Mariannette Miller-Meeks holds razor-thin lead over Rita Hart in 2nd District

The former military veteran, physician, and state senator narrowly leads Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District in her fourth run for the seat. She is the first woman to hold this seat.



Natalie Dunlap and Lillian Poulsen

CORALVILLE — Just 282 votes separate Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks from Democrat Rita Hart for control of the District 2 race with all precincts reporting at midnight Tuesday night.

Miller-Meeks had a razor-thin lead over Hart, creeping ahead after Lee County turned in its totals, one of the last counties in Iowa to report results.

As of midnight, Miller-Meeks had 49.95 percent of the vote, while her Democratic opponent had 49.87 percent. When reporting of unofficial tallies from all 24 counties in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District came in on the Secretary of State’s website, Miller-Meeks had 196,769 votes and Hart had 196,487.

The results will be certified either Monday or Tuesday — depending on the county — following the election in official vote canvasses in each of the district’s 24 counties which will include postmarked absentee ballots that have until next week to arrive.

“You are now looking at the new Congresswoman for the 2nd Congressional District of Iowa,” Miller-Meeks told a small group of supporters in Coralville at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. “We started this campaign last October based upon a person who never gave up fighting, never quit on themselves, never quit on their future, and never quit on the future of the American dream. We will continue to fight for that and take those voices to Washington D.C. and advocate and fight for every member of the 2nd Congressional District.”

In a statement at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, Hart’s campaign manager Zach Meunier pointed to a rule that says absentee ballots received by an auditor by the Monday after Election Day to count in the vote total. There are 12,480 outstanding absentee ballots in the 2nd Congressional District. In Johnson County — where Hart won handily — In Johnson County, 64,862 ballots were sent by the auditor’s office, and the office received: 60,765, leaving a gap of about 4,000 absentee ballots sent by the office that haven’t yet been returned.

“Ballots are outstanding and over the coming days we will ensure that Iowans’ voices are heard and that remaining votes are counted,” Meunier said. “Iowa election law is incredibly clear that absentee ballots postmarked by the day before the election and received by a county auditor by November 9, 2020 must be counted.”

Hart began the night with a wide lead after Iowa polls closed at 9 p.m., but as more votes came in, her lead over Miller-Meeks narrowed until final unofficial results from the last counties gave Miller-Meeks the edge.

The seat’s current occupant, Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, announced his retirement in April 2019. The seven-term Congressman was first elected to the seat in 2006.

Loebsack stepping down created an uncertain race. Miller-Meeks unsuccessfully ran against Loebsack in 2008, 2010, and 2014. President Trump won in the district in 2016. Republican representatives had control of the seat from 1979-2007. The state lost one Congressional seat in 2010 redistricting, redrawing Congressional lines to include bluer Iowa City in the 2nd District.

This seat was important to both parties’ efforts to either flip or hold their majority in the U.S. House. Democrats held a 232-to-197 majority over Republicans in the federal chamber ahead of the election.

Miller-Meeks, 65, is a former director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, an ophthalmologist, and military veteran. She served in the U.S. Army for 24 years and retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Miller-Meeks watched the results come in at Riverside Casino in Coralville with about 25 of her supporters. Iowa Republicans were on the edge of their seats as they anticipated her speech late into election night.

“I love it, and I’m very excited,” said Nancy Amos, 68 from Mount Vernon. “She’s a fighter, and she’ll do a great job. I expect her to go toe-to-toe with Pelosi.”

Neither candidate took the stage before midnight on election night, but before election results began rolling in, Miller-Meeks said she was confident she would win.

“What a win means for me is that I hope it inspires everybody no matter who you are. No matter what race you are, no matter what social class, where you come from, if you have a dream and work hard enough, you can achieve it,” she said.

Emma Guthart, a 22-year-old from Iowa City voted on Election Day at Iowa City West High School. She supported Hart, along with Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Theresa Greenfield, because Guthart wants to see health care become more accessible.

Hart served in the state Senate from 2013-2019, representing District 49. She served on the agriculture, appropriations, education, and natural resources and environment standing committees.

Hart is also a farmer, former teacher, and the founder and chair of Clinton County Economic Development Coordinating Council. One of Hart’s campaign focuses was on growing jobs, and emphasizing a need for affordable and accessible health care.

Hart shared health struggles that her mother and nephew had gone through, saying they were lucky to have health insurance, and that everyone should have health care available to them.

In the last six years, Iowa has seen an increase of female representatives in Washington. Sen. Joni Ernst became the first woman to represent Iowa in Washington D.C. when she was elected in 2014. In the 2018 midterm elections Cindy Axne, a representative from Iowa’s 3rd District, and Abby Finkenauer, a representative from Iowa’s 1st District, became the first women elected to their congressional seats.

The next member of Iowa’s delegation — whether it is Miller-Meeks or Hart — will begin her term in the 117th Congress on Jan. 3, 2021. She will serve alongside Ashley Hinson — who upset Democrat Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District race — Cindy Axne, and Randy Feenstra, in representing Iowa in the U.S. House.

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