Rep. Dave Loebsack (D)
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.
Rep. Dave Loebsack (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Dec. 23, 1952, Sioux City .
Home: Mt. Vernon.
Education: IA St. U., B.S. 1974, M.A. 1976, U. of CA, Ph.D., 1985.
Family: Married (Teresa); 4 children.
Professional Career: Professor, Cornell Col., 1982-2006.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Dave Loebsack (LOBE sak), a Democrat elected in a stunning 2006 upset. He defeated 15-term Rep. Jim Leach, a Republican who often was out of step with his party but who held views that seemed well connected to this district. A native of Sioux City, Loebsack lived as a child in poverty with his mother, grandmother, and three siblings in a two-bedroom house, and worked as a high school janitor to pay for college. He got a master’s degree at Iowa State University and went on to the University of California at Davis to earn a Ph.D. in political science. From 1982 until his election to Congress, he was a professor of international relations at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, a few miles from Cedar Rapids. He had been active in local politics for several years, including a stint as fundraising chairman for Linn County Democrats.
|Dave Loebsack (D)||175,218||(57%)||($805,024)|
|Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R)||118,778||(39%)||($367,694)|
|Wendy Barth (Green)||6,664||(2%)|
|Dave Loebsack (D)||21,084||(99%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%)
But his initial foray into electoral politics did not inspire confidence: He failed to get the appropriate number of signatures required to run for Leach’s seat. Under Iowa law, if no candidate files for a party’s nomination, the party can designate a candidate; so Democrats chose Loebsack. He insisted that his campaign was not an attack on Leach’s three decades in Congress but rather on the GOP leadership in Congress; he called Leach, a moderate Republican, an “enabler” for his party leaders. The two had enjoyed a friendly relationship before the contest. A prominent member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Leach had lectured to Loebsack’s classes on several occasions.
The war in Iraq was a pivotal issue from the start of this contest. In 2002, Leach was the only member of the Iowa delegation to oppose the war. Yet Loebsack sought to tie Leach to President Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on the basis that Leach had been an aide to Rumsfeld for two years in the late 1960s, when Rumsfeld was a House member from Illinois, and he later served a stint under him at the Office of Economic Opportunity. Leach refused to disparage his former boss, calling him a friend and insisting that his ouster would not change the administration’s policy in Iraq. The campaign remained civil, with Leach emphasizing the need to promote ethanol and Loebsack calling for national health insurance. But Leach may have underestimated the public’s hostility toward the war in the district’s population centers, especially in the university communities that welcomed Loebsack’s anti-Iraq war message. Loebsack raised $522,000, which ordinarily would have not been nearly enough to win a competitive House race, and he had little support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Leach unwittingly helped Loebsack overcome those obstacles. Leach eschewed modern campaign practices, particularly negative campaigning, and was a notoriously reluctant fundraiser. When the Iowa Republican Party sent out negative mailers targeting Loebsack, Leach told them to stop and warned he would refuse to caucus with House Republicans if the negative tactics continued. He refused to accept contributions from political action committees or from sources outside the district, and raised only $491,000. Leach did earn the endorsement of the district’s major newspapers, but it wasn’t enough. Loebsack beat him, 51%-49%.
Of the district’s 15 counties, Leach carried 10. Loebsack won by 367 votes in Linn County (Cedar Rapids), the largest county in the district. The election hinged on the second-largest county, Johnson (Iowa City), where Loebsack got 58%, a margin of 8,525 votes. He won in three other counties—Des Moines (Burlington), Lee (Fort Madison), and Wapello (Ottumwa)—by a total of nearly 5,000 votes. In a concession speech to teary supporters, Leach maintained his dignified approach to campaigning: “For three decades, I’ve had … the goal from the beginning of running positive campaigns. I want to express my deep respect for the Loebsack campaign.” After the election, Leach joined the faculties at Princeton and Harvard universities. Loebsack went to Washington and got seats on the Armed Services and Education and Labor committees. One of his first official actions was to sponsor a measure to designate the federal building in Davenport, Iowa, as the James A. Leach Federal Building; it passed the House in May 2007. He spoke out against the war in Iraq and voiced frustration with the Democrats’ failure to change Bush administration policy. However, after noting progress being made by U.S. forces during a 2007 visit to Anbar province, Loebsack abandoned his goal of removing all U.S. troops within one year. “The military has done a fantastic job, as always,” he said.
Mostly, Loebsack tended the home fires in his first term, focusing on securing $28 million in earmarks, the often-criticized special provisions in appropriations bills added by individual lawmakers. In 2008, Loebsack won a comfortable re-election, 57%-39%, against political neophyte Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican ophthalmologist and the first woman to be president of the Iowa Medical Society.