Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Ashley Hinson fundraising appeal notes national priority

State Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, applauds at a graduation ceremony for five members of the 6th Judicial District’s Drug Treatment Court program in October 2018 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids.  Hinson was joined by state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and state Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
State Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, applauds at a graduation ceremony for five members of the 6th Judicial District’s Drug Treatment Court program in October 2018 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. Hinson was joined by state Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, and state Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Residents in the 1st Congressional District recently received a fundraising letter for Ashley Hinson, a former KCRG-TV news anchor turned Republican member of the Iowa House from Marion, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, in 2020.

In a postscript, Hinson noted, “The National Republican Congressional Committee encouraged me to run and ranked this as one of their Top 10 races for 2020, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already deploying staffers to Iowa to salvage Abby Finkenauer's campaign and, with it, their House Majority. That's how much is at stake.”

Analysis

District 1 is a quintessential swing seat with 160,542 active Democrats, 139,047 active Republicans and 195,096 no-party voters, according to the Iowa secretary of state’s November report. The district has flipped between Democrats and Republicans at the presidential and congressional level over the past several election cycles.

It’s is not surprising there is national interest, but do the statements check out?

Graded a B

There are three claims to verify: that the National Republican Congressional Committee encouraged Hinson to run; that the NRCC ranked this as one of its Top 10 races for 2020; and that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is deploying staffers to Iowa.

When contacted, Hinson’s campaign cited a news release for the claim about Democrats deploying staffers and deferred to the NRCC on the other statements.

In a March news release, DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos announced “March Forward, an aggressive, multimillion dollar effort to defend and expand the new Democratic majority.”

The launch would begin, according to the statement, with the hiring of nearly 60 grass roots organizers in 29 communities across America, including in Cedar Rapids, which is District 1’s largest city.

“These cornerstone hires in the DCCC’s first major field investment of the 2020 election cycle will lay the groundwork for a program that will take grass roots organizing to the next level,” the statement said, noting field managers would be trained on communications, digital, research and field tactics so they can execute a modern campaign strategy.

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A single staff person has been hired in Cedar Rapids but the job is to help elect Democratic candidates in general, not just Finkenauer, according to the DCCC.

The NRCC provided sourcing for the other two claims.

First, the most straight forward.

In an August news release, NRCC announced 43 “on the radar” candidates as part of its “2020 Young Guns program,” which included Hinson. The program “mentors and supports candidates in races across the country and works to provide them with the necessary tools to run successful, winning campaigns,” according to the statement.

“Americans’ priorities are Republican priorities,” Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in the statement. “This is why we are recruiting the best to compete in 2020 and I am proud to welcome each of these candidates to the Young Guns program. I remain focused on ensuring they have the resources they need to win, and I look forward to seeing them on the campaign trail over the next 14 months.”

“Young Guns” have to be invited after qualifying by meeting several bench marks, according to the NRCC.

Roll Call, a Washington, D.C., political news publication, this month called Hinson “one of the Republicans’ top recruits.

The final piece is a little trickier.

No definitive source shows NRCC calling the Iowa District 1 race one of its Top 10 priorities. How national committees — for both parties — tier races typically is internal strategy, not made public. It’s too early in the election season to gauge NRCC campaign spending.

However, a number of examples exist to suggest this will be one of the more important races nationally.

Iowa District 1 trails only the Texas District 7 congressional race when it comes to outside spending by special interest groups. To date, $233,742 has been spent, including $226,560 in attack ads against Finkenauer, which is the most in attack spending anywhere in the country for 2020 congressional races, according to OpenSecrets.org, which provides non-partisan research about campaign finances.

Analysts also view it as a top-tier race.

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In September, the National Journal, a political news publication based in Washington, D.C., released (behind a website paywall) its first “Hotline House Power Rankings” of the congressional seats most likely to change party hands in 2020. District 1 was rated No. 12 overall, and No. 9 among Democratic seats Republicans could flip.

“Trump’s popularity in Iowa will greatly shape the House races for both Iowa seats on this list, but the 1st District might be more favorable to Democrats,” according to the publication. “Obama won it by 14 points before Trump carried it by 4. Private polling suggests Trump’s numbers have tanked here, but Republicans are ecstatic about their recruit, Ashley Hinson, a state representative who likely boasts high name ID from her time as an anchor at a Cedar Rapids TV station. She had a relatively good first fundraising quarter, but Finkenauer ended June with twice as much on hand.”

Cook Political Report lists District 1 among 18 tossup seats held by Democrats, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a project of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, lists District 1 among 12 tossup seats held by Democrats. Roll Call ranked Finkenauer the No. 8 most vulnerable Democrat in 2020.

Conclusion

The statements mostly check out. Hinson was recruited by her party to run. Democrats have touted their efforts to hold down the seat and expand their hold nationally by deploying staff, although suggesting multiple "staffers" focused solely on "salvaging" Finkenauer's campaign is a stretch since only a single staffer has been hired, and the job is electing Democratic candidates in general. While there are many external indicators to suggest the District 1 race will be among Republicans’ top priorities, we aren’t able to specifically substantiate Republicans have zeroed in on the seat as one of their Top 10 targets.

Fact Checker gives Hinson a B for the claims.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by B.A. Morelli of The Gazette.

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