DES MOINES (AP) — If 2008 was an election about hope and change, the 2012 vote in Iowa was a call for more of the same.
Bitterly divided but unwilling to risk much change, Iowans narrowly decided Tuesday to give President Barack Obama another term, send two Democratic and two Republican incumbents back to Congress and keep a closely divided state Legislature.
In the process, Iowa voters dealt victories and setbacks to both political parties.
While Obama’s victory in Iowa and re-election was huge for Democrats in the state credited with launching him into the White House, the party was dealt a bitter blow when former First Lady Christie Vilsack lost her bid to unseat GOP Rep. Steve King of Kiron. Races for the Legislature were still being counted early Wednesday, but the Republican Party’s bid to win control of the Iowa Senate — and call all the shots in Des Moines — appeared to be in doubt.
After millions of dollars in political ads, an all-out campaign by Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, for the state’s six electoral votes and intense campaigns for control of state and federal legislative seats, Iowa voters decided to mostly keep the government they already have.
They were more split on Obama than they were four years ago, when he carried the state by nearly 10 points over Sen. John McCain. Instead, the president stitched together a winning coalition of reliably Democratic constituencies to get slightly more than 50 percent of the vote. His campaign’s impressive turnout operation, which helped Iowa set a record for early voting and erased a GOP advantage in voter registration, also made a difference.
In newly drawn congressional districts, two Democratic incumbents — Reps. Bruce Braley of Waterloo and Dave Loebsack of Iowa City — and two Republican incumbents — King and Rep. Tom Latham — will return to Washington.
Voters ended the long career of Boswell, who had served in the House for eight terms, but only because they had to bounce someone. Latham, a 9-term veteran, and Boswell were placed in the same district because of redistricting. Democrats are likely to grumble about Boswell, 78, not retiring sooner to allow another Democrat to run — particularly if Latham now controls the Des Moines-based district for years.
Voters in northwestern Iowa passed up the chance to make history in electing Vilsack as Iowa’s first woman in Congress. She simply failed to win over enough Republicans in the GOP-leaning district that she moved to Ames to seek. That means King, one of the most polarizing figures in the House, will continue to be an outspoken national figure representing the far-right of his party, a prospect that will be difficult for Democrats to stomach and that some Republicans love.
Iowans also declined to send younger, more conservative lawyers to the U.S. House, handing Braley and Loebsack their fourth terms while rejecting their Republican challengers, Ben Lange, 33, and John Archer, 40. The victory for Braley cements his status as a Democratic party leader who could one day run for governor or the U.S. Senate.
While the outcome of the Iowa Senate remains in doubt, Republicans had not picked up the two seats they needed to win a majority as of early Wednesday, with votes still being counted in several races. They had hoped for a clear victory that would give them a mandate for economic and socially conservative policies that would put their stamp on state government, while Democrats worked overtime to avoid that possibility.
The state’s economy, with an agricultural sector that has been strong in recent years, relatively low unemployment and a budget surplus, played a role in the outcome. About half of Iowa voters who were surveyed in an exit poll said the economy was the top issue facing the nation — and they were divided between whether the economy is getting better, worse or staying the same. They were also split on what was most worrisome: taxes, unemployment or rising prices.
Many voters interviewed gave Obama credit for slow but steady improvements to an economy that was hemorrhaging jobs when he walked into the White House.