Iowa is key state in Dem drive for House majority

Iowa is key state in Dem drive for House majority
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Iowa isn't getting as much attention as California or Pennsylvania when it comes to the fight for the House majority, but it could be important in Democrats’ quest to gain the 23 seats they need to take power.

Three of Iowa’s four congressional districts are home to competitive contests, and Democrats have an even shot or better at winning two of those seats. All three are now represented by Republicans, meaning Democrats could gain three seats in the state if they run the table.

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“I think that we have an opportunity in this state, absolutely, to flip a few of those seats,” said Heather Matson, a Democrat running for an Iowa state house seat, in an interview with The Hill Monday at a rally at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny.

Democrats have a chance to flip Iowa’s 1st, 3rd and 4th congressional districts, depending on the size of any blue wave. All three of the Democratic challengers in the districts raised more money than the Republican incumbents during the third quarter of this year. Iowa’s second district is currently held by Democratic Rep. Dave LoebsackDavid (Dave) Wayne LoebsackIowa is key state in Dem drive for House majority Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Judge upholds Obama's marine monument | GOP lawmakers worried states using water rule to block fossil fuels | Lawmakers press Trump ahead of ethanol decision Bipartisan bill would help homeless children and youth MORE and is considered a safe seat for the incumbent.

“The upper Midwest in general has become a key battleground in part because tariffs have given Democrats new life in Trump Country,” said Dave Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The most likely district to flip is held by GOP Rep. Rod Blum, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. It includes the northeastern part of the state and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Dubuque, and went for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012 before going for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE in 2016. Both Cook and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the race as leaning Democratic.

The Democratic nominee, 29-year-old state Rep. Abby Finkenauer, would be one of the youngest members of Congress if elected.

At a recent debate, Blum and Finkenauer sparred over Trump’s tax law, the farm bill, health care and trade. On trade, Blum defended Trump, while Finkenauer said that the administration’s actions have been hurting farmers.

Several weeks ago, it looked as if Republicans had written off the district, but political observers say it looks to have improved for Blum in recent weeks.

A New York Times/Siena College poll last month showed Finkenauer leading by 15 percentage points, but more recent internal polling from the Blum campaign has shown the race statistically tied.

In a sign that Republicans think it’s competitive, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism On The Money: Senate banking panel showcases 2020 Dems | Koch groups urge Congress not to renew tax breaks | Dow down nearly 400 | Cuomo defends Amazon HQ2 deal Koch groups: Congress shouldn't renew expired tax breaks MORE (R-Wis.) held a fundraiser for Blum on Monday and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), a Ryan-aligned super PAC, recently started running ads in the district.

“We are seeing an improving political environment across the country, including in Iowa’s first district,” said CLF spokeswoman Courtney Alexander.

But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Rachel Irwin said that "Abby Finkenauer has outraised and out-hustled Rod Blum at every turn, and her personal message of standing up for working families will put her across the finish line this November." 

The 3rd Congressional District, which includes Des Moines as well as rural areas in the southwest part of the state, is considered by political observers to be a true toss-up race. Like the 1st District, the district went for Obama and then for Trump.

GOP Rep. David YoungDavid Edmund YoungIowa New Members 2019 McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote Dem Axne beats GOP Rep. Young in Iowa MORE is being challenged by small-business owner Cindy Axne.

At the event at Des Moines Area Community College, Axne criticized Young for taking money from “corporations and special interests” and voting for the Trump tax law. She has also repeatedly criticized Young during the campaign for voting for House Republicans’ ObamaCare repeal bill.

“Iowans are working incredibly hard, and we’re playing by the rules, but Washington doesn’t have our back and we deserve a heck of a lot better,” she said at the rally, which also featured Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders on 2020 White House bid: 'We're looking at it' Dem bundler: Donors waiting on 2020 commitments until Beto O'Rourke makes decision Jim Carrey rails against 'incredibly dangerous' Trump, calls him a 'melanoma' MORE (D-Calif.), a potential 2020 presidential candidate.

Young argues that he wants to protect people with pre-existing health conditions, and he’s introduced a nonbinding resolution on the topic. He touts the GOP tax law but has been critical of Trump’s tariffs.

Young said at a debate earlier this month that he receives “many emails and phone calls talking about how the tax relief with individuals and small businesses are allowing them to spend more of their hard-earned dollars on their families.”

Iowa’s 4th Congressional District — which includes the northwest part of the state — is rated “likely Republican” by Cook and Sabato and is unlikely to change hands unless there is a significant blue wave.

It nonetheless has attracted attention from Democrats nationally because they have a strong desire to unseat GOP Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingDems must wield power against the powerful to win back rural America Iowa governor: Steve King needs to decide if he wants to represent ‘the values of the 4th District’ Conservative magazine posts recording of King using derogatory language against immigrants MORE, one of the most prominent immigration hard-liners in the House who has a history of making controversial comments on social media.

He is being challenged by former professional baseball player J.D. Scholten, who held several events last weekend in the district with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Energy: EPA official steps down after indictment on ethics charges | Sanders to hold town hall on climate | Zinke slams 'environmental radicals' for fires Sanders to host town hall on climate change Sanders on 2020 White House bid: 'We're looking at it' MORE (I-Vt.), another possible 2020 presidential contender. 

“I’m more and more encouraged every day,” Scholten told The Hill following a rally with Sanders on Iowa State University’s campus in Ames. “What we’re seeing out there on the campaign trail, it’s pretty exciting. We’re pulling great crowds, we have a strong base and we’re really working across the aisle and talking to folks all over the place.”

But Jeff King, King’s son and campaign chairman, said in a phone interview that the congressman’s reelection chances “look really good.”

“Republicans are much more energized” than is indicated by national and local reporting, the campaign chairman said. He added that voters in the district are receptive to the congressman’s stance on immigration and that the congressman frequently touts the economy at campaign stops.

Jeff King also said that Sanders’s visit to the district is beneficial to his father’s campaign.

“Bernie Sanders is a self-described socialist and 4th District voters are definitely not,” he said.

Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik said that Democrats are aiming to gain at least one seat in Iowa as they try to win control of the House.

“I think that’s a reasonable benchmark for Democrats in that state and I think they’re probably on track, but you do wonder if a seat like Iowa 1 that flipped for Trump is getting harder for Democrats,” he said.