CEDAR RAPIDS — It appears the third time will be a charm for Monica Vernon.
After suffering back-to-back defeats in 2014, the former Cedar Rapids business owner has scored a win in Iowa’s U.S. House 1st District primary. Shortly after 10 p.m., with nearly half of precincts reporting, former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy called Vernon to concede, according to his campaign manager.
Murphy promised to support her and other Democrats “to ensure we raise the minimum wage, end trade deals that hurt our workers and protect Social Security and Medicare” and retire incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque.
At that point, Vernon had built up a 70 percent to 29 percent for Murphy of Dubuque with more than two-fifths of precincts, according to unofficial results from the Iowa Secretary of State.
Despite incumbency, Blum is considered vulnerable because Democrats have a voter registration advantage of nearly 26,000 in the 20-county 1st District that stretches from Marshalltown in central Iowa to Minnesota and the Mississippi River, and includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Dubuque.
Another indication of the odds he faces is that President Barack Obama carried the district by margins of 14 and 18 percentage points in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Vernon said the victory was built on her previous defeat.
“We made a lot of friends in 2014,” she said. “We kept those friends and then we met their friends and their friends’ friends. We built coalitions wherever we could whether it was small business owners, whether it’s labor unions, you know, all kinds of people.”
That led former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch, who chose Vernon as his running mate in 2014, to predict the 1st District race will be over by September because of the strength of her campaign.
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“She’s a tireless campaigner,” Hatch said as he and others watched results come in at Vernon’s victory party Tuesday at the Iowa Brewing Company in Cedar Rapids.
“I love it when people believe in me,” Vernon said.
The general election campaign will be fought on very familiar issues, Vernon said.
“In a lot of ways, we’re going to be talking about the same things,” Vernon said. “The economy and jobs are so keys, and whether we invest in people and how we invest in them.”
She faulted “Tea Party Republicans like Congressman Rod Blum (who) continue to fuel the obstruction and dysfunction in Congress.”
The 1st District primary was something of a rematch. In 2014, Murphy topped Vernon and three other Democrats who were vying for the nomination to succeed Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley. He captured 35.6 percent of the vote to Vernon’s 22.9 percent in the field that include two other Linn County candidates.
Murphy lost to Blum in the open-seat general election 49.9 percent to 47.6 percent.
Despite the primary election loss, Vernon never stopped running. In the 2014 general election, she ran with Hatch. They lost to Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Undeterred, Vernon entered the 2016 primary even before Blum took office in January 2014.
“I’m a problem-solver and I can see he will be a problem,” she said at the time.
On the campaign trail, Vernon talked about her strength in bringing people together to get things done such as building a shelter for homeless women and children and finding support for building a new minor league baseball stadium in Cedar Rapids.
“There’s nothing like continual hard work,” she said. “I started early and I’m not going to stop until the job is done.”
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Although Vernon and Murphy agreed on core Democratic issues, their race was contentious. Calling himself a “lifelong Democrat,” Murphy questioned Vernon’s commitment to the party because she was a Republican until 2009. When he was the Democratic leader in the Iowa House working to pass a minimum-wage increase, equal rights for LGBTs, protect same-sex marriage and expand preschool opportunities, Murphy said “she was still a Republican, giving money to Republicans.”
Vernon, who called herself a lifelong progressive, challenged Murphy’s commitment to the Democratic Party’s pro-choice principles, pointing out that he helped start a Dubuque County pro-life organization and in the past has received a 100 percent rating from Iowa Right to Life.
Vernon also questioned Murphy’s trustworthiness, asking why the “people who know him the best trust him the least.” Legislators who served with Murphy have endorsed her and labor unions that endorsed him in the past are backing her.
Their differences on many issues were nuanced. For example, Murphy would eliminate the cap on Social Security payroll taxes. Now, the tax is paid on the first $118,000 of income. That means that Donald Trump hits the cap on Jan. 1, Murphy said, while middle class Iowans are paying that tax all year.
Vernon would maintain the tax on the first $118,000 of income, but apply the payroll tax on income over $250,000 so the wealthy would pay more.
They both want to raise the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage, but Murphy would go to $15 immediately while Vernon would get there incrementally in an attempt to avoid job loss.
In addition to her early start and endorsements from legislators, labor unions and interest groups, Vernon also has raised five times as much in campaign funds as Murphy.
According to her May 18 Federal Election Commission report, Vernon raised $1,402,326 to Murphy’s $238,990. She has outspent Murphy $981,439 to $194,030.
Members of the U.S. House serve two-year terms and are paid $174,000 a year.