BREAKING NEWS

Finkenauer defeats Blum in 1st District

Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, celebrates after she won the race to represent Iowa’s first district in the United States House of Representatives Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.  Her reception was held at 7 Hills Brewing Co. in Dubuque on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Eileen Meslar, Dubuque Telegraph Herald)
Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, celebrates after she won the race to represent Iowa’s first district in the United States House of Representatives Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Her reception was held at 7 Hills Brewing Co. in Dubuque on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Eileen Meslar, Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

DUBUQUE — Dubuque Democratic State Rep. Abby Finkenauer made history Tuesday by becoming one of the first two women Iowa voters have elected to the U.S. House by defeating two-term GOP Rep. Rod Blum in Iowa’s 1st District.

Finkenauer and Democrat Cindy Axne flipped Republican-held seats as part of the party’s takeover of the House.

In Finkenauer’s case, that wasn’t a surprise as political handicappers had identified the 1st District as the most likely GOP-held seat to flip to Democratic representation.

“It’s personal,” Finkenauer told voters throughout the campaign across the 20-county 1st District that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Dubuque and Marshalltown.

She called for more spending on health care, education and job training programs, advocated for a living wage and strong unions, and expanding use of clean energy and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, and promised to stand up to the Trump administration on trade and tariffs that hurt Iowa’s export markets.

“Tonight, we as Iowans made clear exactly who we are. Tonight, we rejected fear and division, and tonight, we proved we step up for our friends, our family and our neighbors,” Finkenauer told supporters at her victory celebration in Dubuque.

Her victory is a credit to everyone who knocked doors, made phone calls, “who reached into their pocket and contributed $5, $10 or $20.”

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“You are why I stand here tonight,” Finkenauer said. “I truly believe hope is the reason we got this far — and hope is the reason we still have work to do.

“You’ve asked me to be your voice in Washington, and you have my promise that I will work my tail off for you every single day,” she said. “This is and always will be personal.”

Both the national climate and the internal dynamics of the district proved too much for Blum, Loras College political scientist Christopher Budzisz said.

“Blum’s past recipe for election success of staying close in the population centers of the district, such as in Black Hawk County, and running up the margins in the less populated counties wasn’t a viable on this election cycle,” he said. “Blum faced an energized Democratic electorate with a strong Democratic candidate at the top of the statewide ticket, and an issue environment favorable to Democrats with its focus on health care.”

In conceding, Blum called his opportunity to serve in Congress “a uniquely American opportunity for the son of parents who didn’t make it past the 10th grade.

“It has been an honor to serve the 1st District,” he said.

Blum, whose first vote in Congress was against House Speaker John Boehner, who had campaigned for him, challenged Finkenauer “to similarly prove her independence from big donors and the leadership of her own party when she takes this same vote in Congress.”

In seeking a third term, Blum, the owner of a software development firm, contrasted Finkenauer’s youth with his experience in Congress and in the private sector.

“I’m 63 years old. That means I’ve had a lot of life experience,” Blum said. “I’ve raised a family. I started successful businesses so I know what it is like to meet a payroll.”

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Voters at Finkenauer’s victory celebration at 7 Hills Brewing in Dubuque seemed less interested in his experience than his opposition to the Affordable Care Act and votes that opponents said would undermine requirements that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions.

Both the cost of health care and concern that Republicans might eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions were top of mind issues for supporters at Finkenauer’s election night party at 7 Hills Brewing in Dubuque.

“It weighs heavy on your mind — not just now, but for the future because we’re all getting older,” said Dennis Fry of Dubuque, whose teenage daughter has a pre-existing condition.

Nick Fisch of Dubuque “probably would have voted for any Democrat,” but Finkenauer’s position on health care sealed the deal. His dad has a pre-existing condition and both parents will soon be on Medicare.

“I don’t envision Rod Blum, no matter what he says, sticking up for that,” Fisch said.

Finkenauer’s age and gender also played a part in voters’ decision. Jordan Hoftender could relate to Finkenauer who is “younger, she’s still paying off her students loans like I am and she’s female.”

Voting for Finkenauer was a “no-brainer” for Rachel Guhin, who has student loans and a pre-existing condition.

“It’s scary to be 25 and worried if I can afford my health care,” she said.

Fry, who said he voted for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the past, said his vote for Finkenauer was to “put a check on President Donald Trump’s policies.”

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At Blum’s watch party at Trackside Bar and Grill in Peosta, his supporters were jovial before polls closed across the state, cheering along as projections came across television screens that Republicans were projected to hold the U.S. Senate.

Even after the results were known, Blum, who didn’t show up at the event, still had supporters.

Finkenauer’s personality isn’t strong enough and doesn’t instill confidence, Cascade resident Jean Mausser said.

Daryl Klein, a Republican and a Dubuque County supervisor, said he was disappointed in Finkenauer’s victory, saying she was not responsive to him when she was in the Statehouse. He also slammed Finkenauer for a proposed lack of legislative experience.

“It baffles me that’s where we are,” he said. “I do not have a lot of faith in her as a legislator.”

Budzisz said that makes her a likely target in 2020.

“There is little doubt that as Finkenauer gets settled into the position she will be a prime target for a Republican challenge,” he said. “The underlying dynamics of the district ensure that national attention and dollars will again come to this corner of northeastern Iowa.”

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

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