Why Dave Loebsack's retirement makes IA-02 a toss-up race

All four Iowa Congressional districts will likely be competitive in 2020. Republicans were already targeting the first and third districts, where Representatives Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne defeated GOP incumbents last November. Democrats could make a play for IA-04, if Representative Steve King wins the GOP nomination again (as I expect).

Representative Dave Loebsack announced on April 12 that he will retire from Congress after completing his seventh term, rather than running for re-election in the second district. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report immediately changed their ratings on IA-02 from “likely Democrat” to “toss-up.”

A close look at Loebsack’s last two elections shows why that’s the right call.

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IA-01: Will Republicans give up on Rod Blum? Should they?

Yet another special election for a U.S. House seat suggests a wave may be building. Although the Democratic candidate appears to have fallen short in Ohio’s twelfth district, the close result in what has long been a safe Republican seat should worry GOP leaders. Dan Guild noted that there are 68 Republican-held House districts where Hillary Clinton did better in November 2016 than she did in OH-12.

“[S]enior party strategists have concluded that over a dozen districts held by Republicans may already be unwinnable,” Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported for the New York Times on August 8.

Iowa’s first Congressional district may be one of the places where House leaders decide to cut their losses. But no one should write two-term Representative Rod Blum’s political obituary yet.

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Seven years of false promises finally caught up with Republicans

Among the U.S. political developments I never would have predicted: the Republican-controlled Congress was unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act under a president ready to sign the bill into law. After canceling a planned floor vote today on the American Health Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged, “Obamacare is the law of the land. … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

In the depths of my despair after the November election, I felt sure that the Affordable Care Act would be history by now, and Congress would be well on the way to privatizing Medicare.

Among the many reasons Republicans failed to draft a coherent health care alternative and could not coalesce around the half-baked American Health Care Act, the most important is this:

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King opposes House GOP health care plan; Blum and Young non-committal

U.S. Representative Steve King confirmed this morning that he opposes the House Republican health care replacement bill released on Monday. Like several influential conservative groups that condemned the American Health Care Act earlier this week, King believes the legislation does not go far enough. He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “We campaigned on the full, 100 percent, I say ‘rip it out by the roots’ repeal of Obamacare, and we don’t get that with this bill.”

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IA-03: Someone is testing negative messages about Jim Mowrer

A poll in the field is testing some negative messages about Jim Mowrer, the Democratic challenger to Representative David Young in Iowa’s third Congressional district. Details are after the jump, based on a report from a Bleeding Heartland reader who received the call on Friday. I will update this post as needed if I get the call myself or other respondents share further details.

IA-03 is among the most competitive U.S. House races, with an even partisan voter index and an incumbent serving his first term in a district President Barack Obama carried in 2012. Early last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee put Young in its “Patriot Program” for vulnerable House members. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Mowrer to its “Red to Blue” program shortly after the June primary election. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 161,156 active registered Democrats, 172,272 Republicans, and 153,533 no-party voters.

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IA-03: Democratic establishment consolidating around Jim Mowrer

The candidate filing deadline may be nearly six months away, but it seems increasingly likely that the fight for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district will be a two-way contest between Desmund Adams and Jim Mowrer. Today Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), the only Democrat left in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, made his “full support” for Mowrer official. I enclose the statement from Mowrer’s campaign after the jump. It includes a list of well-known endorsers, such as former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, State Senators Dick Dearden and Bob Dvorsky, State Representatives Charlie McConkey, Todd Prichard, and Abby Finkenauer, former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky, three IDP State Central Committee members, and Democratic Party chairs in five IA-03 counties.  

Endorsements at this stage are not aimed at persuading Democratic primary voters. Rather, they serve mainly to deter other candidates from getting into the race. They also signal to donors inside and outside Iowa that Mowrer is the “serious” candidate. He already was likely to raise substantially more money than Adams, by virtue of his strong fundraising effort as the 2014 Democratic candidate against Representative Steve King in IA-04.

On a related note, last month the Cook Political Report changed its rating on IA-03 from “toss up” to lean Republican. One reason: “Each day Mowrer consolidates support, the less likely it is that Democrats’ very top choice, U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt, gets in. Former Gov. Chet Culver was rumored to be interested but now looks unlikely to run.” I’m intrigued that a handful of unnamed sources (including one “operative”) managed to convince beltway experts that Klinefeldt would be the “gold standard” candidate in IA-03. Not meaning to knock Klinefeldt, but I’ve had scores of conversations with local Democrats about this race. It’s hardly a consensus view that the U.S. attorney would be the strongest possible candidate to face first-term Republican David Young.

Speaking of Young, earlier this month James Hohmann and Elise Viebeck reported for the Washington Post that he had signed a contract with the National Republican Congressional Committee as a condition for getting help from the NRCC’s incumbent protection program. You can view the fundraising, communication, and political requirements laid out in that contract here.

The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 150,572 active registered Democrats, 163,096 Republicans, and 163,748 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. More than half of the district’s voters and roughly two-thirds of the Democrats live in Polk County, containing Des Moines and most of its suburbs.

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