After serving two terms in the Iowa House, it appears Rep. Abby Finkenauer will get a chance to try for the U.S. House.
Early unofficial results Tuesday showed her leading three opponents in the race for the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s 1st District. The winner will face two-term incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum on Nov. 6.
If her lead holds, the race will offer voters in the 20-county 1st District that includes Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Dubuque and Marshalltown a stark contrast between a millionaire and a millennial still paying off her student loans who, if she wins, would be the youngest person elected to the House.
Blum congratulated Finkenauer on her apparent victory and issued a challenge.
“I am looking forward to a respectful race in which we can discuss the issues during 12 debates throughout the 1st District,” he said.
“Fun. Awesome,” Finkenauer said when told about his challenge.
Calling the race personal, Finkenauer said it will be about which candidate will stand up for “families just like mine, who work hard and play by the rules but have the odds stacked against them.”
“I don’t think 2018 comes down to whether you’re a Democrat of a Republican. It comes down to our values,” Finkenauer said. “I know we are much better than the representation Rod Blum has shown in Washington.”
About 11 p.m., results showed Finkenauer with 67 percent of the votes counted. Thomas Heckroth of Cedar Falls was next with 19 percent followed by Courtney Rowe of Cedar Rapids at 8 percent and George Ramsey of Marion with 6 percent.
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Blum has a rags-to-riches story of growing up in a Dubuque home with a dirt floor and working his way through Loras College. In 1989, he was one of the initial employees of Dubuque-based Eagle Point Software, which grew from five to 325 employees in five years and Blum became president and chief executive.
In 1994 Blum earned the Iowa Entrepreneur of the Year award in the high-tech category. In 2000, he created Digital Canal as a result of a leveraged buyout. It provides software products for homebuilders and general contractors.
He and his wife, Karen, have five children.
Finkenauer, who’s emphasizing her blue-collar roots, graduated from Drake University and then worked for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, political advocacy groups and political campaigns including former Vice President Joe Biden’s 2008 Iowa caucus campaign, which earned her a late endorsement.
She was elected to the Iowa Legislature in 2014. She served on the Economic Development Committee and offered legislation on child care, renewable fuels, health care and insurance and overturning the Citizens United curt ruling.
She’s earned endorsements from several labor unions as well as abortion rights groups, including Emily’s List and NARAL. With the support of those groups and out-of-state donors, Finkenauer raised about $1.25 million — nearly three times as much as her three primary opponents. She outraised Blum for three reporting periods in a row, but the incumbent reported $1.5 million in contributions and had a more than two-to-one cash advantage after the January-April reporting period.
On the issues, Blum, 63, and Finkenauer, 28, could hardly be more different. Blum, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, made his mark early in 2015 when he did not vote to re-elect House Speaker John Boehner, who had campaigned with him. He’s earned the ire of Democrats and progressive groups by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and supporting a 20-week abortion ban, a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities and the Trump tax cuts.
He’s also called for term limits and ending what he calls perks for members of Congress like first-class plane tickets and luxury car leases.
Finkenauer has taken generally progressive positions on health care and reproductive rights, making college affordable, pro-union policies, more resources for farmers and additional paid family leave.
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The little general election polling that has been done shows Finkenauer leading Blum in a hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, but within the margin of error. Similar polls in the past two elections proved to be wrong.
The district is considered a D+1, meaning that all else being equal, it tilts Democrat by one percentage point. But 11 of the 20 counties in it are “pivot counties” — ones that voted twice for Barack Obama, but then supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
A Monmouth College poll this spring found 63 percent of those Obama-Trump voters still back the president, which is good news for Blum, a supporter of Trump.
Political handicappers — Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Inside Elections — consider the race a tossup. However, Blum has shown himself to be a strong candidate.
Though Democrats considered him vulnerable in 2016, he not only outpolled Trump, but icon Sen. Chuck Grassley as he rolled up almost 54 percent of the vote.
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