The red wave in Iowa


Tribune News Service

Iowa Auditor of State Rob Sand, will be the only Democrat at the state level. The red wave left many democrats disappointed in the state of Iowa.

DREW HILL, Opinion Columnist

*Disclaimer: The following opinion articles featured do not reflect the opinion of the Northern Iowan newspaper or staff as a whole.

Republicans had a huge win in Iowa as voters re-elected Governor Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley

Going into the midterm elections, many political pundits expected Republican gains across the nation. Some expected massive gains, or what some were calling a “Red Wave.” The main reason given was economic concerns, especially inflation. After a week of waiting for results, it seems that the Red Wave did not happen. The Senate will once again be controlled by the Democratic Party. With one runoff election remaining in Georgia, it is possible that the Democrats will actually gain a Senate seat. Republicans did narrowly win control of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, despite the lack of gains by Republicans around the country, there were some states in which Republicans did make massive gains, surpassing expectations. One of those was Iowa.

In Iowa, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Governor Kim Reynolds won reelection. According to the Associated Press’ election results, Grassley won all but five counties in the state of Iowa out of 99 counties.  Reynolds won all but four. That’s a percentage of nearly 96% of Iowa’s counties. The actual voting percentages included a 56.1% victory for Grassley, compared to 43.9% for his opponent.  Reynolds won 58.1% of the vote, compared to 39.5% for her Democratic challenger. That outperformed many polls’ expectations, such as FiveThirtyEight, which suggested on Nov. 8 that Grassley would win 51.8% and Reynolds would win 54.1%.

Other elections in Iowa also heavily favored Republicans. Republicans won all four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. For context, that had not happened since 1994. The other five statewide races saw Republicans win elections for the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer and Agriculture Secretary. The only statewide race Republicans did not win is for auditor, which is likely heading to a recount with the Democratic incumbent leading. The victories for Attorney General and Treasurer were over Democratic incumbents.

In state legislature races, Republicans gained even more control. According to Ballotpedia, Republicans already had a 32-18 majority in the Iowa Senate and a 60-40 majority in the Iowa House of Representatives. With six total races yet to be called, the New York Times elections results show Republicans won a 33-16 majority in the Iowa Senate and a 63-32 majority in the Iowa House of Representatives. All across the board, Iowan Republicans won big. Why did this occur in Iowa, when much of the country remained very balanced?

This “Red Wave” has not always been in effect in Iowa. Iowa was considered a swing state as recently as 2016. From 1999-2011, Democrats filled the Office of Governor. In both 2008 and 2012, former Democratic President Barack Obama won Iowa over Republican challengers. In 2018, three of Iowa’s four elected U.S. House of Representatives were Democrats.

According to an exit poll by NBC News, the top two issues for U.S. voters were inflation and abortion. Those who considered inflation to be the biggest issue tended to vote more for Republicans. Those who considered abortion to be the biggest issue tended to vote more for Democrats. Not as many abortions occur in Iowa as many other states. This suggests that perhaps less Iowans may have been as concerned by abortion since it did not have as much of a direct impact as inflation. On the other hand, a state like Pennsylvania, which according to the Kaiser Family Foundation had nearly ten times as many abortions as Iowa in 2019, may have been more concerned about abortion. Democrats in Pennsylvania won key races, such as Governor and Senator.

Gun policy was a third issue many voters were concerned about. According to the NBC exit poll, the majority of those concerned with this issue voted for Democrats. However, here in Iowa, another decision by the voters was to pass an election measure adding the right to bear arms to the Iowa Constitution and saying that restrictions on that right should be regarded with strict scrutiny. Over 65% of Iowa voters voted for this measure.

Two factors that may have had an impact that was not listed in the national NBC exit poll included the handling of COVID-19 and education. 

According to KCCI, a poll in September of 2021 showed that the majority of Iowans supported Reynolds’ COVID-19 policies, education policies and handling of the economy. Iowa had a faster economic recovery during COVID-19 than many other states, at least partly due to more freedom in Iowans’ personal health decisions. As many Democratic-led states used more heavy-handed approaches to COVID-19, Iowans may have preferred that increased freedom. Governor Reynolds also advocated for the legislature granting more transparency for parents about their children’s education. These factors may have led to Iowans favoring Republicans in this election.

After three straight elections of increasing their majority in the Iowa Legislatures, as well as the resounding results in this election in favor of Republicans, it seems likely Iowa will continue this transition from a swing state to a solidly Republican state to a decisively Republican state. Of course, that depends on those Republicans continuing to serve Iowans’ interests at the local, state and national levels.