“Passed the point of no return”? Iowa Dems feel that hopes are fading | Wisconsin News
By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
KEOKUK, Iowa (AP) – Democrats lost the election for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District last year by the narrowest margin in a House race in nearly 40 years. After the six-vote heartbreaker, some expected Democrat Rita Hart to immediately declare rematch in her party’s long-held Southeast District.
So far, no Democrats have come forward to run.
Reluctance to venture into a district that is now as competitive as possible is a measure of Democrat fatigue in a state that has been viewed for decades as a real battleground. Even as the coronavirus pandemic gradually wanes and approval for President Joe Biden’s post remains strong, Democrats in Iowa say they can feel their party retreating, especially from industrial river towns they have. formerly called bastions.
“I think we’ve passed the point of no return,” said Rich Taylor, a former Democratic state senator who lost last year after eight years representing economically struggling Lee County, which runs alongside the Mississippi River in the southeast corner of the state. “I believe the people of Southeastern Iowa are going to wake up. But I don’t think it will make a difference in the next 20 years.
It took years to get there. For more than a decade, Democrats have seen their ranks decline in farming communities. At the same time, their once dominant force in the state’s factory towns has been undermined by declining union power and loss of population. To some, Republican Donald Trump’s popularity among the white working class in these areas looks like a final blow.
“The big question is, can we bring it back?” said Matt Pflug, a Democrat on the Lee County Oversight Board. “I don’t know if we can.”
Democrats’ struggle to defend a six-seat majority in the House next year could boil down to battles for similar river districts. In western Wisconsin, Republican Derek Van Orden is seeking revenge against 13-term Democrat Ron Kind, who held his seat by just 10,000 votes in 2020. In Mississippi, Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig won by an equally narrow margin and will face a rematch. by Republican Tyler Kistner.
Further south, Republican Edith Joy King is running again in a district in western Illinois, where five-term Democrat Cheri Bustos has decided not to be re-elected. Bustos won by just 12,000 votes in 2020, having won by over 55,000 in 2018 and nearly 60,000 in 2016.
And in northeast Iowa, there’s no rush from Democrats fishing to take on Republican Ashley Hinson, who defeated Democrat Abby Finkenauer to a term in the 1st Congressional District of the Iowa last year.
National Democrats, and some local activists, say they expect a competitive candidate to emerge in both districts. Neither Hart nor Finkenauer responded to requests for comment.
Democrats say the Biden administration’s economic agenda will be key to winning these races. Its proposed infrastructure and family support initiatives – $ 4 trillion in new spending on top of the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief program adopted in March – “will provide unprecedented resources to rural communities and underserved in a way that can truly provide a generational change, ”said Sam Cornale, political director of the Democratic National Committee.
“But it’s not enough to just put in place a good policy,” he said. “I think we also need to communicate how this can impact everyday Americans.”
Since February, Biden has been to Wisconsin once and twice to Pennsylvania and Michigan, all states he narrowly won last year. He did not go to Iowa, where Trump beat him by 8 percentage points.
Iowa was once a major political battleground. Over the past two decades, the state has been back and forth in presidential elections, as parties have traded control of the governor’s office. For 30 years, he sent Liberal Democrat Tom Harkin to the Senate, along with conservative Republican Chuck Grassley. Harkin’s seat is now occupied by Republican Joni Ernst.
These Democratic victories were built on support from unionized workers, a progressive rural farming tradition, and support from the state’s small and medium-sized metropolitan areas.
Democrat Dave Loebsack, a college professor, won seven consecutive House terms in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District until his retirement this year, mostly posting large margins in Johnson County, home of the University of Iowa and a growing suburban corridor.
Prior to that, Iowa Representative Leonard Boswell, Democrat, farmer and Vietnam War veteran, served for 16 years, transporting large swathes of rural southern Iowa.
But the once strong Democratic union base has shrunk as manufacturing jobs have left cities such as Burlington, Fort Madison and Keokuk along the river. The trend has left industrial estates with disproportionately older voters without a college degree, voters who lean Republican.
In 2016, Trump transported 9 of Iowa’s 10 counties along the river, missing only Scott County, the most metropolitan. Notably, Trump was the first Republican since Dwight D. Eisenhower to make Dubuque County, for decades a union stronghold.
Last year, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks defeated Hart in the congressional race by leaping dramatically into the district’s vast tracts of farmland west and south of the Mississippi River. There simply weren’t enough Democratic votes in the river towns.
“We used to be able to count on the union vote here,” said former Senator Jerry Kerns of Keokuk in southeast Iowa. “No more.”
Kerns served as president of his local United Steelworkers for 20 of his 38 years with auto parts maker Henniges. Today, only around 500 unionized employees remain out of the 1,500 Kerns formerly represented.
Union voters are under 20 and “don’t realize what the Democratic Party has done for the unions,” he said.
Union leaders see Biden’s agenda as a benefit to workers, but workers themselves are not as engaged in politics, Kerns said, “and are more interested in things like guns and guns. rights they want to blame the Democrats for trying to take away from them.
Up the river in Des Moines County, Case International’s Burlington farm equipment plant maintains a unionized workforce of about 350, up from 2,300 who worked there 20 years ago. Des Moines and Lee counties had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state in April.
There are few signs of growth in Keokuk. The Civil War-era homes and once-stately pre-war brick businesses that run down Main Street and its side streets to the Mississippi River are monuments to more prosperous days.
Biden’s economic aid could provide Democrats with ammunition to campaign in places like this. But it will have to compete with the perception that the party has been taken over by “socialists”.
Tom Courtney, former state senator and longtime union official, said he believes more voters than just a decade ago are struggling to separate Democrats they know from those who speak in the name of the party at the national level. When he sought a comeback campaign last year, his opponents linked him to Liberal New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who ran for the election. presidency as a Democrat.
“I think there are a lot of people who liked me and my policies, but just didn’t want a Democrat because they didn’t like AOC or didn’t like Bernie Sanders,” he said. Courtney said. “We did not fight this national message”.
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