Iowa Democrats stunned, confused after Fred Hubbell loses, but others make big gains
Fred Hubbell speaks after losing the Governor's race to incumbent Kim Reynolds. Des Moines Register
Rosalie Gallagher held her face in the palms of her hands as she struggled to articulate her shock early Wednesday morning.
"It is so unbelievable," she said shortly after Democrat Fred Hubbell offered his concession speech in Des Moines.
Gallagher, an interior designer in Des Moines, couldn't believe that voters chose Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds over Hubbell for Iowa governor.
Gallagher, who said she lived around the corner from Hubbell for 30 years, called the retired businessman "the most qualified person in the world" to lead the state.
"Nobody is smarter, cares more about people, education or mental health," she said. "How could we, as a state, not endorse him, who has so much to offer?"
► Election 2018 Maps:Results for Iowa governor, U.S. House, state Senate, state House
To her and other Iowa Democrats, Tuesday night's defeat was reminiscent of 2016, when Donald Trump's presidential win over Hillary Clinton shocked pollsters and pundits.
"I don't get it," she said. "I do not understand where people's hearts are today. I just cannot hardly talk."
► Election Day 2018: GOP election night party erupts as first elected female governor is introduced
Disappointment was widespread among the hundreds of supporters who filed into the Embassy Suites in Des Moines' East Village neighborhood Tuesday evening to cheer on the Democratic nominee for governor. But with the entire statewide Democratic ticket gathered together, the mood in the ballroom shifted dramatically throughout the evening.
The Democrats were happy much of the night, particularly as national media outlets announced that the party had won over control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Iowa Democrats flipped two Congressional seats: Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne both won their races, becoming the first women to represent the Hawkeye State in the U.S. House of Representatives. Attorney General Tom Miller easily won re-election to a 10th term, and Rob Sand defeated incumbent Mary Mosiman for state auditor.
► Election Day 2018:Cindy Axne's victory lessens sting of Trump election
Yet even with those gains, the party failed to win the state's highest office, failed to flip either the Republican-held Iowa House and Senate, and lost other statewide races for Secretary of State and Secretary of Agriculture.
At the end of the night, Hubbell campaign staffers wiped away tears, and his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, hugged well-wishers who stuck around after much of the crowd had left. But just a few feet away, other Democrats cheered for Axne and posed for congratulatory photos.
"I tell you what, this is a great night to be a Democrat," Axne said in her victory speech.
Axne, who defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Young, took the stage shortly after 11 p.m., when dozens of people still queued up behind the venue's two cash bars.
About an hour later, a man shook hands with Miller, the attorney general, as his wife fought back tears.
"I'm just in shock," the man said. "I don't know what happened."
Miller reassured the couple that the Hubbell-Hart campaign had put up a good fight.
"Rita and Fred did everything they could," Miller said.
► More on Election Day 2018:
- Maps: Results for Iowa governor, U.S. House, state Senate, state House
- Republicans retain control of Iowa House and Senate, as well as legislative agenda
- Editorial: Reynolds should work to be the governor of all Iowans
- Basu: Steve King's re-election shows sowing divisions still pays. But it won't always.
- Obradovich: It's all about Trump, luckily for some Iowa Democrats
Review the results from key Iowa races for election 2018 - governor, U.S. House districts and statewide offices. Des Moines Register
Wearing a plastic Axne yard sign like a poncho, 66-year-old Nancy Bobo embodied the competing emotions in the venue.
She volunteered on the Axne campaign and housed a campaign staffer in her home on Des Moines' south side. She was thrilled that Iowa elected two progressive women to Congress, but disillusioned by Hubbell's defeat.
"I hope Fred Hubbell will run again," she said. "I think he can beat her."
Early in the evening, former state Rep. Wayne Ford predicted a drastic change in Iowa's political landscape. But as the mixed results became evident, he couldn't hide his surprise.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Ford, who wore a grass-green tracksuit. "Usually, when there's a sweep, it's a sweep all the way."
Ford, who founded the nonprofit Urban Dreams on Des Moines' north side, has known Hubbell for years. He thought Hubbell worked hard to win over votes in rural Iowa, but believed that that was where the race was ultimately lost.
But Ford said Iowa is often unpredictable. He noted that Iowans helped usher both Trump and Barack Obama into the White House.
"We're still a state that is hard to call," he said. "You can't take anything for granted in Iowa. And you can't be sure about anything."