Although the Democratic field in Iowa’s first Congressional district is not yet set, many activists have already decided which candidate they’d like to see take on Representative Rod Blum next year. So far, State Representative Abby Finkenauer and Thomas Heckroth have won over more prominent Democrats than their competitors. Where things stand:
Current and former lawmakers
The value of Iowa legislative endorsements in Democratic primaries is debatable, as seen in the 2006 gubernatorial race and most recently in last year’s U.S. Senate campaign, when 61 current and 30 former lawmakers backed State Senator Rob Hogg over the eventual nominee, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge.
Nevertheless, state legislators are typically well-known in their communities and understand how to run a successful campaign, so they are highly sought after as endorsers.
Having served in the Iowa House since 2015 and worked as a legislative clerk for years before that, Finkenauer has the most support from Democrats who have served in the Iowa House or Senate. From a May 12 press release:
State Representative Liz Bennett (House district 65, Cedar Rapids)
State Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt (House district 69, Cedar Rapids)
State Representative Todd Taylor (House district 70, Cedar Rapids)
State Representative Ras Smith (House district 62, Waterloo)
State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad (House district 35 in Des Moines is outside IA-01)
State Senator Pam Jochum (Senate district 50, Dubuque)
State Senator Janet Petersen (Senate district 18 in Des Moines is outside IA-01)
Former State Representative Tyler Olson, who represented House district 65 before retiring in 2014
Thomas Heckroth announced his legislative endorsements on July 20:
State Representative Bruce Bearinger (House district 64, parts of Fayette and Buchanan counties)
Former State Representative Roger Thomas (House district 55, most of Winneshiek and parts of Fayette and Clayton counties)
Former State Representative Ro Foege (represented parts of Linn County before retiring in 2008)
Former State Representative John Beard (represented parts of Winneshiek and Allamakee counties before losing his 2010 re-election bid)
Former State Senator Brian Schoenjahn (Senate district 32, Bremer County and parts of Fayette, Black Hawk, and Buchanan counties before losing his 2016 re-election bid)
Former State Senator Steve Sodders (Senate district 36, Marshall and Tama counties, plus a small area in Black Hawk County, before losing his 2016 re-election bid)
Notes: Sodders considered running for Congress in 2018 himself.
Iowa Senate minority leader Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids told me and other reporters on July 15 that he does not plan to endorse any candidate before the IA-01 primary.
Some (but not all) of Finkenauer’s legislative endorsers also donated to her campaign during the second quarter.
Former State Senator Jack Hatch, the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, has not publicly endorsed Finkenauer to my knowledge, but he contributed $1,000 to her campaign.
LATE UPDATE: Heckroth announced another batch of supporters in January 2018, including:
Former State Representative Gene Ficken (Buchanan County)
Former State Senator Roger Stewart (Jackson County)
Former State Senator and Congressional candidate Steve Sovern (Linn County)
Labor unions or activists
Finkenauer has the only labor union endorsements to date in this primary: the Building and Construction Trades Council of Dubuque and the Plumbers and Pipefitters of East Central Iowa Local 125.
A number of individual labor leaders are also supporting Finkenauer. The press release enclosed below names seven of them, including retired AFSCME Political Director Marcia Nichols. (Finkenauer landed AFSCME’s endorsement during the 2014 primary for the open Iowa House district 99. It’s rare for an Iowa labor union to endorse in a competitive Democratic primary for a state legislative seat without an incumbent.)
If State Senator Jeff Danielson decides to run for Congress, he will presumably have the backing of the Iowa Professional Firefighters Association, of which he has long been a member.
UPDATE: AFSCME made its endorsement of Finkenauer official on July 28. From the news release:
“From growing up in a union household to becoming one of the fiercest defenders of workers’ rights on the State House floor, time and time again during legislative session Abby has had the backs of working families all across Iowa. Now more than ever we need a fighter with Abby’s background, backbone, and experience taking on anti-worker GOP policies in Washington,” said Danny Homan, President of AFSCME Council 61. “AFSCME Council 61 members know that Abby is the best choice for Iowa’s First District and we intend to do all we can to send her to Washington.”
AFSCME member Leo Gansen said, “It’s time we retire Rod Blum from Congress and send a proud union daughter to DC to fight for our values. Iowans have had enough of politicians selling our livelihoods down the river for Wall Street special interests. I was there when the AFSCME PEOPLE committee voted unanimously to endorse Abby because we need a Congresswoman who understands our lives, hasn’t forgotten where she comes from and will make our voices heard loud and clear in Washington, D.C.”
Other noteworthy political leaders and organizations
Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky has endorsed Finkenauer.
