CEDAR RAPIDS — The 2018 midterm election was a mixed bag for Iowa Republicans who saw their party maintain control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature, but lose two congressional seats.
That’s further evidence that Iowa is neither red nor blue, but purple, according to Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann.
Despite GOP incumbents losing in the 1st and 3rd districts, Kaufmann believes Republicans can win back those seats in 2020 if it addresses some new realities. Chief among them, Kaufmann said, is to develop a fundraising apparatus to rival ActBlue.
The online fundraising platform has raked in more than $3 billion for Democratic candidates since 2004.
In 2018, 1st District Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer received nearly $1 million in donations through ActBlue — mostly from contributors in Massachusetts, New York, California and other Democratic strongholds.
“Democrats had one thing we did not — the ability to raise funds from ActBlue,” Kaufmann said. “The outside money they were able to bring in made the difference. You can’t pound Rep. Rod Blum for a year with close to no response and pretend that, in a close district, it’s not going to a toll.”
With the help of ActBlue, Finkenauer spent nearly twice as much as her two-term Republican opponent spent on his re-election effort.
“I feel good about level of donations from Republican activists, but we are going to have to have our own ability to raise dollars outside the district,” Kaufmann said.
In the 1st and 3rd districts, Kaufmann said, Democrats were able to use their cash advantage to run up their margins in urban areas.
Third District Rep. David Young lost despite winning 15 of 16 counties — but not Polk County. In the 1st, Rep. Rod Blum won 16 of 20 counties, but lost the Linn, Black Hawk, Dubuque and Winneshiek counties, and therefore his re-election bid.
“We have a strong base to build on,” said Kaufmann, who noted that in the Iowa Legislature, House Democrats represent about 20 counties and there’s only one Democratic senator west of Interstate 35.
“But we have to begin to mitigate losses in urban and suburban areas.”
It’s doubtful his party will carry Polk County, “and we are absolutely not going to win Johnson County.” However, Kaufmann pointed out that Johnson County has the fifth-largest number of Republican voters in the state.
“So if we narrow the spread there that means we can win back the 1st and 3rd districts and have strength in legislative races,” he said.
Cook Political Report’s first 2020 House ratings have Iowa’s 1st and 3rd districts as “Democratic tossup.”
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