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News Analysis: Oct. 16, 2008 - Local Elections, Voter Turnout, and the Smoking Ban

posted on October 17, 2008 at 7:12 PM

Janeane Beck of Iowa Public Radio discusses State Congressional Races, Voter Turnout, and the Smoking Ban.

Yeager: Hello and welcome to The Iowa Journal. Much of the world has spent this week sorting through the remains of a shaken global financial system.  In Des Moines, the week has been a celebration of efforts to expand the world's food and agriculture systems.  The World Food Prize which was awarded earlier this evening helps to refocus public attention from financial markets to the necessities of life.  Of course in the background is a national political campaign.  By some accounts the presidential race may be coloring the outcomes of more local elections.  Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio is following these matters.  Jeneane, let's first talk about the congressional races, there's five.  They all look interesting but one really looks to be one that is gaining some attention.  Which one is that and why is that?

Beck: Well, the race between incumbent Congressman Tom Latham, a republican and democratic challenger Becky Greenwald.  Suddenly you're seeing advertising up on television by Congressman Latham, he had done some advertising earlier as well, but I think you're seeing a little bit more of that, some concern on his part that if Obama would win Iowa heavily could there be enough coattails to bring Becky Greenwald in as it helped knock out Jim Leach and bring in Congressman Loebsack in the first district a couple of years ago.  So, I think there is some awareness on his part that this is a tougher challenge than in the past but it's a pretty safe seat for him in the sense that he's held it for a while, he has been redistricted but he's fairly well known in that area so I think it's a toss up.

Yeager: Early voter registration has been very huge in especially college towns.  Iowa State is in his district.  That has been one thing that has knocked out previous incumbents before.  There was a report that the RNC has pulled money from other races to focus it on the Latham race.  Does that signal that that seat might be in trouble?

Beck: Well, obviously if they are pouring some extra money into it they are showing some concern there and I'm sure Becky Greenwald is thrilled and hopes that the Democratic Party then also sees that as an opportunity and gives her some extra financial support.  You mentioned college campuses.  Howard Dean, a democratic party chair, was in the state saying they would like to turn out 20% to 30% of voters before November 4th, before Election Day and on college campuses you're seeing long lines and early turnout at these satellite voting operations and there has been a drop this year in absentee ballots as people turn to satellite voting.  And I talked to the Obama campaign, their Iowa campaign and said why?  They said, well we admit that's our strategy but we won't tell you why until November.  So, I asked the Secretary of State's office if they had any insight and they said, well, it's very expensive to do absentee ballots because as I found four years ago I went out with somebody who had to take the ballot out, the person had to go maybe get it by mail and then they had to go pick it up.  It takes a lot of work on the ground, a lot of ground, a lot of legwork where as if they request a satellite voting operation they can make phone calls, hey have you gone to vote.  They can do door knocking, hey have you gone to vote.  It is not as labor intensive as absentee ballots.

Yeager: And some of those races, we can get into that in a moment, but we're just a few feet away from both the House and Senate chambers.  Do we see any switch in this excited voter electorate that they're going to be turning out in heavy races and maybe changing the makeup of either the House or the Senate in Iowa?

Beck: It doesn't appear like the make up will change.  Democrats control both chambers.  They will most likely control both chambers.  The House is more in play because there are fewer seats up for grabs and republicans feel like the democrats overspent the last session and that some votes on labor laws make them vulnerable, also the smoking issue in some districts.  There are angry bar and restaurant owners who say they promise to make that an issue at the voting booth.  But it doesn't look as if, especially if Obama carries this state, that republicans will take back control of either the Senate or the House.  One thing that will be interesting is to see if all these college students who are headed into the polls, and most of them say they're voting for Barack Obama, if they vote straight party ticket that helps the democrats down the ballot and those legislative candidates.  However, if they walk in and they don't know those local races, that may be not their home community and they vote just at the presidential race then there's no coattails.

Yeager: Right, that kind of throws out any of the logic of well if the democrats register so many they're going to clean house everywhere.  We talk about a couple of issues, it's the economy really has been the issue throughout the state.  But there's a couple of lawmakers or potential lawmakers, people who want to be, who are running strictly on that smoking issue.  There has been some more talk about that this week.  What has been going on with that?

Beck: Well, the Department of Public Health just recommended some changes to the rules that govern that law.  And one of those would be that people could call in anonymously to say that there has been a smoking violation.  Now, even if that complaint is made it has to be checked out by local law enforcement so it isn't an automatic mark on their record.  However, there are some bar owners that are concerned that that could just be the competitor down the street trying to turn you in, the sheriff that doesn't like you.  They don't like that.  But there are other state departments that allow for anonymous complaints and think that that's a fundamental way to protect citizens, especially employees of bars that might want to turn their employer in.

Yeager: See how that goes.  Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio, thank you as always for stopping by. 

Beck: Thank you.


Tags: Congress elections Iowa news smoking


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