Dave Loebsack

Democrats need rural voters to put Iowa in play in 2020
Party hopes to build on midterm gains, but hasn’t settled on the right approach

John Olsen from Des Moines, Iowa, wears a vest with presidential buttons as he listens to former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 8. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GREENFIELD, Iowa — The sunlight sparkled on Greenfield Lake on a hot Sunday in August as the Democrats passed around a paper bowl, tossing in a few dollars they had in their pockets.

It was a scene that could easily have taken place in a church earlier that day, when parishioners offer donations as baskets are passed through the pews.

Iowa Democrats stress rural roots as they vie to take on Sen. Joni Ernst
National groups back Theresa Greenfield, but she faces a fight for nomination

Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield attends at a picnic hosted by the Adair County Democratic Party in Greenfield earlier this month. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GREENFIELD, Iowa — Facing a group of Democrats gathered in a brick park shelter here, Theresa Greenfield pitched herself as the best candidate to take on Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst

“I am a businesswoman, and I am a mother of four, and I am a farm girl,” the real estate executive told attendees at the Adair County Democratic Party potluck earlier this month. 

House freshmen try to keep it local as presidential race steals the spotlight
Iowa Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer are taking similar approaches to their reelections

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, flips pork burgers at the Iowa State Fair. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES — Rep. Cindy Axne’s letter to Customs and Border Protection about African swine fever didn’t make national news. But it did prompt a “thank you” from a man with the Iowa Pork Association as Axne flipped pork burgers last week at the Iowa State Fair.

Attention to issues like that disease, which could threaten the country’s pork industry if it reached the U.S., is how first-term Democratic lawmakers like Axne are working to win reelection in 2020.

Democrats go on defense in crucial heartland House race in Iowa
GOP has sights on Iowa’s 2nd District, which backed Trump in 2016

Former Iowa state Sen. Rita Hart is running for the Democratic nomination for Iowa’s 2nd District after Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack opted against reelection. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

WHEATLAND, Iowa — Republicans sense an opportunity in the rolling corn and soybean fields in southeastern Iowa. But Democrats won’t be giving up their hold on this heartland district without a fight.

Republicans’ path to the House majority runs through the 31 Democrat-held districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016. And one of them, Iowa’s 2nd District, ranks among the GOP’s best pickup opportunities next year because it’s the only one of the 31 without an incumbent defending the seat.

DCCC adds six more Trump districts to its 2020 target list
House Democrats are expanding their potential battlefield to 39 seats

The House Democrats’ campaign arm is targeting Virginia GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is adding six more districts to the list of seats it’s targeting in 2020. 

After gaining a net of 40 seats last fall, the House Democrats’ campaign arm released its initial 2020 target list in January that included 32 GOP-held seats and the open seat in North Carolina’s 9th District, which is holding a special election next month.

Loebsack backed Obama over Clinton in 2007, but unsure about 2020 field
Retiring seven-term Democrat questions whether his backing would make a difference

Rep. Dave Loebsack speaks with reporters Friday at the pork tent at the Iowa State Fair. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Back in late 2007, Rep. Dave Loebsack’s endorsement provided a boost to Barack Obama’s battle to deny the Democratic presidential nomination to fellow senator Hillary Clinton.

But with 13 current or former House and Senate colleagues vying for president in a crowded 2020 field of two dozen candidates — including Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden — the Iowa Democrat is questioning whether he should wade in at all.

The Iowa State Fair: Our proactive primer on politics, pork and public officials
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 85

Politicians love to hang out at the Iowa State Fair, so that is where Political Theater will relocate next week to cover all the political races — for president, Senate and House — as well as various foods served on a stick. Here, Republican Rep. Steve King and future Sen. Joni Ernst hang out amid the pork at the Pork Tent in 2014. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Political Theater is heading to the Iowa State Fair to check out how the 2020 races for president and Senate and four competitive House contests are shaping up in this bellwether state. Why Iowa? Because that’s where the candidates are.

Bridget Bowman, our senior political writer, and Leah Askarinam of Inside Elections lay it all out for us on the latest episode of Political Theater. 

GOP Rep. King gets rematch against J.D. Scholten, who he narrowly defeated in 2018
King defeated Scholten by 3 percent in 2018 in a district Trump won by 27 points in 2016

J.D. Scholten, Democratic candidate for Iowa's 4th congressional district, is interviewed by CQ Roll Call at their D.C. office, July 27, 2018. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democrat J.D. Scholten announced Monday that he will once again challenge controversial GOP Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s 4th District. He had also been considering entering the Democratic primary to take on Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020.

King eeked out a 3-point victory over Scholten in the 2018 midterm elections, even though President Donald Trump carried the 4th District by 27 points in 2016. His reelection prevented Iowa’s entire four-seat House delegation from going blue in 2018, after Republicans controlled all but one seat the previous Congress.

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling announces he’s running in Iowa
Former congressman moved across the river from his old district in 2017

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling, who lost to DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos after district lines were redrawn, is running for the seat that Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is retiring from in Iowa . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling announced that he’s running for the open seat in Iowa’s 2nd District, across the Mississippi River from his old district.

Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack announced in April that he would retire at the end of his seventh term next year. The race could be competitive: President Donald Trump carried the district in 2016.

Iowans prep for fierce 2020 fight — and not just for the White House
All four House districts will be contested, in addition to competitive Senate race

Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is a top Republican target in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowans are used to the spotlight in presidential election years, and with the number of Democrats eyeing the nomination approaching two dozen, it may be difficult this year to travel in the state without running into a candidate or the media entourage that comes with them.

But for Iowa voters, the more intense political battles in 2020 might actually be further down the ballot.