DES MOINES (AP) — Holding a lead in two of three too-close-to-call races Wednesday, Democrats appeared to have kept their narrow majority in the Iowa Senate and made gains in the Republican-led House.
The race in Senate District 30 appears to be settled, but Democratic incumbent Jeff Danielson from Waterloo is hesitant to claim victory, as hundreds of provisional ballots are not yet counted and absentee ballots could still be lingering.
Danielson holds a 616-vote lead among the more than 33,000 votes cast, and about 300 provisional ballots remain uncounted. Democratic leaders say that even if those are all for Republicans, Danielson will still win. His Republican challenger, Matt Reisetter of Cedar Falls, appeared to have conceded to his supporters late Tuesday.
Neither Reisetter nor Danielson immediately returned calls Wednesday.
By maintaining their majority in the Senate, Democrats are able to balance the power that Republicans hold with their control of the Governor's Office and Iowa House. The GOP fell short of its priority in Tuesday's election to capture two Senate seats, which would have allowed it to push through economic and social programs, including a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.
If nothing changes dramatically, Democrats hold 26 state Senate seats — the same as last year — and Republicans will have 24.
A few House seats also remained unresolved either because not all precincts have reported or because they're too close to call. It appears that Democrats gained seven seats, expanding their hold to 47 seats from 40. The Republican majority was narrowed to 53 seats from 60.
Absentee ballots postmarked on or before Monday can still be counted. They must arrive in the election officials' offices by noon Nov. 13. Provisional ballots, those cast by voters whose credentials couldn't be immediately verified at the polls, will be opened later this week and considered by precinct boards. It's unclear how many were cast this year, but in 2008, about 4,600 provisional ballots were considered statewide.
After provisional and absentees are added to Election Day and early voting totals, county auditors will present official counts to the county supervisors. They'll meet next week to review the totals and officially certify them. Candidates have until Nov. 19 to petition for a recount.
Tuesday's closest Senate race was in the northeast corner of Iowa, in District 28 where Republican Michael Breitbach leads Democrat John Beard by 37 votes out of more than 29,000.
Democrats are contemplating whether to seek a recount.
“We take a look at the outstanding absentee ballots, look at number of provisional ballots and make some estimate. We may or may not decide to do a recount there,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who was re-elected Tuesday.
The third seat in doubt is the only one in which two incumbents fought it out to remain in the Senate. The northwest Iowa seat, in the newly formed District 26, was occupied by Republican incumbent Steve Kettering, who chose not to run again. Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm leads Republican Merlin Bartz by 120 votes.
Bartz, a 14-year veteran of the Senate, said he's exploring options, including a recount.
Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that in choosing a divided government, Iowa voters sent a message that they expect elected officials to cooperate and compromise.
“The election is behind us, and the time to work together lies in front of us. I will work with both parties to ensure we don't squander this great responsibility Iowans have placed upon us,” he said in a statement.
One other Senate seat won't be resolved until a special election Dec. 11. Republican State Sen. Pat Ward of Clive died of breast cancer last month at the age of 55. Local GOP officials will nominate a candidate today to run for her seat, and that Republican will be pitted against Democrat Desmund Adams.
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