Former Iowa Democratic Party executive director Troy Price did some communications work for Finkenauer’s exploratory committee. If chosen by the State Central Committee to be the new Iowa Democratic Party chair on July 22, Price would need to remain neutral in the IA-01 primary.
Five county supervisors have endorsed Heckroth, including Linn County’s Brent Oleson, who considered running for Congress himself.
Several current or former county Democratic Party chairs have endorsed Finkenauer, including Walt Pregler, who is also a former mayor of Dubuque.
EMILY’s List’s endorsement speaks volumes about the strength of our campaign and is a recognition of the hard work Abby has been putting into this race. This crucial early support will help boost our campaign as we begin to talk to voters across the First District. The expertise and support that EMILY’s List provides is unparalleled in Democratic politics, and we couldn’t be prouder to have them on our team.
Thanks to its large national mailing list, EMILY’s List can provide a big fundraising boost. Finkenauer is among eight U.S. House candidates endorsed by the group this year and has the good fortune to appear first on the website page where candidates are listed in alphabetical order. EMILY’s List donated $5,000 directly to Finkenauer’s campaign last month and helped secure individual donations totaling $2,130.
To my knowledge, the only in-state political action committee that has picked a Democratic contender in IA-01 is the Majority Rules PAC, created late last year to advocate for the president to be elected by national popular vote. Finkenauer’s campaign received $500 from that PAC.
In addition to Finkenauer and Heckroth, two other Democrats are running for Congress in IA-01. George Ramsey III has not yet released an endorsement list; he plans a formal campaign launch in September. Courtney Rowe told me on July 20, “We have just started the process of seeking endorsements. We believe we’ll have some this quarter, but are focused on presenting our plans and ideas to voters and organizations, before asking for an endorsement. This is the community building model of campaigning, which we think is more effective than a paper endorsement.”
Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread.
May 12 press release from Abby Finkenauer’s campaign:
DUBUQUE, IA – Abby Finkenauer today announced the support of prominent Iowans for her run for congress. The announcement comes on the heels of Rod Blum’s disastrous week of town hall meetings in Iowa’s First Congressional District.
“I have worked closely with Abby for years, first as my legislative aide and now as my colleague. I have seen first hand her deep commitment to public service. I like her work ethic, experience, and the ‘street cred’ she has developed over the years standing up for all Iowans. She’s a fighter for Iowa families and this First Congressional district couldn’t have a stronger advocate taking their voice to the US House,” said Todd Taylor, State Representative from Cedar Rapids.
“Abby has been a strong partner in the state legislature, giving voice to so many Iowans who would otherwise not have one. I’m endorsing Abby for Congress because we need someone who sees what’s really happening in our communities. She is a truth teller who won’t sweep the tough facts under the rug, and who isn’t afraid to fight the hard fights.” said Ras Smith, State Representative from Waterloo.
“Working families need a voice in Washington, and I am honored to have the support of so many Iowans who believe that I can be that voice,” said Finkenauer. “This week, Rod Blum showed us the kind of representative he really is. Iowa families need someone who will stand up for them, someone who can face tough questions and who will take on the special interests in DC. I look forward to talking to and earning the support of Iowans across this district. Once elected, I look forward to being the representative that once again fights for all of us.”
Below are early endorsers of Abby Finkenauer:
Liz Bennett, State Representative, Linn County
Tyler Olson, Former State Representative, Linn County
Kirsten Running-Marquardt, State Representative, Linn County
Todd Taylor, State Representative, Linn County
Nathan Gruber, Black Hawk County Democratic Party Vice Chair
Ras Smith, State Representative, Black Hawk County
Pam Jochum, Former President of the Iowa Senate, State Senator, Dubuque County
Steve Drahozal, Dubuque County Democratic Chair
Matt Tapscott, Winneshiek County Democratic Party Chair
Sue Dvorsky, former Iowa Democratic Party Chair
Janet Petersen, State Senator, Polk County
Ako Abdul-Samad, State Representative, Former Chair of Iowa Democratic Party Black Caucus
Karen Lischer, Marshall County Activist, Spouse of Iowa House Democrats Leader Mark Smith
Jessica Kean, Jackson County Activist
Walt Pregler, former Mayor of Dubuque and former Dubuque County Democratic Chair
Jim Flogel, President, Dubuque Building and Construction Trades Council
Pete Hird, IBEW 704 Executive Committee Member
Tom Jochum, Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Representative
Marcia Nichols, Retired AFSCME Political Director
Mark Cook, Steelworkers Local 1861 U President
John Rosenthal, Teamsters 120 Business Agent
Tom Townsend, Dubuque Federation of Labor President
Finkenauer was born and raised in rural Dubuque County, where her grandfather was a lieutenant with the Dubuque fire department, her father a union pipefitter welder and her mother an employee with the Dubuque Community Schools. Finkenauer is part of the first generation in her family to graduate from college, earning her degree from Drake University. She has worked for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, where she helped invest in communities to help them grow, and was the state director for Make It Work, an organization dedicated to creating equal pay in the workplace. In 2014, she was elected to represent the city of Dubuque in the Iowa House, where she earned a reputation for standing up for working families and women. She announced her run for Iowa’s First Congressional District last week.
