If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what in the world happened in Iowa? A shift similar to 2018 happened yet again, but this time, Ann Selzer – queen of Iowa polling – caught the shift. It’s obvious the winds shifted, but where in Iowa did it all occur? As mentioned in my first article for Elections Daily, it comes down to the Congressional Districts as distinct regions of Iowa.
Like I had predicted earlier, the 3rd District would be bluer than the 1st. What I failed to realize is that it would be the bluest district in the state. It now is the only federal office held by Democrats in the state. The population growth in Des Moines and its suburbs, combined with a suburban shift in Dallas and Polk counties, saved Representative Cindy Axne from losing in a rematch against former Representative David Young. However, Polk was the only county any federal Democrat won in this district. Dallas was a county that Greenfield and Biden would have needed to win in order to carry the state. This county, however, is only the beginning of the Iowa Democratic Party’s woes.
The Second District
The 2nd District is the top of the list in terms of frustration for Iowa Democrats. Biden only carried Johnson and Scott Counties, home to Iowa City and the Iowa portion of the Quad Cities, respectively. Meanwhile, Greenfield was only able to add Jefferson County, home to Ottumwa, in her total. In her losing effort to Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Rita Hart was only able to carry all of the Greenfield counties in this district as well as her home county of Clinton.
This should have been an easy district for Democrats to win if they were going to be competitive statewide. Instead. It ended with losing the open seat to a perennial candidate against retiring incumbent Dave Loebsack, and Democrats failing to carry two Trump-Hubbell counties, Lee and Des Moines – all while also failing to carry a must-win statewide county, Muscatine. If there was any evidence that Selzer’s final poll of 2020 was spot on, it was along the Mississippi here in the 2nd District, and the heartbreaker district, the 1st.
The First District
The 1st District, what formerly was the most Democratic district on the Presidential level in 2016, lost its title. The Driftless Area, the quintessential home of the Obama-Trump voter, stayed red at the top of the ticket. Two key counties for Democrats, Dubuque and Winneshiek, home to Dubuque and the home of Election Twitter’s favourite state auditor, respectively, did not vote on the Presidential or Senate levels.
Incumbent Representative Abby Finkenauer won Dubuque, but lost Winneshiek and the district to Republican Ashley Hinson. If there was any sign of Biden bringing the Obama coalition back to life, it would be in this district which had voted for the walking gaffe himself, Bruce Braley, in his doomed Senate run in 2014. However, that was not the case, as Biden’s margin in the district was worse than Clinton’s in 2016.
The Fourth District
Finally, we come to my home district, the 4th. The only bright light that shone from this district happened in June, when Steve King lost in the primary to now-Representative Randy Feenstra. While Biden did improve in parts of this district, he still got walloped by Trump. Cerro Gordo County, home to Mason City, which I had personally deemed the tipping point county for Democrats, did not perform as such. While Biden lost the county, Greenfield actually won it. Boone and Marshall Counties, home to Boone and Marshalltown, respectively, which I had expected to be won before Cerro Gordo, were not won by Biden, Greenfield, or the Democratic sacrificial lamb J. D. Scholten. Story County, home to the 2021 Fiesta Bowl Champion Iowa State Cyclones, was an island of blue in a sea of red. The only hope Democrats had here was to cut down the Republican margin, but there was no noticeable change from 2016 to 2020.
Downballot and Takeaways
Further downballot, Democrats had more issues. In the State House, Democrats had a net loss of six seats, but they managed to avoid losses in the State senate. This causes concerns for redistricting, as while there is an independent commision to draw maps, there is no constitutional provision that forces the legislature to approve those maps. It is quite possible that the Iowa Republican Party draws their own set of gerrymandered maps. If the Iowa Democrats were hoping for a comeback, a gerrymander is not going to help one bit.
So, what’s next for the Iowa Democratic Party? Trumpism has shown that the rural vote that Tom Harkin and Barack Obama would routinely win is hard for Democrats to regain. An example is the fact that Rob Sand is the only non-incumbent statewide Democrat elected in the State of Iowa since 2016. Sand is a native son of Decorah, located in the heart of the Driftless region. However, his local strength in this part of the state may not be there in a Biden midterm. The Iowa Democrats are going to be in the wilderness for a bit, and it may be quite a while before they’re a force in the state again.