After years in television, Liz Mathis didn't let a few urging voters to question her about "what homosexual sex acts she endorses" ruin her day.
That could be because the former news anchor from Robins knew she had the crucial District 18 special election for a state senate seat locked up. The win in one of the most expensive Iowa state elections ever allows Democrats to keep its majority in the senate and hold back pushes to ban gay marriage and other controversial measures.
“Tonight I want to thank the voters of Senate District 18,” Mathis said in a statement after a convincing win to claim the vacant District 18 seat. "And I also want to thank the organizations that represent equal rights for all in the state of Iowa."
Mathis, a former television anchor for KCRG-TV9 who currently works as chief information officer for the Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit Four Oaks, was making her first run for office. She defeated Cindy Golding, a businesswoman from rural Cedar Rapids, by an unnofficial 56 percent to 44 percent margin in Tuesday's election.
The Golding campaign did not immediately return messages seeking comment, but Golding told KCRG-TV, "I think people are energized and I would hope people who participated in this process will continue because we definately need a change in Des Moines. If we dont' get it it will be more of the same."
The campaign for District 18, a blended urban and rural district which includes part of Cedar Rapids in Eastern Iowa, has been much more than a local election, even if candidates have t. The race has received state and national media attention and nearly $1 million has flowed into the district.
Same-sex marriage, labor rights, abortion regulations, nuclear energy and pubilc pre-school all potentially hung in the balance.
In Iowa, the Democrat-led Senate has been able to block Republicans from debating hot button issues and getting them before Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
Branstad has denied he set the wheels in motion for this contest for political reasons. Branstad appointed Democrat Swati Dandekar to a lucrative post on the Iowa Utilities Board, and when she resigned it left Democrats with a 25-24 majority and created the potential for Republicans to draw even in the Iowa Senate.
With Mathis' win, Democrats regain their 26-24 majority.
Tim Hagle, University of Iowa associate professor of Political Science, said the results of the race may mean that the issue of same-sex marriage, which has been made a focus of the campaign and inspired some of the fundraising, isn't salient enough for residents to come out in droves to ban it.
"It might mean that even though a lot of folks in Iowa would still like to have had a chance to vote on the issue, they aren't making it a priority," said Hagle.
Mathis didn't really offer much hope to Republicans frustrated that their issues have been blocked in the senate.
"If they have a problem with the majority, then we have to work together," she said.
Mathis accumulated 13,184 votes, unofficially pending the canvass of votes, in winning the race. Golding brought in 10,283, and Constitution Party candidate Jon Tack garnered 151 votes. The vote is not official until the canvass, which is scheduled to be complete by Thursday at the earliest.
The election in this independent-heavy district could also foreshadow the political tide heading into the 2012 presidential election. There are slightly more registered Republicans than Democrats, but more registered independents than either.
"The size of the vote difference is certainly big, bigger than I would have expected, but a lot more money came into the race for Mathis and she certainly had much higher name recognition. That name recognition is even more important than usual given the short time frame for the race," Hagle said.
Hagle said the victory may have negative repercussions on the Democrats for the 2012 legislative elections. If Mathis helps stop more bills from moving to the floor for debate, this may re-energize Republicans, who can not only point to a Democratic caucus killing many bills, but also blame Democrat if the economy continues to falter.
Democrat Party Chair Sue Dvorsky, expectedly, disagreed with Hagle's take about what the win means.
"The voters of 18 had a great candidate with a great message," she told Patch. "But, the big picture is that Iowans are not interested in one party extremist agenda focused on divisive social issues at the expense of schools, elderly, civil rights, women's rights and protection of elderly and disabled."
Combined, nearly $1 million was raised for the election, according to the most recent financial disclosure. Mathis raised $690,036 and Golding reported $250,325. For some residents, all that money equated to three or so mailings per day, political ads some residents say run at least once an hour, several billboards and hundreds of yard signs.
Despite gathering way more money than a typical state-senate election, Golding and Mathis, focused on local issues, to the point of nearly ignoring the state-wide issues that their high level of funding may be resulting from.
"It was more personal issues," said Mathis, referring to the priorities of the residents she spoke to. "They wanted to know about health care for their elederly parents or how will their kids get jobs when they graduate."