Thomas Heckroth press release, July 20 (emphasis in original):
Thomas Heckroth announces endorsements from First District community leaders
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Since announcing his candidacy for Iowa’s First Congressional District last week, Thomas Heckroth has already earned the support of community leaders and activists from across the district.
“I’m honored to have the support of so many community leaders and activists across the First District,” said Thomas Heckroth. “Although our campaign has only begun, I have no doubt that Democrats in this district are fired up and ready to work hard to retake this congressional seat. For too long, Rep. Blum and his Republican colleagues have been rewriting the rules in favor of billionaires and corporations. I’m running because we need a fair playing field and economic opportunity for all.”
These community leaders, elected officials, and activists have endorsed Heckroth’s candidacy:
Jere Vyverberg, Former Waverly-Shell Rock Schools Superintendent
Pam Egli, Bremer County Activist
Beth Olson, Bremer County Activist
Jodi Grover, Buchanan County Activist
Roger Thomas, Former Iowa State Representative
Brian Schoenjahn, Former Iowa State Senator
Barb Schoenjahn, Fayette County Activist
Jake Blitsch, Fayette County Activist
Peggy Sherrets, Oelwein Mayor
Ro Foege, Former Iowa State Representative
Brent Oleson, Linn County Supervisor
Steve Sodders, Former Iowa State Senator
John Beard, Winneshiek County Supervisor
Susan Salter, Linn County Activist
Don Shonka, Buchanan County Supervisor
Randy Braden, Former Vinton-Shellsburg Superintendent
Sara Riley, Linn County Activist
Ellen Gaffney, Former Buchanan County Supervisor
Bruce Bearinger, Iowa State Representative
Vicki Rowland, Former Fayette County Supervisor
“Thomas is the right candidate to retake this district and give us the representation we need in Washington. He has the experience and understanding to change the direction we’re headed in and will be a strong voice for working families as our next member of Congress.” – Former Iowa Rep. Ro Foege
“Growing up in Iowa and working for Senator Harkin, Thomas understands firsthand the value of a quality education and the important role this plays in a creating a strong economy. I’m supporting him because I know he will continue to be an advocate for public education in Congress.” – Former Waverly-Shell Rock Schools Superintendent Jere Vyverberg
“Thomas’ experience working for Senator Harkin, the Obama Administration, and the private sector have uniquely prepared him to represent this district in Congress. We know he will always put the needs of working Iowa families first and work every day to create opportunity for all.” – Former Iowa State Senator Brian Schoenjahn and Barb Schoenjahn
“It’s time Democrats reclaim this seat in Congress, and Thomas has the experience to get that done. He’s authentic, not motivated by political ambition, and has a positive, progressive vision that Iowans can support.” – Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson
“Communities like Oelwein need a partner they can rely on in Congress. Thomas Heckroth knows that economic development and investments in infrastructure can’t be limited to urban areas of our state. In Washington, I know he’ll always fight for rural Iowa and work to bring development and growth to communities of all sizes.” – Oelwein Mayor Peggy Sherrets
“Rep. Blum and his Republican colleagues have continuously placed the needs of special interests and big business ahead of what’s best for working families like those in the First District – that’s the leadership Iowa needs. I’m supporting Thomas Heckroth because he knows that we need an economy that values hard work and he will always be there for working Iowans.” – Former Iowa State Senator Steve Sodders
Iowans can add their name to this list by visiting ThomasHeckroth.com/endorse.
About Thomas Heckroth: Thomas Heckroth is a sixth-generation Iowan and native of Waverly, Iowa. Heckroth is a graduate from Waverly-Shell Rock High School and the University of Iowa, where he walked-on to the Hawkeye baseball team. Following college, Thomas joined the staff of former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, focusing on agriculture, education, and labor issues. He then joined the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor, where he helped hold corporations and trading partners accountable to protect workers’ rights at home and around the world. Most recently worked in the private sector as the Director of Sustainable Manufacturing and Sourcing for a children’s clothing maker for Nike and Levi’s. Thomas and his wife, Naomi, live in Cedar Falls with their dog Waverly.