Faculty Publications

Voters And The Limits Of Gubernatorial Power: The Case Of Iowa

Document Type

Book Chapter

Journal/Book/Conference Title

The American Governor: Power, Constraint, and Leadership in the States

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Election night in Iowa on November 7, 2006, was historic for many reasons. Chet Culver, the sitting secretary of state, defeated 16-year Congressman Jim Nussle by nearly 10 percentage points. Not only was the margin of victory significant, but the 2006 election would usher in unified Democratic control of state government in Iowa for the first time in 42 years. The outcome of the 2006 election in Iowa would be completely reversed, however, just four years later. On November 2, 2010, Chet Culver would become just the second incumbent Iowa governor in 50 years to lose his reelection bid, falling to former governor Terry Branstad by 9.7 percentage points. Not since 1962, when Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes, had a similar fate befallen a sitting governor. Forty-eight years between incumbent defeats is even more telling considering that only five different people served as governor during that time.1 In the 30 years from 1969 to 1999, Iowa elected just two individuals to the office of governor, both Republicans, with Robert Ray serving for 5 terms and 14 years from 1969–1983, followed by 4 terms and 16 years for Terry Branstad from 1983–1999.2 Remarkably, the average margin of victory across those nine elections was 12.5 percentage points. Democrat Tom Vilsack then served as Iowa’s governor from 1999–2007 but voluntarily stepped down after two terms. Based on approval ratings approaching 70 percent in his last year in office (Beaumont 2009), Vilsack’s prospects for reelection would have been quite high.


Department of Political Science

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DOI of published version