IA-02: Ken Croken out, Newman Abuissa in, DCCC loves Rita Hart

Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken announced today that he has decided not to run for Congress in Iowa’s second district and is endorsing Rita Hart in the Democratic primary. In a statement enclosed below, Croken said, “It is critical that Democrats retain this seat and I believe that former Iowa State Senator Hart is uniquely well qualified to do so.” He will host a fundraiser for Hart next month and said it was “critical” for Democrats to donate to counteract the expected flow of “special interest and ‘dark’ money” spending by groups aligned with Republicans.

Hart always looked like a prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination in the district where seven-term Representative Dave Loebsack is retiring.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not yet officially backed the front-runner, but an endorsement seems likely soon. U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos, who is chairing the DCCC this cycle, met with Hart about a week before the former state senator’s campaign launch. Bustos recently told Iowa Starting Line’s Libby Meyer, “I think Rita Hart is a perfect, and I do mean a perfect fit for that district.”

“Anybody who interacts with her knows she is the real deal,” Bustos said. “So we’re very, very excited about Rita jumping into that race, and think that she will do a great job hanging on to the seat that Dave Loebsack’s had for a number of years now.”

Hart seems likely to have at least one primary rival. Newman Abuissa announced plans to run for Congress at the June 6 Johnson County Democratic Central Committee meeting, John Deeth tweeted. Abuissa was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention and is a past member of the party’s central committee in Johnson County. At this writing, I have not found a website or Facebook page for his campaign. A 2016 profile by the Arab American Institute described him this way:

Newman Abuissa, a Syrian American who has resided in Iowa for over 30 years, has made a name for himself – at the Iowa Department of Transportation as a Transportation Engineer, as an advocate for Syrian refugees and smarter U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, and in statewide and national politics.

Thomas Kedley is still the only declared GOP contender in IA-02. Republicans seem likely to coalesce eventually around Bobby Schilling, who moved back to Iowa in 2016. Schilling served in the U.S. House for two years, representing the Illinois district containing part of the Quad Cities. He lost to Bustos in 2012 and again two years later.

When Loebsack announced his retirement, I argued that IA-02 should be considered a toss-up as an open seat. If the general election pits Hart against Schilling, I’m ready to call this district lean Democrat.

UPDATE: Zachary Oren Smith interviewed Abuissa and reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen on the evening of June 7,

“I’ve been witnessing our infrastructure degenerating over the years and have been watching trust in our government deteriorating also,” Abuissa said. “The trust (is deteriorating) because our government is not following our people’s wishes. I want to restore our confidence in government, in our system because I believe we have the best system on Earth. I believe in America. I came as an immigrant. I love this country. I became a citizen. I pledged myself to this country.” […]

“I’m running to refocus our energy on rebuilding our country, rebuilding our place around the globe and take a leadership position on many global issues,” Abuissa said. “We need to capitalize on bringing people up with environmental sustainability in mind and prosperity for all.”

June 7 news release from Ken Croken:

Endorsing Senator Rita Hart:

DAVENPORT, June 7, 2019… Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken announced today that he will not to seek the Democratic Party nomination to fill the second congressional district seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack. “It is critical that Democrats retain this seat and I believe that former Iowa State Senator Hart is uniquely well qualified to do so,” he said. “While I am very appreciative of the encouragement and support I have received, I now believe that the distraction of a party primary will serve no worthwhile purpose,” he said. “Senator Hart will represent our district with distinction and I will do all I can to help ensure her election.”

Croken was elected to the Scott County Board of Supervisors in 2018 and a congressional run in 2020 comes “sooner than I would have preferred,” he said. “There’s still much for me to do to bring greater accountability, communication and transparency to Scott County government. That was the promise I made to Scott County voters during the 2018 campaign. And, I will keep that promise. Croken also explained that, more importantly, his wife of nearly 40 years has been diagnosed recently with metastatic breast cancer. “My first priority now is to my wife as she undergoes treatment and to support our children and extended family through this difficult time,” Croken said.

Croken also announced that he will host the first Scott County “Rita Hart for Congress” fundraiser on in early July. “This race has been targeted by the Republican National Congressional Committee,” Croken said. “We should expect to see a great deal of special interest and “dark” money spent in an effort to ‘flip” the seat to the GOP. Therefore, it is critical that Scott County Democrats rally to support the Hart campaign financially now…as well as at the polls next year.” Details of the event will be announced later in June.

Top image: Rita Hart, Ken Croken, and Newman Abuissa; photos cropped from publicly available Facebook profile pictures.

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Laura Belin