to getting our fiscal house in order and most importantly to start getting Iowans working again,” Huckabee said in the call.
“With our economy struggling to get back on track, now more than ever America, and especially Iowa, needs a problem solver in government-- not another celebrity!”
Tuesday’s special election is key because a win by Golding would bring Republicans into a 25-25 tie with Democrats for control of the Iowa Senate. The special election was spurred by the resignation of Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Marion, after Branstad appointed her to the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates Iowa’s utilities.
Shared control of the Iowa Senate would increase the likelihood of having a debate and vote on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which is backed by Republicans. Iowa is one of six states where same-sex marriage is legal, along with New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.
The “Values Voters Bus Tour” organized by FRC Action, the nonprofit legislative action arm of the socially conservative Family Research Council which opposes gay marriage, on Monday made a stop in Marion, a city of about 33,213 residents that makes up about half of Iowa Senate District 18, to endorse Golding.
Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, was among those on the bus. NOM also joined earlier with The Family Leader, an Iowa nonprofit that also advocates against gay marriage, in sending fliers to Iowa Senate District 18 voters, saying that Mathis supports gay marriage, while Golding supports “traditional marriage” between a man and a woman.
But Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, the state’s largest gay-rights advocacy group, said despite the best efforts by social conservative groups in the Iowa Senate District 18 race, marriage equality and other social issues are not the deciding issues in the eyes of most voters.
“People want a candidate that will help bring our state together and meet our common challenges, like growing our economy and creating good jobs,” said Price, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” about Tuesday’s special election. “That is what people are looking for in their next senator, and it appears that many voters have decided who that person is.”
However, poll results showing a 6-point difference between Mathis and Golding in the days before the special election confirm that Iowa Senate District 18 continues to be politically competitive.
As of Nov. 1, the eastern Iowa district had 15,785 registered Democrats, 16,034 registered Republicans and 20,059 independents among 51,952 registered voters, according to the Iowa secretary of state’s office.