SIOUX CITY | Democratic candidates in Woodbury County got a boost from President Barack Obama's strong voter turnout efforts in Tuesday's election.
Obama won Iowa by 51.9 percent Tuesday on his way to a second term, and riding on his coattails, four candidates for county offices and two running for the state Legislature from Sioux City captured their own wins.
The only exception in the lower-tier contests was the race for county sheriff. Republican Dave Drew defeated Democrat Doug Boetger for the top cop's job.
The Obama campaign's early-voting push coupled with Iowa's late-September absentee-ballot start meant nearly 48 percent of Woodbury County's 44,941 votes were cast before Election Day. That helped local candidates, said Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill, himself one of the four winning county Democrats.
"The biggest part of that was the Obama organization that was here for a long time," Gill said. "That was a benefit to all the Democrats in the county. The big advantage was that organization, and that get-out-the-vote effort, the absentee."
Yet the high percentage of absentee ballots, which were counted last, made for some tense hours for three county supervisors seeking re-election.
Jackie Smith, Mark Monson and Larry Clausen trailed by more than 1,000 votes well into the night as the Election Day votes were tabulated. When the 21,519 absentees were added to the tally about 9:50 p.m., the incumbents were declared the winners.
"That just flipped all the races, which is pretty incredible," said Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Greg Guelcher. "It shows you the importance of making sure you lock the votes up. A vote in the bank is a good vote."
Guelcher said Democrats were excited about having Obama at the head of the ticket and the opportunity to re-elect him. In fact, 9,154 chose a straight-party vote, 5,568 of them doing so early. Among Republicans, 6,598 voted a straight ticket, 3,107 of them by absentee ballot.
"I do feel that Obama's coattails were pretty strong this year," Guelcher said.
This year, Guelcher said, the local party worked hard to ensure that all who said they would vote for a Democrat turned in a ballot. That was the case even if they said they would also vote for a Republican, he said.
In the closely watched battle between two state representatives thrown together in a newly redrawn district, Democrat Chris Hall defeated Republican Jeremy Taylor, 6,317 to 5,595. Hall got 3,690 absentee votes to Taylor's 2,628.
"The president had an exceptional ground effort, staff and volunteers in Sioux City," Hall said. "But in many ways, I think that the effort of local candidates benefited the president's campaign as well. My campaign and our volunteers knocked on over 14,000 doors and reached out to voters personally."
Republican Doug Batcheller, who lost his bid for county auditor to Gill, said the Democrats' success at the polls was less about coattails and more about the fact that the party grasped the value of early voting and hammered that message home.
Of Batcheller's total 16,293 votes, 6,673 -- about 41 percent -- were cast early. In contrast, 53 percent of Gill's 26,456 votes -- 13,946 -- were absentee.
"I just see where the Democratic machine party has flat outworked the Republican Party, out-organized them and put the people in the precincts and gone door-to-door and made their case," Batcheller said.
But he also noted that U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, not only defeated Democratic challenger Christie Vilsack in the entire 4th congressional district but also dominated her in the county results. Vilsack received 2,311 more absentee votes than King in Woodbury County, but he still took the county on a 22,238 to 20,827 count.
Republican Dick Salem, who failed in his bid to unseat Monson in County Board District 3, said the slew of Democratic absentee ballots and Obama's popularity determined Tuesday's election outcome. Salem said two weeks out from Election Day, he perceived that Romney would have to do well in Sioux City and the county to aid the local GOP candidates.
"I thought Gov. Romney would win both Sioux City and Woodbury County, and that didn't happen," Salem said.