Where things stand in Iowa's second Congressional district

Part of a series catching up on Iowa’s 2020 races for federal offices.

Republicans and GOP-aligned interest groups did not make a serious play for Iowa’s second Congressional district in the 2016 or 2018 elections, but this seat covering 24 counties in southeast Iowa is expected to be much more competitive this year, due to U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack’s retirement.

As the filing period for state and federal candidates approaches, both parties still have two declared candidates in IA-02, but the front-runners–former State Senator Rita Hart for Democrats and State Senator Mariannette Miller-Meeks–have further consolidated their positions.

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Grassley to chair Senate Finance Committee

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters today that he will lead the Senate Finance Committee in the new Congress. The current chair, Senator Orrin Hatch, is retiring. Grassley’s official website notes,

Senator Grassley calls this committee the quality of life committee because of the committee’s jurisdiction, which includes all tax matters, health care, Social Security; Medicare, Medicaid, social services, unemployment compensation, tariffs and international trade. Legislation acted on by the Committee on Finance raises virtually all federal revenue, and expenditures authorized by this committee represent as much as two-thirds of the federal budget.

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Congress approves spending bill and tax extenders: How the Iowans voted

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The good news is, the federal government won’t shut down before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2016. The bad news is, members of Congress snuck some awful provisions in the “omnibus” budget bill and package of tax cut or tax credit extensions that just cleared the U.S. House and Senate. You know leaders aren’t proud when they bury news about a deal during another event occupying the political world’s attention, in this case Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate. I enclose below background on key provisions in the bills, as well as statements from the Iowans in Congress. I will update this post as needed.

The House held separate votes on the “tax extenders” and the omnibus. Republicans were nearly united in support of the tax bill (confusingly named “On Concurring in Senate Amdt with Amdt Specified in Section 3(b) of H.Res. 566”), which passed yesterday by 318 votes to 109 (roll call). The Democratic caucus was split; Naomi Jagoda and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that House Democratic leaders “opposed the tax package” but “did not whip their members against it.” Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the tax extenders; so did Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), one of 77 House Democrats to do so.

Loebsack was the only Iowan to vote for the omnibus bill, which easily passed this morning by 316 votes to 113 (roll call). Most of the Democratic caucus supported the bill that keeps the federal government open for at least nine more months; just 18 Democrats voted against it.

Although House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team persuaded 150 Republicans to vote for the budget measure, 95 Republicans opposed it, including all three Iowans. Blum and Young appear to have concluded that the bill was simply too expensive. King’s main objection was that none of his nine amendments were included in the final deal. Click through to read the texts of those amendments, which would have barred the use of appropriated funds for: enforcing the 2010 Affordable Care Act (health care reform law); implementing President Barack Obama’s executive orders to provide temporary protection against deportation for some immigrants who entered the country without permission; enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide; supporting any activities of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or any of its clinics, affiliates, or successors; implementing or enforcing any change to the U.S. EPA’s Waters of the United States rule; resettling refugees; implementing the multilateral deal struck earlier this year to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; implementing any regulation that stemmed from the recent international agreement to combat climate change; or expanding the use of H-2B visas.

The Senate combined the tax extenders and budget bills into one package, which passed this morning by 65 votes to 33 (roll call). Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted no; in the statements I’ve enclosed below, Grassley went into greater detail about his reasons for opposing the package. However, earlier this week he released a separate statement bragging about some of the provisions he helped to insert in the tax legislation. Members of Congress from both parties use that sleight of hand.

Among the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul voted against the omnibus, Lindsey Graham voted for it, and unbelievably, Marco Rubio missed the vote. What is wrong with this guy? He “has missed more than half of the Senate’s votes since October,” Jordain Carney reported for The Hill. I think not showing up for Senate work will hurt Rubio in Iowa, though not having a strong field operation will hurt him more.

The Senate is now adjourned until January 11 and the House until January 5. During the winter recess, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the Iowa Congressional voting not covered here during the late summer and fall.

