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.