Posted Online: Nov. 07, 2012, 8:17 am

Iowa voters stay with familiar political faces

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Months of negative ads and aggressive campaigning couldn't dissuade Iowa voters from sticking with the familiar - an incumbent president, four congressmen and a state Supreme Court justice.

Iowa voters handed President Barack Obama a second term Tuesday with more than 52 percent of the vote. Two Democrats and two Republicans were handily returned to the U.S. House. And Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins will remain on the bench.

The only thing that wasn't clear is whether control of Iowa's state Senate would be handed over to Republicans, as the results of several key races were incomplete. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat, was re-elected to an eighth term with more than 55 percent of the vote despite being targeted by conservatives for blocking several of their priorities during last Legislative session.

Republicans worked hard to win at least two seats to hand GOP Gov. Terry Branstad a majority to help push his agenda through during the 2013 session. They maintained control of the House, though Democrats gained a few seats.

This year was marked by aggressive voter recruiting efforts by both major parties. Democrats succeeded in getting their voters to cast absentee ballots and vote early in person, and Republicans improved their early voting strategy. The numbers reflected it, too. More than 673,000 early ballots had been cast by the end of the day Monday - a nearly 25 percent increase over the 2008's 545,000 ballots. Overall, more than 1.5 million voters cast ballots, consistent with the past two general elections.

More than half of Iowa voters said the economy was the top issue facing the country, according to results from exit polling for The Associated Press, and the deficit was the top issue for almost one-fifth of voters.

Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney had traveled frequently to Iowa and spent millions of dollars on advertising in vying for the state's six electoral votes.

In the state's congressional races, voters handed victories to Democrat Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, and Republican Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham.

In the 3rd Congressional District, eight-term Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell's long career of public service came to an end with Latham's victory. Latham, a nine-term incumbent, had moved into the Des Moines-centered district after Iowa lost a seat due to once-a-decade redistricting.

While most polling places saw no issues, a few locations ran into snags. In Cedar Falls, college students who were registering to vote for the first time slowed the process and created a line of several hundred voters in one precinct. And an unexpected number of voters registering at the polls in two Madison County precincts caused a ballot shortage. Workers made photocopies to accommodate all voters.

Gerald Stokes, 73, of Des Moines, said he believed Romney would have helped small businesses and he liked his ideas on taxes and the national debt.

'I like his policies on the economy and jobs,' said Stokes, who is retired. He said he noticed a lot more advertising this election and thought the negative tone 'horrible.'

Amos Holt, 39, of Des Moines supported Obama because he relates more to working families.

'I think that Barack Obama is more in tune with people with young kids because he has two daughters himself and he wants to make sure that they have a safe environment when they get older and that it's economically sound,' he said.

In the congressional races, King won a sixth term, his toughest challenge yet, beating Iowa's former first lady Christie Vilsack, a Democrat.

Braley won a fourth term, beating Republican Ben Lange in Iowa's 1st Congressional District. It was the second time Braley has upended Lange, who narrowly lost in 2010.

Loebsack was elected to a fourth term representing southeastern Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, beating Republican Bettendorf lawyer John Archer.

Iowa voters also retained Wiggins, who, in 2009, ruled with six other justices on a case that legalized gay marriage in the state. Opponents of that decision unseated three of Wiggins' colleagues in the 2010 election, an effort that was funded significantly by conservative groups outside Iowa. They vowed a repeat this year.

But Wiggins had slightly more than a simple majority backing him with more than 90 percent of the votes counted, so he will stay on the court.

Marty Bunge, 54, a studio photographer, said he is a Republican with conservative views on fiscal matters but liberal on social issues.

He voted to retain Wiggins because he's fine with gay marriage.

'I don't think politics has any place in the judicial system and I think the recall attempt was nothing but politics,' he said.