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Weekend open thread: Conflicting Iowa Republican caucus polling edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread. The big news for Iowa politics watchers is the new poll by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, which shows a surge for Ted Cruz since October, a stable second-place position for Donald Trump, a big drop for Dr. Ben Carson, and Marco Rubio the only other candidate in double digits among likely Republican caucus-goers.

It’s the second poll this month to show Cruz in first place here. Like the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, Monmouth University found Cruz gaining most from Carson’s falling support. Last month’s endorsement by Representative Steve King has helped the Texas senator consolidate the most conservative parts of the Republican base, and he has an enormous lead among evangelicals. Some will attribute that development to backing from the FAMiLY Leader’s front man Bob Vander Plaats, but for months now, Cruz has had the largest number of evangelical pastors supporting him, as well as major social conservative voices like radio host Steve Deace and Dick and Betty Odgaard, the so-called “religious liberty ambassadors” because they shut down their business rather than buckle to pressure to allow same-sex marriages there.

Trump and his supporters have been touting a CNN poll released on December 7, which had him ahead of Cruz in Iowa by 33 percent to 20 percent, but I don’t believe that for a second–and not only because Ann Selzer has the best track record for polling this state. The CNN poll showed Trump does much better among no-party voters than among registered Republicans. An Iowa State University/WHO-HD poll that was in the field during early November found that a disproportionate number of Trump supporters have not voted in a Republican primary during the last ten years.

I don’t believe that Iowa State/WHO-HD poll reflects the current state of the race (it had Trump running behind Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and “don’t know,” with Cruz in fifth place). But I do agree with those pollsters that whether someone has voted in a recent Republican primary should be factored into a likely caucus-goer screen. Attending the caucus takes considerably more time and effort than casting a ballot in a primary. You have to find your precinct caucus location (usually different from where you would vote in a November election) and go out for an hour or more on a cold night in February. Trump doesn’t have anything like the massive organization Barack Obama’s campaign built to identify and turn out supporters who had never caucused before January 2008.

I enclose below highlights from the new Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register as well as the main findings from the latest Monmouth University and CNN polls of Iowa Republican caucus-goers. Steven Shepard’s profile of Ann Selzer for Politico is worth a read.

A Bleeding Heartland post in progress will consider whether Cruz is now firmly in position to win the Iowa caucuses, or whether he is on track to peak too soon. I’m on record predicting Cruz would not win here, but that view was grounded in several assumptions that have turned out to be false.

Trump claims the Des Moines Register is biased against him, and speaking to a rally in Des Moines on Friday night, he characterized the Register’s chief politics reporter Jennifer Jacobs as “the worst.” For the record, I do not agree, even though I’ve had some serious issues with Jacobs’ reporting. But I did find something strange in her Sunday Des Moines Register piece about “the skinny” on each candidate. Jacobs called Carly Fiorina (at 1 percent in the Selzer poll) an “also-ran,” described Mike Huckabee (3 percent) and Rick Santorum (1 percent) as “yesterday’s news,” and said Rand Paul had “little opportunity” after dropping to 3 percent. Yet she put a positive spin on Chris Christie’s 3 percent showing:

After some of the best days of his campaign, the tell-it-like-it-is New Jersey governor has seen a slight bump in support, up from 1 percent in October.

And his favorability rating is no longer underwater. In the October Iowa Poll, it was 39 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable. Now it’s 46 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable.

I had a feeling that securing more friendly coverage in the Register was the one thing Iowa Republican elites could deliver for Christie’s campaign.

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When will Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, or Rick Santorum go after Ben Carson?

Two new polls of Iowa Republicans show Dr. Ben Carson has taken the lead from Donald Trump. Selzer & Co’s latest survey for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics shows Carson is the first choice of 28 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, followed by Trump at 19 percent, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (10 percent), U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (9 percent), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (5 percent each), business executive Carly Fiorina (4 percent), former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (3 percent), Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Senator Rick Santorum (2 percent each), New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (1 percent), and the rest of the field below 1 percent.

