The special election that will determine control of the Iowa State Senate on Tuesday is close, but it looks like Democrats will probably hold serve. Democrat Liz Mathis leads Republican Cindy Golding 52-46 in our poll taken over the weekend.
The numbers suggest that Mathis is just a stronger candidate than Golding. Voters in the district are split right down the middle, 44/44, on whether they'd rather Democrats or Republicans had control of the State Senate. But Mathis is outrunning those numbers when it comes to how people are planning to vote on Tuesday. The big key for her is that she's taking 16% of the GOP vote from Golding, while losing only 9% of the Democratic vote. That helps her make up for a 50-45 deficit with independents.
This election has been framed to some extent as a battle over gay marriage, but our poll suggests voters aren't seeing it that way. They're planning to vote for Mathis even as 46% of them say gay marriage should be illegal, compared to just 42% who think it should be legal. Although voters in the district may oppose gay marriage, only 11% say that issue is the most important factor guiding their vote compared to 86% who say it's something else. It's also worth noting that 66% of voters do support either gay marriage or civil unions with only 30% opposed to all legal recognition for same sex couples.
If this election's not hinging on gay marriage, then what is making the difference here? Voters may be sending a message to Governor Terry Branstad. His approval rating in the district is only 39% with 42% disapproving of him. This special election is seen in some quarters as the product of a power grab by Branstad and if Mathis wins it could be indicative of an electorate that doesn't want to enhance his power.
One other interesting thing to note here is that Barack Obama's approval rating in the district is only 37% with 51% of voters disapproving of him, despite the fact that he won the district by a wide margin in 2008. On the one hand that obviously shows how far the President's popularity has fallen over the last three years. On the other hand it shows that Democrats can still win even in territory where Obama's numbers are bad enough to suggest he might be a problem for down ballot Dems.
This race is close enough that it could go the other way, but more than likely Democrats will retain control of the Iowa State Senate on Tuesday night.
Full results here