Republicans eked out an upset in a battle of Dubuquers tonight, wresting control of Northeast Iowa’s open U.S. House seat from Democrats in a late-night nail-biter.
With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic state lawmaker Pat Murphy conceded to Republican businessman Rod Blum, who rode a wave of GOP support that retook control of the U.S. Senate, gained three of the state’s four congressional seats and re-elected a Republican incumbent governor to a historic sixth term.
“I want to work very hard on getting this economy booming again and having the private sector create more jobs, and get household incomes up,” Blum said. “We need to get wages going up again. Iowans have said resoundingly we need a change of direction. The comment I hear often is the country is off the rails ... and I think we can do better.”
After 25 years in state politics, Murphy said he has no plans to run for office again.
“People of the First District have decided they want to go in a different direction,” Murphy told supporters in Dubuque. “I have no regrets.”
Democrat Bruce Braley chose to vacate the seat to run for U.S. Senate, seeking to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Blum, co-owner of a software company, led Murphy by about 6,500 votes with precincts still to report as of 11:30 p.m. in the left-leaning district where Democrats struggled to gain a foothold in the midterm election.
Blum vowed he “will work every minute, every hour, every day” to give Iowa families a shot at the American dream by reducing “out-of-control” regulations by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency that curb job growth and economic expansion.
“I also want to see us reform the business tax code and eliminate crony capitalism and corporate welfare,” he said. “We need balance budget by looking at money flowing to big corporations and wealthy individuals who do not need our tax dollars.”
Ahead in September, Murphy found himself closely trailing Blum in the polls a week out from the election.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made a $600,000 purchase of TV airtime in the Cedar Rapids market mid-October, making a late investment to save a seat Democrats were confident in retaining.
President Barack Obama won the district in 2012, and Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the district with 22,300 more active registered voters, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.
A Blum win was a major upset, but not surprising given Republican Joni Ernst’s defeat of Braley. Loras College Poll Director Christopher Budzisz said it was hard to envision the First District not going for Blum in that scenario.
“Pat Murphy found himself going up against a much larger Republican trend in the state, and he fell victim to that,” Budzisz said.
Blum and Murphy duked it out in dueling TV attack ads, with Murphy criticizing Blum’s business practices and Blum painting Murphy as an angry career politician, running footage of Murphy shouting on the floor of the Iowa House during a labor dispute in 2011 while Murphy was speaker.
Democrats shot back referencing guest opinion pieces Blum wrote for the Telegraph Herald about gradually raising the retirement age for Social Security, allowing younger Americans to opt into personal retirement accounts, changing the formula used to determine the rate of cost-of-living adjustments and Medicare becoming a voucher system.
Blum relied on a star-studded slate of potential Republican presidential candidates criss-crossing Northeast Iowa to lend support to his campaign to wrest Braley’s seat from Democrats.
The GOP star power led to a surge in volunteer support and increased early voting from party members weeks ahead of the election.
“The enthusiasm gap clearly was present in the First District,” Budzisz said. “Republicans were fired up — there’s no doubt about that. And Blum ran an effective campaign. He had an active presence in all parts of the district. Murphy wasn’t as active. And part of politics is timing. The timing wasn’t there for Murphy.”