Similarly, Quinnipiac’s latest poll of likely Republican caucus-goers found Carson ahead of Trump by 28 percent to 20 percent, followed by Rubio (13 percent), Cruz (10 percent), Paul (6 percent), Fiorina and Bush (5 percent each), and no one else above 3 percent.

Carson is the best-liked candidate among those likely to participate in the Iowa GOP caucuses. Both the Selzer and Quinnipiac surveys found that 84 percent of respondents view him favorably. I’ve posted more excerpts from the poll write-ups after the jump.

Carson is crushing the competition among social conservatives, an important bloc that tends to break late in Iowa caucus campaigns, as Bleeding Heartland guest author fladem discussed here. He has invested heavily in direct mail and leaving copies of his paperback books on Iowa Republican doorsteps, while generally escaping scrutiny from his competitors.

At some point, other candidates who are appealing primarily to the religious right must recognize that their path to relevance in Iowa runs through Carson. Only 22 percent of Selzer poll respondents said their minds are made up; 78 percent could change their minds. I’m curious to see when 2008 winner Huckabee, 2012 winner Santorum, and/or Jindal will start making a case against the surgeon. To be stuck in the cellar after spending substantially more time in Iowa than Carson must be so frustrating.

Cruz may also need to give Iowans a reason not to support Carson. Perhaps some of his Christian conservative surrogates could take on that role. “Opinion leaders” backing Cruz include numerous evangelical clergy, talk radio host Steve Deace, and Dick and Betty Odgaard, the self-styled martyrs to marriage equality in Iowa.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that Nick Ryan, who led the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund for several election cycles and headed the pro-Santorum super-PAC during the 2012 primaries, signed on earlier this year to lead a super-PAC supporting Huckabee. It might make more sense for that group to go after Carson than for Huckabee to do so directly. Still, the next GOP debate on October 28 would be a good opportunity for rivals to score points against the new Iowa front-runner.

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How the Iowans voted on the short-term funding that prevented a government shutdown

On the last day of the 2015 fiscal year, both houses of Congress passed a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 11. Conservative Republicans failed to add language ending all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto any continuing resolution that did not include funds for the health care provider.

Senate leaders gave up this fight for the time being after a September 24 cloture motion on a short-term spending bill that excluded Planned Parenthood fell well short of the 60 votes needed. Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported that bill, but it only gained 47 votes in favor.

Yesterday the U.S. Senate advanced a short-term continuing resolution without special language about Planned Parenthood. This time the cloture motion passed easily by 77 votes to 19 (roll call), with Grassley and Ernst both voting in favor. Today’s vote on the continuing resolution itself was 78 to 20; again Grassley and Ernst supported the measure. In a conference call with Iowa reporters today, Grassley indicated that a partial government shutdown, as occurred in October 2013, would be costly: “We shouldn’t do anything silly to add to the bad fiscal situation the federal government is in.”

Of the senators who are running for president, Bernie Sanders voted for the continuing resolution. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz voted against it; Cruz fought a lonely battle yesterday “to add a one-year ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood” to the resolution. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham were on the campaign trail and missed these important votes.

Later this afternoon, the House approved the continuing resolution by 277 to 151 (roll call). All the Democrats present voted yes, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Iowa’s House Republicans split with David Young (IA-03) joining 90 other GOP members in support of the resolution. Rod Blum (IA-01) and Steve King (IA-04) were among the 151 no votes. Earlier today, King had submitted four amendments to the continuing resolution in the House Rules Committee. In a statement I’ve enclosed in full below, King said his amendments would “restore Article I authority” to Congress by defunding Planned Parenthood, the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama’s executive orders on deferring deportations for some immigrants brought to this country illegally, and the 2010 health care reform law. However, King did not manage to get his amendments added to the continuing resolution.

I’ve enclosed political reaction to today’s votes after the jump and will update this post as needed with comments from other members of the Iowa delegation. Blum is spinning his vote against the resolution as a stand against “back room deals” and kicking the can down the road, as opposed to a vote for shutting down the government.

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