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What do big Republican wins in Iowa mean?


DES MOINES, Iowa — While Iowa Republicans scored big wins on election night and the GOP is poised to dominate the state's congressional delegation, leaders from both parties say the traditionally purple state is unlikely to turn permanently red.

Republican Joni Ernst easily won the competitive Senate race against Democrat Bruce Braley on Tuesday. Incumbent Republican Gov. Terry Branstad coasted to victory over a Democratic lawmaker. And Republicans won three of the state's four congressional seats, as voters expressed dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and the gridlock that has dominated Washington, D.C., politics.

"I think it was a good Republican year. I think Republicans who positioned themselves to take advantage of it won," said Branstad adviser Jeffrey Boeyink. But he said Iowa is still a political swing state, noting: "I think Iowa's a purple state. I'm not going to suggest we're any more Republican than we were in the past."

For years, Iowa has prided itself on a politically divided political landscape, boasting a congressional delegation evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Now, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, who was re-elected in the 2nd District in southeast Iowa, will be the lone Iowa Democrat in Congress.

Republicans benefited from general ill will toward the White House, but also from an aggressive organizational push in Iowa over the past year. Branstad led an effort to attract new party activists, install new leadership at the state GOP and improve fundraising and voter outreach programs. Republicans saw a substantial increase in early voting in 2014 and leaders say they are better positioned for the 2016 presidential contests.

"We took a big step in the right direction," said Will Rogers, chairman of the Republican Party of Polk County, though he said the party needs to continue to work on the ground game and outreach.

One bright spot for Democrats was that they retained control in the Iowa Senate by a narrow margin. Republicans expanded their majority in the state House, meaning the parties will have to continue to world collaboratively in a divided state legislature.

"Our message of working across party lines to solve problems for the state of Iowa worked pretty well," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs.

Looking to the future, Democrats said they think they can make up some ground in 2016, a presidential election year, which typically favor Democratic candidates.

"I don't feel like there has been a big swing," said former Iowa Democratic Party chair Tyler Olson. "It's a totally different group of people that show up in presidential years."

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