ELECTION 2020

Iowa GOP freshman now confront Democratic U.S. House

Second-term Axne now most experienced of the four

Republican Ashley Hinson speaks Wednesday with journalists at her Cedar Rapids campaign office after her win in Iowa's 1
Republican Ashley Hinson speaks Wednesday with journalists at her Cedar Rapids campaign office after her win in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Hinson defeated one-term incumbent Democrat Abby Finkenauer. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The blue tide that swept Iowa Democrats into Congress two years ago went out Tuesday — taking with it one of those House newcomers and, possibly, flipping a seven-term Democratic seat.

In the 2018 midterms, then-state Rep. Abby Finkenauer and West Des Moines businesswoman Cindy Axne defeated incumbent Republicans, and 2nd District Rep. Dave Loebsack, who rode in on a similar Democratic wave in 2006, cruised to another term.

Now the 3rd District’s Axne may become Iowa’s lone Democrat in the U.S. House delegation.

Finkenauer suffered a 51-49 percent loss to two-term state Rep. Ashley Hinson of Marion.

Loebsack’s seat may flip to state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an Ottumwa Republican, was narrowly leading although thousands of ballots remain.

In Northwest Iowa’s 4th District, state Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull succeeds U.S. Rep. Steve King, who he defeated in the GOP primary.

Regardless of who wins in the 2nd District, Axne will be the senior member of Iowa’s representation in the Democratic-controlled House. The others will be freshmen — two of them, and maybe three, in the House minority party.

Does that mean it will be up to Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst — both in the GOP-controlled Senate — to bring home the bacon for Iowa?

Maybe, said Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford.

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“The bacon has to come from two ranches together, the House and Senate,” he said. “It gives a state an advantage when it has someone in the majority in each chamber.”

On the campaign trail, both Axne and Ernst said they will work with the other party if it helps Iowa, Goldford notes, “so we’ll see.”

Overall, the election outcome suggests that Iowa has the potential to be less influential in the 117th Congress with Axne as the only member with some experience in the chamber, as a member of the majority party and as a member of the Agriculture Committee, said Cornell College political science professor Megan Goldberg.

A representative’s effectiveness generally is thought to depend on his or her intrinsic skills as a legislator, experience, and institutional positions including committee membership and being in the majority, Goldberg said.

“Going from three majority party representatives — one of whom had significant experience — means a reduction in the overall legislative effectiveness of the Iowa House delegation,” she said. Experience is particularly important, she said, because lawmakers’ effectiveness increases with “learning by doing.”

Finkenauer’s reelection would have meant slightly more experience and another majority party member in the delegation, according to Goldberg. “A Hart victory would not have added experience, but it would have expanded the proportion of the delegation in the majority party.”

However, it may be premature to speculate on the election’s impact “given that we still don’t know who the president will be and which party will control the Senate,” University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Wednesday. And, he added, Miller-Meeks is leading Democrat Rita Hart by fewer than 300 votes.

The new makeup of the Iowa delegation, even if Hart were to pull out a win, means Grassley and Ernst will continue to play a larger role representing Iowa’s interests, added University of Northern Iowa political scientist Chris Larimer.

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Axne believes she was reelected because voters see her as “somebody who will always stand up for our district, I’ll always stand up for Iowa.” However, she concedes that might be more difficult if she becomes the lone Iowa Democratic voice in the House.

“It was Abby Finkenauer and I who were some of the biggest voices for passing the USMCA when we weren’t sure that it was going to get through the House,” Axne said about the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada — two of Iowa’s largest export markets. “We knew that we needed to make that happen.”

Together with Finkenauer and Loebsack, she said, the Iowa Democrats were able to win House passage of extensions of biodiesel tax credits “which created certainty in our ag market here.”

“That didn’t get done under an all-Republican watch. It got done under us working hard with our Democratic House,” she said.

Making sure Iowans’ voices are heard is top of mind for Hinson, too.

She called Axne “because I think it’s important that we as Iowans have a very strong voice in Washington,” she said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

“That was something that she echoed on the phone today,” Hinson said. In a year when Iowans have been impacted by COVID-19 and a derecho, “it would be more important than ever that we all come together work together so that Iowans get the best service possible.”

Hinson, who will head next week to Washington for orientation, also talked Wednesday to Ernst about working together as an Iowa delegation.

If she is the lone Democrat from Iowa, Axne may be better positioned to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s help to advance legislation benefiting Iowa agriculture, wind energy and ethanol, for example, Hagle said.

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On the other hand, if all but one — or even two — of Iowa’s representatives are Republicans, Pelosi “may be less inclined to help Iowa regardless of who wins the presidency,” he said.

“That might be particularly true if Trump wins and the resistance continues,” Hagle said.

Axne doesn’t foresee Pelosi punishing Iowa for the election outcome.

However, the loss of five Democratic seats nationwide may send a signal to House leadership to spend less time on bills meant only to make a point but are certain to die in the GOP-controlled Senate, Axne said.

“We shouldn’t be just trying to put together messaging bills that aren’t going to go anywhere,” she said. “All they do is create gridlock.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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