Dubuque, Iowa– After Donald Trump overwhelmingly defeated Iowa in 2016, the prospects for a democratic comeback in the historic swing state did not look good. Perhaps, the Republican agent happily suggested, the historic swing state was on its way to becoming the more reliable Republican plains states to the west. After the 2016 election, Iowa had a Republican governor, two Republican U.S. Senators, a Republican-dominated U.S. House delegation, and it had just backed the Republican candidate for president by a greater margin than it had secured in Texas. Trump won 93 of the 99 counties of Iowa. While Barack Obama held his own in rural areas of 53 counties in 2008 and 38 in 2012, Hillary Clinton passed just a handful of urban centers and university towns where voters waved the blue flag.
The trend lines looked bad. The Chicago Tribune watched, “Iowa, the epicenter of the Republican boom in 2014 and 2016, is not an obvious place for a Democratic comeback. “When the 2020 competition took shape a year ago, every major suggested Trump would hit a Democratic ticket under the leadership of Joe Biden. In many polls, the Republican Senator Joni Ernst had achieved an easy victory. Ernst looked so strong that the state’s best-known Democrats passed the Senate’s race
However, with the November 3rd election less than two weeks away, the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls has Biden at 47.5 percent to 46.3 percent for Trumpand democrat Theresa Greenfield at 47.4 percent to 42.5 percent for Ernst.
The numbers have made Trump, Ernst and their strategists desperate. Fresh from his Covid quarantine, the President came to Des Moines last week to attend a rally dubbed the “TRUMP COVID SUPERSPREADER EVENT” by the Iowa Rural America 2020 group. Trump fondly remembered winning Iowa in 2016 –while inflating his margin of victory– and asked voters to stay with him. “Get your friends, get your family, get your neighbors, get your workers and coworkers, and get the hell to vote because if I don’t get Iowa I won’t believe it,” called the President. His desperation was confirmed by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who, like the President, was accused of mistreating the coronavirus pandemic. “Don’t believe the polls,” Reynolds, an aging crowd of largely exposed Iowans, “don’t believe what the media is telling you.”
Believe it. Iowa could back Biden and send a Democrat to the Senate. The epicenter of the 2016 republican boom could become the epicenter of a democratic comeback. It is true that Iowa is a small populous state with only six votes. Nevertheless, it plays a major role in the thinking of the Biden strategists. If the former Vice President Iowa wins, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t win the neighboring battlefield states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, which are essential to Trump’s re-election strategy – and where polls now leave Republican behind, as do polls from the equally essential States of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“In states that are battlefields, when they turn, they usually turn for the same reasons,” says Pete D’Alessandro, a veteran Iowa campaign strategist for candidates like Bill Bradley and Bernie Sanders is He is currently working with the national group Our Revolution. “If you can turn voters in Iowa, if you can win them over here, win them over in these other states.”
An Iowa win for Biden would put the Democrats on the offensive. If he swings Iowa and another state of Trump swept Ohio in 2016, Biden’s options for Electoral College open up. Even if he stumbled in a state like Pennsylvania or Florida, the Democrat would still have the vote to prevail. And if he wins the battlefield states of the Midwest plus Pennsylvania and Florida, Biden could be headed for a big win.
However, it is not enough for Biden to just win the White House in 2020. He needs a congress to work with. That’s why the Iowa Senate race is such a big deal. Democrats have to get four seats to get a clear majority in the chamber. Polls top Democratic challengers in three states with Republican incumbents at risk – Arizona, Colorado, and Maine. Iowa is now one of several states that could add a fourth Democratic Senator. Greenfieldwho is relatively new to electoral politics but has shown a knack for connecting with urban and rural voters, is not into exaggeration in telling supporters, “I never thought someone like me, a seedy farm kid, could be this close to removing a PAC-backed GOP incumbent – but we have it in common. “
Ernst that blew a question on soybean prices in a recent debate, money is pouring into negative ads in a fierce battle to save their seat. But D’Alessandro, who oversees the races in the Senate nationwide, says, “If Theresa Greenfield Iowa wins, it means that many people have looked at things this year and decided that we need to make a change – not just at the presidential level, but also at the presidential senate level. “If it happens here, it will likely happen in other states where Senate seats are involved.”
So what’s going on in Iowa? The truth is that the state has always been more competitive than it seemed. Iowa started rejecting Trump and the Republicans in 2018when the Democrats took up two house seats. That year, Biden hired good people in Iowa and invested resources early. This commitment has increased the democratic numbers in the Des Moines suburbs. There is also a growing feeling that Biden is catching up in rural areas. This is in part because voters who took a chance on Trump are dying of the carefree embrace of Republicans through trade wars that have done real harm to farmers, and the growing realization that the reality TV star president is less for rural America might care, felt burned. “When President Obama came to Iowa when the state experienced floods years ago, he came to me to meet with farmers in their cornfields. ” explained former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who served as Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture. “When Pence and Trump came into the state, they didn’t go to any of the state’s farms. Instead, they treated Iowa like it was just a photo-op.”
Biden’s campaign targets rural areas with advertising and mobilization efforts in Iowa and other Midwestern states and appears to be working. “I don’t think Biden will win a majority of the rural vote, but he closes the void.” says Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party leader and author of Harvest the Voice: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America.
But there is more to it than that. Covid-19 has become a major issue for rural America. The virus is rising in Iowa as it is in other Midwestern states. “The country’s pandemic hotspots have shifted to rural communities, overwhelming small hospitals that are running out of beds or lacking intensive care units for more than one or two critically ill patients.” Remarks the Pew Charitable Trust. “And across much of the Midwest and Great Plains, hospital workers at home and in their communities are contracting the virus, significantly reducing the already slender banks of doctors, nurses and other professionals required to run rural hospitals. ” KCCI-TV in Des Moines reported Tuesday: “More Iowans are now being hospitalized Coronavirus than at any point in the pandemic. “Iowa reported 727 new Covid-19 cases and 14 more deaths Tuesday.” That brought the total positive cases for the state to 108,297 positive cases and the total deaths to 1,548.
Trump has misjudged everything about Covid-19 practically and politically. That desperate rally he held in Des Moines last week, where the president was trying to get as many supporters as possible for another photo op in Iowa, sent exactly the wrong signal, at exactly the wrong time, in exactly the wrong place.