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GOP flips Iowa state House seat

The Hill logo The Hill 10/13/2021 Reid Wilson
GOP flips Iowa state House seat © Greg Nash GOP flips Iowa state House seat

A pastor and tax adviser will become the first Republican to represent Newton in the Iowa state House in decades after winning a special election Tuesday to fill a vacancy in a once ancestrally Democratic manufacturing hub that has moved to the right in recent years.

Jon Dunwell (R), making his second run for the legislative seat, beat out Democratic opponent Steve Mullen by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. About 1 in 5 voters in the Jasper County-based seat turned out to vote, according to the county auditor's office.

Dunwell is the second Republican to win a formerly Democratic-held legislative seat since President Biden took office, after a Republican won a state Senate seat in Connecticut over the summer.

"Community engagement is very important to me. Being out and among the people is very important to me. Giving everyone a seat at the table is very important to me," Dunwell told the Newton Daily News as he watched the results roll in. "I have a conservative philosophy. My passion is for Jasper County and Iowa. The team that I work with is for the Republicans."

Dunwell had lost a bid against state Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D) in 2020. But Breckenridge quit the legislature last month to take a job at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

The district, based around Newton, about half an hour east of Des Moines along Interstate 80, has been trending Republican in recent years.

Jasper County gave former President Trump 60 percent of the vote in 2020, the highest share any Republican had earned there since Herbert Hoover in 1928. Before Trump, Jasper County had voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in six of the preceding seven presidential elections. Dunwell's new district gave Trump 57 percent of the vote; in 2012, then-President Obama carried the seat with 56 percent.

Newton, the county seat, was once a major manufacturing hub, the home of a major Maytag plant that closed in 2007. The city is still home to the Maytag Blue Cheese Company, opened a century ago by an heir to the Maytag Appliance fortune.

Iowa Republicans spent more than $50,000 on advertising on Dunwell's behalf in a major push to win the seat. The Iowa Democratic Party did not spend a significant sum on Mullan's behalf, campaign finance records show.

"Though tonight is not the result we hoped for, I am deeply grateful to have had your support and I'm proud of the race we ran," Mullan said in a statement posted to his Facebook page. "We championed issues that matter to voters like public education, healthcare, and rural broadband access. Our advocacy on these issues will not stop with this campaign."

The result gives Republicans 60 out of the 100 seats in the Iowa state House, their largest majority since the 2010 midterm elections that handed control of the lower chamber to the GOP.

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