Rep. Bruce Braley (D)
Iowa 1st District
Northeast Iowa, along the Mississippi River and westward, has some of the loveliest landscape in America. Here the Mississippi flows past green bluffs, then broadens out in great quiet pools alongside picturesque towns. A century and a half ago, as settlers surged west of the Mississippi, Germans stopped at the river bluffs reminiscent of their native land and built neat farmhouses and substantial towns. Inland, on the rolling hills portrayed with surprisingly little exaggeration in the paintings of Iowa’s Grant Wood, and in the more open territory to the west, New England Yankees and Midwesterners built their characteristic farmhouses, barns, town halls, church spires, and small colleges. Railroad companies, headquartered in Chicago, extended their networks of steel rails over the plains and rivers. Davenport, on the hills over the Mississippi, still has the look of the city where Ronald Reagan got his first radio job. German Catholics settled Dubuque, whose giant Victorian courthouse looks down on the river. Home to a giant John Deere facility that sells tractors worldwide, it is a self-styled green city that has other large factories but is also proud of its waterfront-generated tourism. However, major floods along the Mississippi in June 2008 extensively damaged many river towns. Farther west is Waterloo, which grew rapidly after 1900 as its John Deere tractor factory expanded and the eight-floor Rath factory became the largest meat-packing plant in the world. Rath closed in 1984 and Deere has laid off thousands, but Waterloo has rebounded somewhat with new industries from telemarketing to a high-tech Iowa Beef Processors factory, acquired by Tyson Foods in 2001.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District covers much of northeast Iowa, including the Mississippi riverfront, from the antiques town of McGregor south to Davenport, Iowa’s part of the Quad Cities. From the river, it spans west 100 miles to Butler County. There is considerable political variation here. Davenport and next-door Bettendorf were historically Republican, but in 2000 and 2004, like much of eastern Iowa, they voted narrowly for Al Gore and John Kerry. In 2008, as Iowa began to look favorably on Barack Obama, these areas helped to lead the way. Dubuque, heavily German Catholic, was for years Iowa’s most Democratic city, and still is unless abortion is the issue. But the rural counties along the river and farther west—more German Protestant, Scandinavian, and Yankee—were traditionally Republican. Waterloo and Cedar Falls, originally Republican, trended sharply Democratic in the 1980s. Overall, this district is pretty evenly balanced and has become a key battleground in presidential contests. At one point in 2004, President Bush and John Kerry were campaigning within blocks of each other in Davenport; thieves took advantage of the distraction and robbed three local banks. Bush lost the district by 7 percentage points each time, and Obama won it by 17 percentage points in 2008.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Oct. 30, 1957, Grinnell .
Education: IA St. U., B.A. 1980, U. of IA, J.D. 1983.
Family: Married (Carolyn); 3 children.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1983-2006.
The congressman from the 1st District is Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo elected in 2006 to replace Republican Jim Nussle, who ran unsuccessfully for governor. Braley is a native of Brooklyn, Iowa. His mother was a teacher and his father was a farmer who died of injuries sustained in a fall down a grain elevator. The family struggled financially for years as a result. Braley graduated from Iowa State University and got his law degree from the University of Iowa. He was a trial lawyer and is a former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association. His candidacy for Congress drew considerable financial support from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and many of its members and officers, connections that made him the target of lawyer-bashing. National Republicans disparaged him as “a trial lawyer’s trial lawyer.” In the June primary, Braley overcame two competitive opponents: former state Rep. Rick Dickinson, an economic development official in Dubuque, and Bill Gluba, a real estate agent in Davenport. Although Braley was making his first run for office, he had a distinct fundraising advantage and the support of the Iowa AFL-CIO. He won 36% to 34% for Dickinson and 26% for Gluba. Meanwhile, Republicans nominated Mike Whalen, a Harvard Law School graduate, wealthy entrepreneur, and owner of the Machine Shed restaurant chain.
|Bruce Braley (D)||186,991||(65%)||($979,333)|
|David Hartsuch (R)||102,439||(35%)||($54,604)|
|Bruce Braley (D)||10,596||(99%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (55%)
From the start, Republicans knew it would be a tough contest. In his eight terms, outgoing Rep. Nussle never got more than 57% of the vote despite his prominence as the chairman of the House Budget Committee from 2001 to 2006. The candidates disagreed on many issues, including the Iraq war, tort reform, international trade deals, and abortion rights. Braley portrayed Whalen as an out-of-touch millionaire. He claimed that Whalen wanted to privatize Social Security, and he attacked Whalen’s opposition to raising the hourly minimum wage. When Whalen insisted that all his employees were paid more than the federal minimum wage, Braley produced a Machine Shed waitress who claimed that, even with tips, she and her co-workers earned only the minimum wage. Whalen charged that Braley’s litigious occupation contributed to higher health care costs and the medical liability crisis. Although the National Republican Congressional Committee spent heavily on direct mail and television ads against Braley, it wasn’t enough to keep the seat in Republican hands. Braley won surprisingly easily, 55%-43%. He took each of the 12 counties, except for two rural counties. As expected, he ran strongly in Waterloo’s Black Hawk County, with 59%; but he also took Whalen’s Quad Cities base in Scott County, with 53%.
Braley initially got seats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (to tend to local projects) and on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee (to utilize his trial-lawyer skills), and was among the more active members of his freshman class. He won House passage of a bill to require federal agencies to write in plain English, a longtime interest from his days practicing law. He took up the cause of veterans who had been neglected in government hospitals. The 2008 farm bill included his provision to fund advanced technology education centers to train technicians in renewable-energy resources. Braley’s ambition led to talk of his joining the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, which he did in December 2008. That year, he also was re-elected easily. Some local Democrats have mentioned Braley as a possible contender if one of Iowa’s two veteran senators retires.