Staff Columnist

Too few candidates in race for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District

Democratic candidate for Iowa lieutenant governor Rita Hart speaks during a rally for the Congressional campaign of Abby Finkenauer and the gubernatorial campaign of Fred Hubbell at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Democratic candidate for Iowa lieutenant governor Rita Hart speaks during a rally for the Congressional campaign of Abby Finkenauer and the gubernatorial campaign of Fred Hubbell at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I need to make a correction.

Last month, my colleagues and I discussed next year’s U.S. House races during The Gazette’s and Iowa Public Radio’s Pints & Politics live event.

The 2020 race where I live, Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, is particularly interesting since seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack plans to retire at the end of his current term. Open congressional races are rare in Iowa politics, made more enticing by the fact that the general election contest is seen as a tossup by election forecasters.

Here’s where I went wrong: I told audience members to watch for a long list of candidates to jump at the opportunity. I said that, even as former state Sen. Rita Hart, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor last year, was establishing herself as the front-runner.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see six or seven candidates. Maybe Rita Hart clears the field, maybe there’s folks who won’t run against her, but I would expect it to be really crowded on both sides,” I said, later broadcast statewide on IPR.

That prediction did not age well. In the following weeks, Hart announced endorsements from dozens of notable Democrats in the district, including a few who had considered running themselves.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is not officially tipping the scales yet, but Hart seems to have the establishment’s support. U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, chairwoman of the DCCC, said Hart is “a perfect fit for that district,” according to Iowa Starting Line reporter Elizabeth Meyer, who wrote that Hart “faces no serious primary competition.”

This is an unfortunate circumstance. Hart is well qualified, but I was hoping for crowded primary debates on both sides, an opportunity for party activists and candidates to engage in important conversations the issues of the day.

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Instead, there is just one other candidate in the Democratic race. Newman Abuissa of Iowa City announced this month he plans to run for the Democratic nomination. His campaign has not drawn nearly as much attention as Hart’s.

Abuissa serves on the Iowa Democratic Party’s state platform committee, and has detailed opinions about a range of policy issues.

As a traffic engineer, he is emphasizing the need for federal infrastructure projects. As a longtime U.S. citizen who was born in Syria, he is skeptical of U.S. military interventions and their exorbitant costs.

Like me, Abuissa worries an uncontested primary would deprive voters of the chance to debate policies and priorities. He’s even inviting more candidates to run against him.

“We haven’t had a dialogue, and the establishment already made up their minds. … There’s a gap between our leadership and our issues, and I’m here to bring our people’s issues to the forefront. I’d rather have four, five six people running actually, and have more ideas discussed,” Abuissa told me.

The Hart campaign did not respond to an email this week asking whether she plans to participate in primary forums and debates.

The Republican race, meanwhile, has only drawn one official candidate, Osceola Mayor Thomas Kedley, who doesn’t have quite the field-clearing power as Hart. I hope and expect others will join the race.

I can’t yet say who the best candidate is, but I do know Iowans would be well served by more choices.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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