The Iowa GOP Election Night Rally was held last night at the Marriott in West Des Moines. It was evident right away that the excitement and interest level relative to this event was extremely high. I arrived there around 5:30 p.m. and the tables set up for the media were already all pretty full. There were people there from local, state, and national media outlets. Republican supporters began pouring in and by 9:00 p.m., moving around in the main room had become difficult. By the time Lt. Governor Reynolds addressed the crowd around 9:30 p.m., moving anywhere was nearly impossible. The crowd was electric, with everyone anticipating not only a big night for the Republican party, but something truly historic: Iowa was just about to elect its first female candidate (Joni Ernst) to either house of the United States Congress.
There was reason for this optimistic expectation, of course. Last week the Des Moines Register had published a poll showing Ernst leading her opponent, Bruce Braley, by seven points. Ernst had led Braley in many polls over the last several months, but the leads were within the margin of error. This time a poll showed a real lead, and it came with a scant few days left before the election. There was a giant sucking sound that was heard all over the State of Iowa, and that was the oxygen leaving the Braley campaign.
Perhaps the most interesting thing that happened last night was WHO TV’s calling the race early for Ernst. WHO called the race at 9:15 p.m., a mere fifteen minutes after the polls closed. Because of the bedlam in the meeting room, very few people realized it had happened. A few of us began to see mentions of it on Facebook, and we found ourselves bewildered as we saw the early returns shown on TV screens around the room showing Ernst several points down. Eventually I was able to speak to Dave Price of WHO. “You guys called the Ernst race already?” He must have seen the incredulity on my face. “Yeah, they did,” he said. He went on to say that the guys with WHO that make the calls use a particular model that is supposed to be extremely accurate and that they have a lot of people in the field gathering data. Still, he clearly thought it was awfully soon to declare a winner. “It’s a pretty risky call,” he said with a smile and a shrug.
Ernst eventually made her way to the meeting room to address the crowd. Among other things, she recounted her upbringing and said it was a long way from Red Oak to Washington, and, using a line from one of her campaign ads, said “We’re going to make them squeal!”
Afterwards she spent some time shaking hands, hugging folks, and telling them thank you. She was mobbed like a rock star.
And for the moment, she is. Last night, she was the most important woman in all of national politics, delivering the Senate to the Republicans in a race that earlier this year was supposed to have been a gimme for the Democrats.