Iowa's 1st District in national spotlight

Blum vs. Finkenauer will help decide balance of power

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Iowa’s 1st U.S. House District race is one of the most-watched in the nation this election season as Democrats try to seize control of the chamber.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum, seeking his third term, is defending against state Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer. Both are Dubuque natives and both were first elected in 2014.

But there is a world of difference in their ideologies — and they disagree on the biggest issues facing Iowa.

For Finkenauer, health care is the most important issue.

“Making sure that folks are able to have access to affordable care, making sure that we have someone in Washington, D.C., standing up to the administration,” she said.

Fixing health care is an important issue for Iowans, Finkenauer said. She wants to add a public option — a government-run insurance program, an idea once rejected by a Democratic-controlled Congress — to the private insurance options under the Affordable Care Act.

Blum also wants to address health care and keep pre-existing conditions covered by insurance companies, he said.

“Our bill that we passed in the House — and it didn’t make to the Senate, so it never became law — had multiple ways to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Blum said. “The only thing we ask of people is to be a little bit responsible and make sure you maintain continuous coverage.”


The bill also would have allowed states to seek waivers from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Blum has focused on the economy during his campaign, saying it’s one of the best in history.

“We have more job openings than people looking for jobs,” he said. “Incomes were the largest increase in 10 years for working families.”

Finkenauer said she hasn’t seen the same economy that Blum sees.

“It’s doing well for folks like Rod Blum, but folks that I’m talking to are working multiple jobs trying just to have enough money to send their kids to baseball and softball practice,” Finkenauer said. “Our wages are too dang low here.”

Finkenauer said trade disputes “started on Twitter” could cost the state $2.2 billion, and the federal income tax bill that Blum and other Republicans adopted gives 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent.

“That has not trickled down to folks here,” Finkenauer said.

Blum said there is misunderstanding about policy he has supported.

“The misconception that since we had tax cuts in this country, we’re now going to have to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Blum explained. “In fact, revenues are going to probably double over the next 10 years.”

The two also disagree on abortion rights.

Blum has voted for and co-sponsored the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but it has not passed the U.S. Senate.

Historically, he has voted for bills and laws that restrict abortions, unlike his opponent who in the Iowa House has voted to fund Planned Parenthood and against a bill similar to the abortion ban after 20 weeks.

“When it comes to women’s health, we’ve got to respect women and we’ve got respect doctors and make sure legislators are not in the doctor’s offices,” Finkenauer said.

Blum continues to support term limits. He has supported a bill that would limit politicians to three terms in the U.S. House and two terms in the U.S. Senate.

“The Democrats always say that, ‘limit yourself to three terms because you support that law,’” Blum said.

However, he won’t commit to that. He has said he’ll worry about a fourth term after he’s elected to a third.

Blum repeatedly has criticized Finkenauer about receiving out-of-state campaign funding.

But records show both candidates have taken in a large amount of it.

Almost $1 million has come to Finkenauer from ActBlue, a website that processes Democratic donations.

She has raised money at a faster rate than Blum. During a three-month period that ended Sept. 30, Finkenauer raised $1.6 million to Blum’s $469,519.

She has outraised Blum overall, as well, bringing in $3.7 million to his $1.69 million.

Finkenauer has almost equaled both of Blum’s past Democratic opponents combined. Monica Vernon raised $2.7 million in 2016 and Pat Murphy raised $1.4 million in 2014, both of whom outraised Blum but were defeated at the polls anyway.

So far, Blum has raised less than he did in 2016, when he had $1.88 million in contributions.

“Raising money is always challenging,” Blum said. “It’s a little bit harder for me to raise money than it is for career politicians because I stand up to Washington, D.C., and I stand up against my own party.”


Campaign finance reports show that when there was a month to go before the election, Blum nonetheless had more cash on hand, with $1 million to Finkenauer’s $561,268.

Both candidates have had ethical accusations made against them — Blum about not initially disclosing hs interest in the Tin Moon business and Finkenauer for not reporting a nonprofit she worked for.

“I can sum it up with making a mountain out of an ant hill,” Blum said about the accusations against him. “It’s all politics. It’s part of the swamp.”

The House Ethics Committee has taken up an inquiry into whether he failed to disclose his involvement in Tin Moon, a Dubuque firm that claims it can bury derogatory information — including from the federal government — about businesses in online search results.

The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the case in mid-July. A decision on a course of action is expected before Dec. 17.

Blum said he simply forgot to check a box on a financial disclosure statement two years ago.

Finkenauer has been questioned about failing to note her change of employment when she became the director of Make It Work, a nonprofit organization.

Finkenauer also was accused of using a photo in the Legislature in a television ad and included a link to her campaign website on her official biographical page for the Legislature. Both of the ethics complaints were dismissed by an Iowa legislative panel.

Throughout the race, Finkenauer has held a slim lead according to most polls. But Blum has faced unfavorable polling in his previous races in 2016 and 2014 and went on to win.


The 1st District consists of 20 Northeast Iowa counties and includes the cities of Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Marshalltown. The election is Nov. 6.

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