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Parties focus on special election for Senate seat

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 11:07 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa Republicans hoping to recapture a majority in the state Senate next year must first hang on to a seat that is up for grabs this week in a special election.

Voters on Tuesday will decide who should represent Senate District 13, located south of Des Moines. The race pits Republican Rep. Julian Garret against Mark Davitt, a Democrat who previously served six years in the Iowa House, but lost his seat in 2008.

The Senate seat was vacated when former Sen. Kent Sorenson, a Republican from Milo, resigned last month after an independent investigator concluded he likely broke ethics rules in receiving money from presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s political action committee and presidential campaign. Sorenson has said his resignation wasn’t an admission of wrongdoing.

The outcome of the election will not impact the control of the Senate, where Democrats hold 26 of the 50 seats. But Republicans badly want to keep the seat as they look ahead to the 2014 elections, when they will try to recapture the majority.

GOP Party Chairman AJ Spiker said he thinks they are going into Tuesday with an edge.

“It’s a Republican seat. It’s a seat we have held and a seat we need to hold. We want to be able to win the majority next year. It’s important to building to your 26 votes in the Senate,” Spiker said.

According to registration data, there are 14,364 registered Republicans and 12,570 registered Democrats, though there are another 14,697 with no party affiliation, according the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

So far, more Republicans have sought early or absentee ballots. The Secretary of State’s office lists 1,407 Republicans, 850 Democrats and with 229 no party signed up to vote absentee or early.

Still, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan said Sorenson’s alleged ethical violations might sour some voters on another Republican candidate.

“It’s important to remember that this special election was caused by Kent Sorenson’s unethical and corrupt political doings, and voters will remember this going into the polls on Tuesday. Democrats like Mark Davitt will fight to reestablish the integrity and honor of representing the people of District 13,” Brennan said in a statement.

Garrett said the problems behind Sorenson’s exit from office probably won’t mean much in the election.

“One reason that hasn’t been an issue, I’ve been in the House for the past few years and people know me and know I adhere to the highest ethical standards,” he said.

Garrett, 73, is serving his second term in the House. He said he’s campaigning as a fiscal conservative who has supported tax cuts and budget efficiencies during his time in office. He also says he supports further restrictions on abortion and defining marriage as between a man and a woman, though those issues have not been taken up in the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Garrett, who runs a farm south of Indianola, said he chose to run because the GOP needs to keep this seat.

“One of the reasons I’m running for the Senate, because we’re in the majority the House, and minority in the Senate, I’ve seen bill after bill in the area of family values and the second amendment, there are a number of issues they’ve passed in the House, they don’t even take up in the senate,” Garrett said. “If we take control of the Senate, we can’t afford to lose control of this seat.”

Davitt, 61, said he wants to focus on economic development and programs that will help small businesses and promote job creation. The professional photographer said he is personally opposed to abortion, but would take any votes on the issue on a case-by-case basis. On gay marriage, he said the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled in favor of legalizing gay marriage in Iowa and he doesn’t see a reason for the state to re-open that issue.

Davitt said he thinks voters in the district are ready for new leadership focused on helping people with basic needs.

“If people are working and can get their kids to an educational opportunity, we solve a lot of problems right there,” Davitt said.

Both candidates will be out stumping this weekend with support from other party leaders. Davitt will have Brennan knocking on doors, and Spiker said Sen. Charles Grassley will help with getting out votes for Garrett.

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