Iowa 2nd District
Eastern Iowa is little known to outsiders. It is a land of rolling hills and deep river valleys, of undulant farm fields and big skies, of prosperous small towns and grain elevators and factories. Even political writers, who come to Iowa by the thousands for the quadrennial precinct caucuses, tend to hang out in Des Moines and do their reporting there or in the counties within an hour’s drive of the city. The drive from Des Moines east to the second-largest city, Cedar Rapids, takes more than two hours. The biggest metropolis in these parts, Cedar Rapids has high-tech employers and contemporary office buildings. Unlike in most of Iowa, population boomed here in the past decade, and per capita income rose. Yet traditional industries are still a mainstay: go down by the river and you can’t miss the smell of cooking oats coming from the Quaker Oats and General Mills factories. The town suffered a major setback in June 2008, when record floods caused $1.8 billion in damage, with the downtown area described as a war zone. Iowa City, just to the south, is a university town dotted with trendy bookstores and vegetarian eateries. The University of Iowa is known for its Writers’ Workshop, which produced the nation’s first creative writing degree program and some of its most gifted young authors. Iowa City elected a black mayor in 2006, though the African-American population is less than 4% of the total.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Farther afield, Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District offers up some offbeat claims to fame. Bentonsport, in Van Buren County near the Missouri border, was mostly bought up by the county’s conservation board in the 1970s and restored; now it is an artists’ and craftsmen’s colony. Conesville, in Muscatine County near the Mississippi River, is the only city in Iowa with a Hispanic majority, a legacy of an abundance of farmwork in the area and, more recently, of the availability of jobs at the Iowa Beef Processors plant in nearby Columbus Junction. Anamosa, in Jones County just east of Cedar Rapids, is the site of the house depicted by Anamosa native Grant Wood in his famous American Gothic painting—the models for the two figures were his dentist and Wood’s own sister, who died in 1990. Iowa’s newest city, incorporated in 2001, is Vedic City, in Jefferson County, where followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi built Maharishi University in 1973 and made the town a magnet for believers in transcendental meditation.
The 2nd is by most measures Iowa’s most Democratic congressional district, thanks in large part to big Democratic majorities in Iowa City and Johnson County. Cedar Rapids and Linn County have also been inclined toward the Democrats in recent years.