CLINTON — When Republican Les Shields and his supporters broke their camp at Happy Joe’s late Tuesday with just a small percentage of votes reported, the first-time candidate was upbeat about his chances.

“I’ve been encouraged at the positive reception of the voters,” said Shields, a retired Clinton police lieutenant. “I’ve campaigned hard and heavy the past year, especially the last six to eight months.”

Within the next hour, however, results began to show his opponent, incumbent Rep. Polly Bukta, D-Clinton, pulling away en route to a substantial victory. The mood was upbeat at a gathering of Democratic candidates at the Best Western Frontier.

There were approximately 100 supporters and candidates gathered at the Frontier to watch the election results.

Bukta won a sixth term in the Iowa House, capturing 5,113 votes to 3,283 for Shields. She won her last two terms uncontested.

“Right now, this victory is wonderful,” Bukta said Tuesday night. “I’ve never been in the majority, I’ve served in the minority for 10 years. I’m very excited. I have great hopes that we’re going to run that House differently than it has been run the last 10 years that I’ve been there.

“I’m hoping we don’t have the partisan House that we had before,” she continued. “It wasn’t good for us, it wasn’t good for the state. I think to get things done, you have to build bridges, you have to get along with the other members.”

Bukta spoke of the “Plan for Prosperity,” which includes education, health care, senior issues, and making Iowa the “Green State” (a reference to the state’s potential growth through the production of alternative fuels like biodiesel.) “I can see us going out there and hitting the ground running, and get going (on the Plan for Prosperity.) I think we’ll be busier than we ever were before.”

Bukta is entering unfamiliar territory as a senior member of the majority party.

“I have enjoyed the work, although I’ve been in the minority, because my favorite part is the constituency,” she said. “I really love helping the people I serve.”

Both candidates have experience in education — Bukta is a retired Jefferson Elementary school teacher, while Shields served nine years on the Clinton School Board, one year as board president.

But the candidates differed on how each would address such issues. Bukta’s focus has been on a rigorous curriculum and hiring the best teachers; Shields expressed concern about the equity of per-pupil education funding.

Legislative leaders estimated that Democrats picked up five House seats to occupy 54 and Republicans would have 45. One seat will be filled in a special election in December.

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, said Democrats would hold 28 or 29 seats, breaking the 25-25 tie that has deadlocked the chamber in recent years.