Culver bids farewell to time as Governor

Chet Culver, democratic candidate for governor, works on his speech with his campaign manager, Don Stanley (not pictured) on Tuesday, Nov. 2 in his room at Hotel Fort, Des Moines. Culver conceded the race to former Gov. Terry Branstad.

Tyler Kingkade

No one was there.

With reports of a couple-hundred people arriving at the Republican election night headquarters in West Des Moines, barely a trickle of staff, volunteers and supporters had arrived for the Democrats at Hotel Fort Des Moines.

A few hours later, Republican Terry Branstad was declared the governor-elect in the state of Iowa with 52 percent of the vote.

As Gov. Chet Culver stood on the stage at the Hotel Fort Des Moines with his family, his father, former U.S. Senator John Culver — who lost his seat to Charles Grassley in 1980 — looked on to watch his son accept defeat.

“I want to thank the people of Iowa, those who voted for me and those who didn’t vote for me, for giving me the chance,” Culver said.

Culver said he was proud of his work because he delivered on accomplishments including balancing the budget, a high bond rating, raising the minimum wage, expanding preschool and children’s health care among a number of other items.

“This campaign was not about the next election it was about the next generation,” Culver said.

As the speech concluded, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey was played, to a crowd full of staff and volunteers; some in tears, some hugging each other.

Moments later, Culver emerged with his family in tow, once again congratulating Branstad on his win and said he was a big believer things would work out.

“The voters have spoken; you have to respect that and I do,” Culver said.

Culver said he disagreed with Branstad on a number of issues, but had faith in the Iowa voters to hold the governor-elect accountable.

“You always like to win but I feel good … knowing we did everything we possibly could,” Culver said while his son and wife closely looked on, which he mentioned he looked forward to having more time with. “We’re healthy, we’re happy, you have to keep it in perspective, ya know.”

He said his next top priority was to coach his son’s fourth grade football team.

The Democrats chose the Hotel Fort Des Moines because it was the only union hotel in Des Moines.

Most of the volunteers did not arrive until close to 9 p.m. because they were kept working until polls closed.

Democratic volunteers knocked on 100,000 doors across the state Tuesday and made 120,000 phone calls.

A group of men said they spent anywhere between three weeks to a year working for the campaign. One said he knocked on dozens of doors and estimated he gave 40 rides to elderly citizens so they could vote.

Another said he began pushing for absentee ballots in the summer.

While the latest Des Moines Register poll had Culver 12 points down, Culver’s campaign said his internal polling saw him being only six points behind Branstad going into election day. During Culver’s visit to the ISU campus, he said Branstad’s number had stayed the same while Culver steadily gained in the polls, closing in on Branstad.

Culver kept a tight schedule in the final two weeks of campaigning, crisscrossing the state and ending with a big Democratic rally Monday at a packed Des Moines Social Club.

The polling results swung widely, at times giving Culver a significant lead. By the end, Culver lost his reelection bid — the first incumbent Iowa governor to do so since 1962 — by nearly nine points.

His concession speech carried the essence of his campaign pitches, citing the number of top-10 lists Iowa made for business climate and the economy, from Forbes to CNN, CNBC; being ranked as the third-best run state in the nation and a relatively low unemployment rate compared with the rest of the country.

But in the end, it didn’t connect with voters.

Staffers hugged each other goodbye, knowing they had effectively lost their jobs, and volunteers left in mixed emotions after watching the national results on multiple TVs around the hotel lobby. Some grunted privately to each other their dissatisfaction with people in the Obama administration and the way federal legislation had been handled. Some made jokes about what the Republicans would do with control of the House, trying to liven the mood.

Iowa Democratic Party chairperson Sue Dvorsky said their work wouldn’t stop, even if they would become the “loyal opposition” and the “Rebel alliance” as the question remained of whether Democrats would hold on to control of the Iowa House or Senate.

“We reelected all three sitting Democratic congressmen tonight,” Dvorsky said. “This party is not going into any good night.”

Democrat Roxanne Conlin, who challenged Grassley for a U.S. Senate seat, also lost, but said she had no regrets about the campaign.

Two Democrats did give victory speeches Tuesday night in Des Moines: Attorney General Tom Miller handily defeated Brenna Findley and Rep. Leonard Boswell was reelected in the 3rd Congressional District, after facing a tough challenge from state Sen. Brad Zaun.

Culver weighed his next options, whether he would continue in government or return to teaching, but said it would all come in good time. But never appeared shaken about his lost, retaining the same composure he normally has.

“We gave it a good fight,” Culver said.