Primary fields for 2nd Congressional District race shape up

With the retirement of longtime Iowa representative Dave Loebsack, the future of the 2nd district is unclear. In the primary, parties are choosing their candidates and focusing their messages.


Tian Liu

Rep. Dave Loebsack speaks during a brunch fundraiser for Sen. Zach Wahls at the Walker Homestead on July 14, 2019.

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter

Republicans and Democrats are in the primary stages of the race to fill the open 2nd Congressional District seat in Iowa. While Democrats have solidified behind a candidate, the Republican nominee is less certain, and both parties say the general election will be a competitive one.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, announced his retirement from Congress in April, vacating a seat that he has held for seven two-year terms. 

Republican and Democratic office-seekers agree the prospects for the general election are uncertain. Although Loebsack has won the last seven elections, the district voted for Trump in 2016 after going to Obama for two terms. Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the district, but no-party voters make up the largest share.

Rural and no-party voters will be a key demographic for candidates to win over in the general election, Johnson County Democratic activist John Deeth said. He said appealing to those voters was central to Loebsack’s long-lasting tenure.

“The thing about the 2nd District that people in Iowa City don’t understand is that Iowa City is not the 2nd District,” he said. “…the swing votes are in places like the Quad Cities, and Ottumwa, Burlington, Fort Madison, places like that.” 

Bobby Schilling, a former U.S. representative from Illinois who moved to Le Claire in 2017, was the first Republican to announce a bid for the seat in July. Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, announced her candidacy Oct. 1. 

Miller-Meeks has run unsuccessfully for the office three times before, in 2008, 2010, and 2014.

Fred Grunder, the chair of Muscatine County Republicans, said both Republican nomination candidates have high name recognition, and there isn’t currently a clear favorite. Miller-Meeks has endorsements from former Gov. Terry Branstad and his son Eric, which could give her an advantage, Grunder said.

RELATED: Rita Hart makes a campaign stop at Iowa City Yotopia  

Schilling hopes to appeal to a Republican base in the primary by focusing on abortion and second-amendment issues, he said in an interview with The Daily Iowan. He challenged Miller-Meeks’ conservative record on those issues, describing himself as more of a “constitutionalist” candidate. 

“The biggest contrast I think that people like is the fact that I’ve actually won a congressional seat, and I’ve been to Washington,” Schilling said.

Miller-Meeks said she’s enjoying the primary because she can meet with voters and improve her message in the months leading up to the primary election in June. Since announcing her candidacy Oct. 1, she said she’d visited 23 of the 24 counties in the district.

“I really think it helps you to get out there and be around people and persuade them,” she said. “You’re trying to persuade your base, so in this case it’s mostly Republicans, but I try to meet with as many people as possible.” 

On the Democratic side, the 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor, Rita Hart, is running virtually unopposed, Deeth said. Iowa City engineer Newman Abuissa announced his candidacy in June but has not filed with the Federal Elections Commission and Deeth said he hasn’t been at recent campaign events.

Deeth said while there were other candidates rumored to run in the spring — including State Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville — the district’s most prominent Democrats quickly supported Hart when she announced her bid for the seat. 

“Rita was a strong enough candidate that she pretty much cleared the field,” Deeth said.

Shortly after she announced her candidacy in May, Hart published a list of 73 endorsements from leaders in the 2nd District.

“It’s a great compliment that many of the good people in the district that thought about running for this seat have decided not to run and are being very supportive of this campaign,” Hart said in an interview with the DI.

Though Hart faces an uncontested primary season, she said she plans to campaign as she would have if she had an opponent by going to events and meeting people in the district. She campaigned at a Johnson County event Oct. 13 with two U.S. Senate candidates.