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Hanson bests Burgmeier in HD90
Democrat Curt Hanson has defeated Republican Stephen Burgmeier by 107 votes in Iowa House District 90, according to unofficial results released by the Iowa Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night.
Hanson will replace former state Rep. John Whitaker (D-Hillsboro), who was appointed to a position with the USDA. The balance of power in Iowa’s lower legislative chamber remains unchanged, with Democrats holding on to a somewhat volatile 56-44 majority.
Tuesday’s turnout was low compared to recent presidential elections but high for a special election, with 8,046 voters casting ballots in the district, which spans Jefferson County and parts of Wapello and Van Buren counties.
The race, which lasted just over one month, focused less on issues of local importance and more on trivia.
Both campaigns released television advertisements featuring cartoons.
The National Organization for Marriage bought more than $80,000 in ads to support Burgmeier, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage rights. Two other groups — Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa Family Policy Center — seemed to play a central role in the Republican’s campaign, which spent more time criticizing Gov. Chet Culver and Democratic bigwigs than talking about Hanson.
For his part, Hanson received less help from third-party groups, but he enjoyed the undivided attention of the Democrats’ statewide organization. Party volunteers descended on the district from across the state, and surrogates — including U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin — made appearances on his behalf.
Iowa Democratic Party Chair Michael Kiernan was quick to release a statement after the results were in. “Democrats have been successful in the last two election cycles and tonight because we have recruited great candidates, followed through on the promises we’ve made and are governing the state responsibly,” he said.
Republicans downplayed the result, implying that they never should have won the race anyway. “While we are disappointed, the fact that Republicans nearly won a solid Culver-Obama legislative district shows that Iowans are not pleased with the status quo and one-party rule in Des Moines,” said party chair Matt Strawn.
House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) sounded a similar note in his statement. “While we’re disappointed in the outcome of this race, it is not a surprise,” he said.
Hanson’s path to victory
In an election this close, almost any single factor could have made the difference.
Hanson built his margin of victory with absentee ballots and strong support in Jefferson County, where both he and Burgmeier live.
Of all 8,046 ballots cast, 4,805 came from Jefferson County. Hanson’s roughly 600-vote margin there was too much for Burgmeier to overcome, even after winning the more rural parts of Van Buren and Wapello counties that fall within the district.
For a race that was supposed to be decided by turnout alone, both sides exceeded expectations. It is even possible that the Burgmeier campaign met its internal vote goal, only to find that its turnout projection was too low. (Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why he had [some] volunteers waving at cars on election day rather than making phone calls or knocking on doors…)
Hanson banked a lot of votes early, allowing his campaign to focus its time and resources on a narrowing universe of voters, maximizing efficiency.
It was a textbook Iowa Democratic campaign, designed to push Hanson across the goal line with little fanfare and a lot of direct contact with voters. And it worked.