CEDAR RAPIDS — It was a challenging campaign, Ashley Hinson said about her Iowa 1st District U.S. House race that ended in victory, but not just because she was running against incumbent Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer.
There was the coronavirus pandemic that limited traditional campaign activities and then a derecho that disrupted — and put on hold — the lives of many of the voters she was trying to reach.
“What I was hearing and what I was running on really didn’t change,” Hinson said early Wednesday morning when she delivered a virtual victory speech. “The issues of the campaign really were just amplified ... jobs, health care, growing our economy and moving the state forward.”
She had to adapt her campaign “in a creative manner that showed people that I’m the right person to represent them in Washington.”
According to the Iowa Secretary of State, Hinson, 37, defeated Finkenauer 51.25 percent to 48.65 percent — a margin of 10,759 votes.
Finkenauer did not speak to the media and did not concede.
“Given tonight’s historic turnout and the record number of votes cast early and by mail, Finkenauer for Congress will continue to review election returns and data on outstanding ballots,” said campaign manager Ned Miller in a statement. “Our team will conduct that review as quickly as possible and provide an update on Wednesday. Under Iowa law, ballots received as late as Nov. 9 may be counted.”
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Hinson saw no reason to wait to get to work beginning Wednesday morning “after we celebrate a little bit tonight.”
“I look forward to continuing to focus on ways to reduce the tax burden on hardworking Iowa families,” she said. “It’s not lost on me how hard you work for that money and more of it should be in your pocket.”
Her agenda includes reforming a “broken” health care system, reducing the cost of prescription drugs, securing the border and holding China accountable, Hinson said.
Hinson’s victory marks the third time in six years, 1st District voters elected a new U.S. House representative and the second time in two years they’ve thrown out the incumbent in favor of a newcomer.
Hinson had to wait for victory after Finkenauer rolled up a massive margin in early returns. In Linn County, for example, Finkenauer captured roughly two-thirds of the early vote. By midnight, Hinson had pulled ahead.
Finkenauer appeared to be on a similar path as in 2018 when she defeated Republican Rep. Rod Blum 51 percent to 46 percent by carrying only Linn, Black Hawk, her home county of Dubuque and Winneshiek counties.
Election handicappers altered their rating of the 1st District race throughout the campaign, but in the end Inside Elections and Crystal Ball called it “leans Democratic” while the Cook Political Report moved it to “Democratic tossup.”
The conventional wisdom was that if Hinson, who has represented a Marion district in the Iowa House for four years, could hold down Finkenauer’s margin in those Democratic strongholds and run well in the traditionally Republican rural counties she would be able to flip the 20-county district that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Marshalltown.
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Finkenauer made history in 2018 when she was one of the first two women Iowans elected to the U.S. House. Then 29, she was the second youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
However, Hinson entered the race with high name recognition from her 10 years as a reporter and anchor at Cedar Rapids television station that reaches nearly the entire 1st District.
She thanked voters “for having faith in me to go represent them and tell their stories in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “It’s going to be the honor of a lifetime.”
She also thanked Finkenauer, a two-term Iowa lawmaker before being elected to Congress, for her service to the state and 1st District.
“This was a hard fought campaign and I know that Congresswoman Finkenauer’s service to the state of Iowa is not yet over,” Hinson said.
It was expensive, too. Together the candidates spent more than $9.9 million to reach the district’s 549,425 voters. Although Hinson outraised her in the last two quarters of the campaign, Finkenauer spent $5,087,485 to Hinson’s $4,262,072, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Hinson credited “Ashley’s army,” her grassroots team, for “making those extra efforts to just help us cross the finish line first.”
She also credited her husband, Matt, and two sons for their support.
Although she officially state her two-year term until January, Hinson plans to attend “freshman orientation” for incoming members of the House next week. As a representatives, Hinson will be paid $174,000 a year plus benefits.
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