Iowa voters face trifecta of tossup races

43 percent of registered voters already cast ballots

Theresa Greenfield, candidate for US Senate, speaks with press after a tour of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125 Li
Theresa Greenfield, candidate for US Senate, speaks with press after a tour of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125 Linn County Training Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The old saw that “your vote matters” may sound cliché, but this year it may be even more true in Iowa than anywhere else in the country.

As the 2020 election cycle comes to a close, candidates are barnstorming the state to win every vote possible in some races that appear too close to call.

That gives Iowa voters what University of Northern Iowa political scientist Chris Larimer believes is a unique opportunity: Voters, especially in the U.S. House 1st District, will be deciding at least three important tossup races where every vote will matter.

The stakes of every election are high, Larimer said, because elections have consequences for public policy. These could be razor-thin.

“There are always questions about ‘Does my vote really matter?’ Yes, it absolutely does,” Larimer said.

The top three races in Iowa — Republican President Donald Trump vs. Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst vs. Democrat Theresa Greenfield and Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer vs. Republican state Rep. Ashley Hinson — have been rated as tossups for much of the campaign. The 3rd U.S. House district as well as open-seat races in the 2nd and 4th are competitive, too.

“So the first three races you’re voting in are extraordinarily competitive,” Larimer said. “The entire country is looking at them. All the national media are looking at these races.”


That hasn’t been lost on the candidates in these final days. Biden was in Iowa on Friday. Trump visited Sunday and his daughter, Ivanka, was in Dubuque with him and then again Monday in Des Moines.

Ernst and Greenfield were on the move, too, to rally voters in the final hours of the campaign.

Ernst was flying around Iowa to six campaign stops during the day, hitting Central and Eastern Iowa before finishing in western Iowa. Ernst’s events were in Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Sioux City. She told voters she’s never forgotten who she is, where she came from and who she’s working for.

“Through my years of service, whether it’s been in public elected office or serving in the Iowa Army National Guard, I have never forgotten Iowa,” Ernst said, countering a Democratic message that Washington has changed her.

“I will never forget where I’m from and I will never forget the people of Iowa — my family, my friends, my neighbors from all four corners of the state,” she said. “I am fighting for Iowa every single day.”

Her challenger, Greenfield, also was traveling across Central and Eastern Iowa with stops in Black Hawk, Buchanan, Dubuque and Linn counties. Monday morning the Des Moines businesswoman was on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC to air her closing argument that’s she’s running to “put hardworking Iowans first.”

Health care is the top issue on voters’ minds, Greenfield said, because “they can’t afford their premiums or deductibles. Seniors are getting gouged for prescription drugs. They’re worried about the rural hospitals staying open. Of course, they know that Sen. Ernst voted to end the Affordable Care Act, which could close their hospitals and end their protections for preexisting conditions,” she said.

Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political-science professor, said Ernst and Greenfield appear to be making sure to hit as many of the state’s cities as possible.

“Ernst doesn’t have to win those areas. Losing them less badly than she might otherwise do just amplifies her strength in the rural and small-town counties,” Goldford said. Her “ending the visits in Sioux City is heading back to the ‘mother ship’ for Republican candidates,” he said.


Both sides claimed to have enthusiasm on their side, and the number of absentees and registrations show Iowa voters are energized.

In Cedar Rapids, enthusiasm for Trump’s reelection was manifest in what participants said was an impromptu 600-vehicle parade Sunday afternoon.

Trump, Ernst, Hinson and other Republicans are counting on a heavy Election Day turnout because Republicans haven’t participated in the 29 days of early voting as much as Democrats. GOP candidates head into Election Day trailing Democrats by tens of thousands of votes, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.

“Typically, Republicans turn out to the polls on Election Day and I’m sure we’re going to see that tomorrow,” Ernst said Monday during a Cedar Rapids stop.

As of Monday morning, 43 percent of Iowa’s 2,245,097 registered voters had already cast their ballots. Although there was no telling what those 955,971 voters decided, 45 percent were cast by Democrats, 33 percent by Republicans and 21 percent by no-party voters.

Secretary of State Paul Pate also reported Monday the number of active registered voters — those who have participated in recent elections — surpassed the previous record in the months following the 2016 election.

More than 90 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters are registered, he said.

There are 2,095,581 active registered voters in the state — 719,951 Republicans, 699,001 Democrats and 676,989 others.

As time runs out on the campaigns, candidates are finding they can’t buy more ad spots on TV because no time is available anymore. So “earned media,” the coverage they receive from the local press at each stop, becomes more important. They’re also spending on digital and radio advertising to get their arguments out to voters in the final hours.

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


Rod Boshart of The Gazette’s Des Moines Bureau contributed.

Voter information

To find your polling place:

Visit the Secretary of State’s website at https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterreg/pollingplace/search.aspx

Enter your ZIP code, house number and street and find your precinct under “Primary & General Elections.”

To track your absentee ballot:

Enter your name and date of birthday at


To reach your local auditor’s office:

Johnson County Auditor’s Office

913 S Dubuque St., Suite 101

Iowa City IA 52240

Phone: 319-356-6004

Linn County Auditor’s Office

935 Second St. SW

Cedar Rapids, IA 52404


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