Rita Hart appeals to rural interests in Coralville

The Democrat running for Congress in southeast Iowa said she would be a voice for rural voters in Congress, whose interests she said have often been left out of discussions.


Raquele Decker

Rita Hart is seen speaking during her backyard tours on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Caleb McCullough, Politics Editor

About 25 people bundled up and braved the cold in Coralville Saturday morning, gathering to hear Rita Hart talk about rural issues in southeast Iowa.

Part of her “Backyard Talks” tour, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District spoke outside the home of Coralville Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross. 

The event was attended by several prominent Johnson County Democrats, including Iowa Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, and Iowa City Councilor Janice Weiner. People were socially distancing and everyone in attendance was wearing a mask. 

Hart told the story of her mother, who suffered a number of health problems throughout her life and was left with a very quiet voice after her first child. Hart said that taught her the value of listening, which she had brought to her career as a teacher and as an Iowa senator.

Hart said she would listen to all the voices on any given issue, and not just the loudest in the room. She said rural Iowans’ voices were not being represented in Congress.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Hart said she’s trying to show her farming and agriculture background to voters in the run-up to the election. She wants to create agriculture policy that makes farmers leaders in conservation efforts in a way that can be financially beneficial, she said. 

“I’m really happy to have people that are Democrats, Republicans, and independents who are supporting this campaign,” she said. “Because they know that that’s the kind of conversations that I made sure happened, that everybody was at the table.” 

With 10 days to the election, hundreds of thousands of Iowans have already cast their ballots. Hart and opponent Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller Meeks face a tight race that will likely hinge on each candidate’s ability to attract rural and independent voters. 

A Monmouth University poll released Thursday found Hart leads Miller-Meeks by 6 percentage points, 49 to 43 percent. 6 percent of voters were undecided.

The pandemic has greatly affected rural Iowans, Hart said. She said people are living paycheck to paycheck, and that the economic strife won’t be resolved until the pandemic is addressed.

“We gotta get this pandemic under control so that our economy can continue to go forward,” she said. “…many people are being left out. Their voices are not being heard.”

Hart said people in the district want to see rural broadband expanded so they have the same resources as others. She also said she would work to fund rural hospitals, lower health-care prices, and increase access to health care. 

“We’ve got a great way of life, we love to live in rural Iowa, but we can’t live here if we don’t have those kinds of basic resources,” she said.

Mitch Gross, who hosted the event, said Hart excels at retail politics, so organizing events that can be done safely like the Backyard Talks is an important part of the campaign. 

Gross said while Hart is campaigning in a competitive district, he thinks her background makes her a strong candidate. He said Hart’s experience as a farmer and teaching in a rural school give her authority in areas that he said are the backbones of the district.

“If you don’t have agricultural pedigree, if you can’t speak about small school districts and what those needs are, you’re going to be in trouble,” he said. “And those are two fields she’s an expert in and that’s why she’s a great candidate.”

Sue Dvorsky, a Democratic activist and former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, attended the event and said Hart is able to speak to voters from personal experience about rural issues.

Dvorsky and Gross both said Hart would also need to win by a wide margin in Johnson County in order to secure the seat, the most Democratic of Iowa’s counties.

“The people here are thought leaders and activists for a reason,” Dvosrky said. “It is imperative that in the 2nd District, the Democratic candidate get a big margin out of a place like Johnson, and these people are committed to doing that.”


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