A new poll finds a Democratic candidate running for Iowa State Senate has an six-point lead in a special election that could impact marriage equality in the Hawkeye State.
The numbers published Monday by Public Policy Polling reveal Democrat Liz Mathis leads Republican Cindy Golding by a margin of 52-46. In an election set for Tuesday, Mathis, a former news anchor for an Iowa TV station, and Golding, a businessperson, are competing to represent Iowa’s 18th district in the Iowa State Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow 25-24 majority.
The outcome of the election could have an impact on Iowa marriage equality because a Republican win would create a tie in a leadership and could take control of the chamber away from Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, who’s vowed that a state constitutional amendment overturning marriage equality won’t come up as long as he remains leader of the chamber.
The plan for Senate leadership if the special election results in a tie remains in question. During a previous tie in 2005 and 2006, Democrats and Republicans alternatively shared power in the Senate and a rule was put in place ensuring no legislation could come up without consent of both parties. But Republican Leader Paul McKinley has reportedly said he won’t agree to such a rule this time around.
Same-sex marriage in Iowa was instituted in 2009 by order of the state Supreme Court. In February, the Republican-controlled Iowa House passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, or even marriage-like unions. If Democrats lose control of the Senate, a vote could held in that chamber and move the amendment closer to ratification. The amendment would have to be approved twice by the State Legislature in different sessions before heading to voters.
According to PPP, Mathis’ lead suggests she’s “just a stronger candidate” than Golding because responders were split evenly, 44-44, on whether they’d rather have Democrats or Republicans controlling the State Senate. The poll finds Mathis is taking 16 percent of the vote away from Golding.
Additionally, although media reports have framed this election as being marriage equality, the polls suggest voters in the district don’t see it that way. A majority plan on voting for Mathis even though a plurality, 46 percent, say same-sex marriage should be illegal while 42 percent back marriage rights for gay couples. Only 11 percent of responders identified marriage as the most important factor for them, while other says it’s something else.
According to PPP, dissatisfaction with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad may be driving voters in the district to support the Democratic candidate. The poll found that 39 percent of voters approve of him, while 42 percent disapprove.
Dean Debnam, president of public policy polling, said the race is still close enough that it could “go either way” as he acknowledged Mathis currently holds the lead.
“It looks like Democrats will probably hold onto control of the Iowa State Senate and if that is the case it will be a reflection of dissatisfaction with Gov. Branstad,” Debnam said.
Troy Price, executive director of One Iowa, said the poll makes him “cautiously optimistic,” but maintained the only poll that matters is “the one that comes in tomorrow night” after the election.
“I think this poll shows that in spite of the best efforts by the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and the Family Leader, marriage equality and other social issues are not the deciding issues in the eyes of most voters,” Price said. “Rather, people want a candidate that will help bring our state together and meet our common challenges, like growing our economy and creating good jobs. That is what people are looking for in their next senator, and it appears that many voters have decided who that person is.”