DCCC backing Abby Finkenauer in IA-01

The main political arm of U.S. House Democrats is officially promoting Abby Finkenauer as its preferred candidate to take on Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first district.

Finkenauer was among the initial group named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program for this election cycle, as first reported by Roll Call’s Simone Pathe on November 15. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Representative Jimmy Panetta were featured guests at a Cedar Rapids fundraiser for Finkenauer’s campaign on November 19.

The DCCC describes Red to Blue as “a highly competitive and battle-tested program […] that arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support to help them continue to run strong campaigns.” Pathe noted,

Being named to Red to Blue opens doors for candidates who can tout their inclusion on the list to donors. Candidates also benefit from guidance and staff resources from the DCCC, which has been in contact with all Democratic House candidates who have been willing to collaborate and communicate with the committee this year.

The DCCC evaluates candidates’ fundraising, grass-roots engagement, local support, ties to the community and campaign infrastructure when deciding who makes the cut for the program.

This section on the Red to Blue page steers donors toward Finkenauer as an electable candidate in a prime target:

Abby, a first-generation college graduate and Iowa State Representative, launched her campaign in April and is a proven advocate for working families. This is a historically Democratic district — President Obama won twice — that represents a top takeover opportunity for Democrats. An NBC News profile designated Abby as the candidate with what it takes to win.

In that NBC News story from August, Benjy Sarlin and Alex Seitz-Wald focused on Finkenauer and the political culture of Dubuque (her home town and Blum’s) to illustrate how Democrats could win back 50 House seats in 2018.

Although the DCCC identified IA-01 as one of its highest priorities in January, it was not a foregone conclusion that they would endorse any of the four contenders now challenging Blum. (Thomas Heckroth, Courtney Rowe, and George Ramsey III are also running here.)

The DCCC did not endorse any of the five candidates seeking the 2014 Democratic nomination in IA-01 and publicly stayed out of last year’s three-way primary in IA-03. However, the group put Monica Vernon in its Red to Blue program during her 2016 primary campaign against Pat Murphy, Blum’s general election opponent from 2014.

Finkenauer is the only Democratic candidate in IA-01 with backing from labor unions. The seven that have endorsed her so far are AFSCME Council 61, Dubuque Building and Construction Trades, Ironworkers Local 89, Plumbers and Pipefitters of East Central Iowa Local 125, SMART Local 91, Iowa Teamsters, and the Great Plains Laborers. Finkenauer also has more current or former state lawmakers in her corner than her primary rivals.

EMILY’s List, a political action committee supporting pro-choice Democratic women, endorsed Finkenauer in June, and NARAL Pro-Choice America (the National Abortion Rights Action League’s PAC) followed suit in August. All of the Democrats running in IA-01 are pro-choice, but Finkenauer has repeatedly spoken on the Iowa House floor against bills that would restrict women’s reproductive rights–for example, during debate on a bill banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks and imposing a waiting period before terminating a pregnancy at any stage (video here).

I was a little surprised the DCCC got behind Finkenauer this early, given that Heckroth has high-profile supporters as well and raised more than $133,000 during his first three months as a candidate. As of September 30, his campaign had $105,295.85 cash on hand. Finkenauer’s campaign had $168,586.28 in the bank, but at least $40,000 of that amount can’t be spent until the general election period, because it came from donors who had already maxed out with $2,700 contributions for the primary. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling for Heckroth’s campaign indicated that he and Finkenauer do about equally well in a ballot test against Blum.

Roll Call rates IA-01 as a “lean Republican” district. The Cook Political Report puts the district in the “Republican Toss Up” category.

According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the 20 counties in IA-01 contain 159,518 active registered Democrats, 142,554 Republicans, and 190,677 no-party voters. Although President Barack Obama carried the district with more than 56 percent of the vote in 2012, Donald Trump won a plurality of votes here in 2016. Blum outperformed the top of the Republican ticket by about 5 points, winning re-election with about 53.7 percent of the vote against Vernon.

Top image: Screen shot from the “Red to Blue” page on the DCCC’s website.

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