Three of Iowa’s U.S. House races are considered among the most competitive in the country.
Both political parties have been listing Iowa’s third congressional district race as among the three dozen that could decide which party wins a majority in the U.S. House. Congresswoman Cindy Axne of West Des Moines narrowly won her previous races in 2018 and 2020 and she’s been telling her fellow Democrats 2022 will be the same. “We win these votes in Iowa on the margins, folks,” Axne said to Democrats at a party fundraiser in October.
Challenger Zach Nunn has been telling his fellow Republicans the race has national implications. “It is about holding Biden and Pelosi accountable,” Nunn said.
Nunn has emphasized the state budgets and the tax cuts he’s voted for as a member of the Iowa legislature. “We’re going to change the course of the tax-and-spend Washington, D.C., starting right here in Iowa,” Nunn said.
Axne has emphasized the votes she’s taken in congress, like her support of increased spending on infrastructure, including broadband and computer chip factories. “Put us in a new trajectory in this country,” Axne said, “bringing new jobs back to this country.”
The two candidates have had a sharp disagreement over abortion. Axne has been criticizing Nunn’s response during a debate in May with his Republican Primary competitors, when Nunn raised his hand in support of banning all abortions, without exceptions. “Women’s reproductive health decisions should be made between themselves, their family and their doctor,” Axne said.
Nunn has emphasized his votes in the state legislature for abortion restrictions that included exceptions. And Nunn has suggested the U.S. Supreme Court has left the issue to the states, not congress, to decide. “This is unfortunately one of the only things the Democrats in D.C. are trying to run on,” Nunn said.
Iowa’s new third congressional district covers 21 counties. It includes the cities of Jefferson and Des Moines at the top. It stairsteps down to Atlantic and Clarinda on the southwest, then goes all the way over to Ottumwa on the district’s southeast side.
In Iowa’s new first district, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican, faces Democrat Christine Bohannan. The new first district covers much of southeast Iowa, from Clinton to Fort Madison, plus the cities of Newton and Oskaloosa as the district stretches across to parts of central Iowa.
Miller-Meeks has relocated her official residence from Ottumwa, which is not in the district, to LeClaire. Miller-Meeks has been telling GOP audiences the Biden Administration must be held accountable for what’s happened the past two years.
“We need to turn this country around,” Miller-Meeks said at a fundraiser this fall. “We need to put it on the right track.”
Bohannan, a University of Iowa law professor, was elected to the Iowa House in 2020. Bohannan has said a lot of
Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on what the country should do. “The problem is that extreme politics are getting in our way,” Bohannan said during a fall fundraiser.
As of November 1, there were about 2200 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the first district. “On the face of it, it looks like a pretty even district,” said Simpson College political science professor Kedron Bardwell, “but there’s an opportunity for Republicans, as they have done in the last few elections, to do well with some independents and Democrats in this environment.”
Bardwell points to Donald Trump’s victories in 2016 and 2020 in Mississippi River counties that had been Democratic strongholds. University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Bohannan benefits by being from Johnson County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, but Hagle said Miller-Meeks may be better known — partly because of the attention from the recount and narrow margin of victory in her race two years ago.
“Not only is she the incumbent, although only a first term incumbent, but given that she has run several times before, her name recognition is probably better than any other first term member of congress would have been,” Hagle said.
Miller-Meeks ran unsuccessfully against Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack three times. She defeated Democrat Rita Hart in 2020 by six votes.
Two former T-V journalists are running to represent Iowa’s new second congressional district. Republican Ashley Hinson of Marion, who worked at KCRG in Cedar Rapids for a decade, is seeking a second term in the U.S. House. Democratic challenger Liz Mathis of Hiawatha, a state senator, was a news anchor for two and a half decades at KWWL in Waterloo, then at KCRG.
They are running in the new second congressional district, which includes the cities of Grinnell, Mason City and Dubuque as well as Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. The latest data shows nearly equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters in the area. University of Northern Iowa political science professor Donna Hoffman uses the word “swingy” to describe the area.
“If you just look at the last 20 years, it was represented by Republican Jim Nussle and then Democrat Bruce Braley and then Republican Rod Blum and then Democrat Abby Finkenauer and now Republican Ashley Hinson,” Hoffman said, “and so people nationally who look at House races have moved this race more competitive.”
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists Iowa’s second district as among 88 competitive U.S. House races, with a current rating of leans Republican. Hoffman said there’s a degree of uncertainty in this race, like many others around the country.
“For example, we don’t know what effect the Dobbs decision might have on activating Democrats to vote in a midterm election, whereas they might have stayed home,” Hoffman said. “We don’t know how much Republicans will be activated by their concerns about the economy and inflation.”
Loras College professor Christopher Budzisz said there have been a barrage of commercials in this race, but the advertising strategies have been fairly traditional.
“Whatever the nationalized, negative element is, both candidates have tried to hit on that,” Budzisz said, “which I think is symptomatic of the kind of nationalization of these congressional races, no matter if it’s in the second district or other parts of Iowa.”
Budzisz said there’s a lot of head scratching about early voting trends, since Iowa election law changes shortened the duration of early voting. That makes it hard to compare this year’s data with what was happening in the week before the midterm election in 2018.
All four Iowans who are members of the U.S. House are seeking election, but Republican Congressman Randy Feenstra’s path to a second term appears to be the easiest. He’s running in a district with 95,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
The district includes all the counties along the Missouri River, the cities of Marshalltown and Ames in central Iowa and then basically the northwest quadrant of the state.
“With Randy Feenstra being a native of Sioux County, kind of a favorite son, unless he would face a very moderate or even conservative Democrat, given the registration numbers in the district, he’s in a pretty safe seat,” said Northwestern College political science professor VanDerWerff.
This is how Congressman Feenstra described the 2022 election this spring, as he spoke to delegates at the Iowa G-O-P’s state convention. “We have to fire Pelosi,” Feenstra said. “We have to hold this administration accountable…You think about crisis after crisis after crisis.”
Democratic challenger Ryan Melton of Nevada, who works for a major insurance company, said during an appearance on Iowa PBS he felt obligated to run.
“It was one of those situations where if no one’s going to do it, I’m going to do it,” Melton said. “In the age of Trumpism that we’re seeing…I thought it was absolutely untenable that there wouldn’t be a Democrat on the ballot.”
During a party fundraiser this spring, Melton told his fellow Democrats the fourth district race doesn’t get a lot of attention — and that depresses the votes of Democrats who live there.
“I know the odds are tough, but people there need us, too,” Melton said, to cheers.
A third candidate is on the ballot in the fourth district. Bryan Jack Holder of Council Bluffs is making his fifth and he says last run for congress. Holder has run before as a Libertarian. He’s a Liberty Caucus candidate this year.