MARION, Iowa (Reuters) - A special election on Tuesday for an Iowa State Senate seat could change the balance of power there and encourage Republicans to try to overturn the state's approval of same sex marriage.
In September, a Democrat from Marion, Iowa, resigned from the senate to take a job as a utility regulator in Republican Governor Terry Branstad's administration.
That left Democrats with 25 of the 50 seats in the Iowa Senate. Republicans hold 24.
If the Democratic candidate wins Tuesday's special election, they will retain their control of the senate debate agenda. If the Republican wins, the resulting 25-25 tie will create a stalemate or force some sort of power-sharing arrangement.
Bruce Nesmith, a political science professor at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, likens the race to the 2010 special election in Massachusetts to fill U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy's seat.
Republican Scott Brown won that race, ending Democrats 60-seat majority in the U.S. Senate and forcing Democrats to find at least one willing Republican to end Republican-led filibusters.
"We're talking about one out of 50 senate districts in Iowa where the candidates are pretty much pitching themselves as responsive to local concerns, yet what's at stake is party control of the Iowa Senate, so if you're a voter, do you take that into account?" Nesmith said.
"Do you vote for the person who you think is best for the office, or do you realize your vote has statewide implications -- at least for a year?"
Cindy Golding, a small business owner and farmer, secured the GOP's nomination in the district over a candidate favored by the Governor Branstad. Liz Mathis, the Democratic Party's nominee for the state senate seat, was a television anchor in the area for 30 years.
Marion -- a suburb of Cedar Rapids -- is the population center of the district, along with rural areas outside of the Cedar Rapids/Marion metro.
"The pitches from each candidate have been on their capabilities ... a lot on economic issues, which seems pretty pertinent," Nesmith, the college professor, said in an interview.
"At the same time, there's been a lot of outside money, on both sides, and activity on the gay rights issue," although neither candidate has been particularly focused on that.
The National Organization for Marriage started sending mailers into the district in October.
The political director of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based group that has been a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, issued an email plea to supporters five days before the election, saying Golding was a "conservative Christian who shares our views on life and marriage."
A Golding win on Tuesday would open "a huge opportunity for conservative, pro-family legislation" to pass the state senate, the email said.
One Iowa, a group which supports same-sex marriage, has been soliciting campaign donations on its website, urging supporters to "help protect marriage equality in Iowa."
An April 2009 state supreme court ruling paved the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa.
Since then, the Iowa Senate's Democratic leader, Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, Iowa, has refused to allow debate of a measure to give Iowans a chance to vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, saying he doesn't wish to "write discrimination into the state constitution."
If the state senate is deadlocked at 25/25 after Tuesday's election, Republicans alone would not be able to force a senate vote on the marriage issue. It would require at least one Democrat to abandon his or her senate leader and join with Republicans on a procedural motion to bring the proposal up for debate.
Editing by Jerry Norton