Iowa 3rd District
Iowa, which today seems very much in the middle of the country, was once part of the West. It was not only the home of sober farmers and pious burghers, but also the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad, a way station for people in a hurry to get across the Great Plains to the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. Those who stayed behind used the wealth accumulated by methodical husbandry of their fertile farmlands to implant firmly the glories of Western civilization. One can feel that impulse today in Des Moines, looking across the river from downtown to the Victorian capitol, its gold dome above a Corinthian pediment. Terrace Hill, the beautifully restored governor’s mansion, sits atop a hill overlooking the Raccoon River. Nearby Living History Farms, which recreates Indian villages, frontier towns, and turn-of-the-century farms, shows off the efforts of the early settlers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District covers 12 counties in central Iowa, including Des Moines’s Polk County, and it extends mostly to the east. It is the most urbanized district in Iowa and the only one that does not border another state or a major river on the east or west. Some 65% of its votes are cast in Polk County. However, it does not include rapidly growing Dallas or Warren counties in the Des Moines metropolitan area. The city itself remains classically Middle America, even as it gains a more lively downtown and spreads into the countryside while farm counties’ population continues to decline. The area has become a sanctuary for people from outside of Iowa looking for a family-friendly urban lifestyle. More than 12,000 Bosnians have settled in Des Moines, where the climate reminds them of home. Insurance, agricultural supply, and printing and service businesses are expanding in office centers downtown and at freeway interchanges.
The remainder of the district is largely rural, with no city larger than 30,000. But these towns house some giant manufacturing plants. Pella (pop. 9,800) is home to the Pella window and door maker, which employs 3,000. Pella also was the site of the planned Earthpark—a combination rain forest, aquarium, and education center that was nixed by Congress after Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona portrayed the $48 million federal grant as a wasteful use of public money. The famed Amana colonies, with seven quaint villages, were founded in 1855 by the Community of True Inspiration, German pietists who have retained many of their old customs. Newton (pop. 15,579) was the home of the Amana appliance business, acquired by Iowa-based Maytag in 2001, which in turn was purchased and then closed by Michigan-based Whirlpool in 2007. A year later, Newton became the site of 500 planned “green” jobs at a fiberglass wind turbine plant. Polk County has historically voted Democratic but has become more Republican as white-collar businesses overtake blue-collar ones. The district’s other rural counties have mostly been Republican in the past. The result is a district split down the middle, about as evenly divided as any in the nation: It went 49%-48% for Al Gore in 2000 and 49.7%-49.6% for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2008, though, it favored Barack Obama 54%-44%.