DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District is a target for Republicans heading into 2022. So what is the state of the race at the end of 2021?
In November, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, announced that she is running for re-election.
“Over the past year, I’ve helped deliver landmark investments for Iowa – ranging from tax cuts and direct payments from the American Rescue Plan to infrastructure funding from our bipartisan infrastructure law. While I keep fighting for commonsense policies that will support Iowa’s communities, create new jobs and economic growth, and lower costs for middle class families, I look forward to meeting Iowans in the new Third District and continuing to hear from those I’m already working for as I seek to continue representing Iowa in Congress,” Axne told The Iowa Torch.
She leads all candidates in fundraising, raising over $1.8 million in 2021 and raising $650,575 in the third quarter.
The Republican Field
There is a four-way primary among Republicans to see who will challenge Axne: State Senator Zach Nunn of Bondurant, Nicole Hasso of Johnston, former State Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa of Council Bluffs, and Gary Leffler of West Des Moines.
Nunn was named a “young gun” by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the first Iowa Republican to reach that status for 2022.
“This has been a really strong quarter for us,” Nunn told The Iowa Torch. He said the Iowa 3rd Congressional District is a must-win for Republicans if they plan to retake the House.
He was optimistic about the race pointing to the Cook Political Report calling the race a “toss-up.” “We have a general opponent who has some real challenges,” Nunn said, pointing to the newly drawn Iowa 3rd Congressional District being larger and more rural. He also pointed out Axne’s voting record is problematic for many Iowans, such as her recent vote for the Build Back Better bill.
He said his primary focus is defeating Axne. He said he has a track record defeating incumbents, pointing out that he ousted a Democrat incumbent when he won his seat in the Iowa House and then flipped an Iowa Senate seat.
Nunn leads Republicans in fundraising, raising almost $232,000 in the third quarter of 2021.
Hasso’s campaign manager resigned, and it is unclear if that person has been replaced. The Iowa Torch has reached out to Hasso’s campaign for a statement about her staffing and campaign status in general but did not receive a reply.
Hasso received a significant endorsement, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, winner of the 2016 Iowa Caucus. He is the only former presidential candidate to weigh in on the Republican primary.
She follows Nunn among Republicans in fundraising. She raised almost $171,000 in the third quarter of 2021.
After redistricting, Hanusa doesn’t live in the new district. However, the Constitution doesn’t say she has to live in the district to run; she just has to be a resident of the state.
However, her campaign’s social media has only made one post since November 10, a post about Pearl Harbor on December 7, and her website’s event page (as of Tuesday evening) does not have any upcoming events listed.
The Iowa Torch attempted to reach out to her campaign to inquire about her campaign status at the end of the year, but they did not reply. We will update if we do receive a status report.
Hanusa raised over $103,500 in 2021 and raised $65,788 in the third quarter.
Leffler is running, but he still hasn’t submitted any campaign finance reports or built out his website.
He told The Iowa Torch that he is focused on reaching out to the grassroots, not fundraising.
“The only way you can beat Cindy Axne is with a grassroots campaign and that is what we are running,” Leffler said.
In the last two-and-a-half months, he said he has participated in 50 events, shaking hundreds of hands and bringing his widely recognized tractor decorated with a patriotic theme. His goal is high connectivity with voters – meeting people on the streets.
“As long as I have a full tank of gas and tires on my tractor, I’m good,” Leffler said.
A District Snapshot
Looking at the new Iowa 3rd Congressional District, it grew from 16 counties to 21 counties with a population of 797,551.
Polk County dominates it. The district is winnable for Republicans, but they have to turn out their base, increase their margin in counties outside of Polk County, and shrink the margin of victory for Democrats in Polk County.
This is important because Republicans are currently at a registered voter disadvantage:
- Total: Democrats +9,762
- Polk County: Democrats +38,844
- Outside Polk County: Republicans +29,082
2020 Results in the New District
Republicans in Iowa in 2020 had a good year, looking at the statewide races both former President Donald Trump defeated now current President Joe Biden, and U.S. Senator Joni Ernst defeated Theresa Greenfield in what will be the new Iowa 3rd Congressional District.
Here’s the breakdown in the 2020 presidential race:
- Total: Trump +1,927
- Polk County: Biden +39,450
- Outside Polk County: Trump +41,377
Here’s the breakdown in the 2020 U.S. Senate race:
- Total: Ernst +1,888
- Polk County: Greenfield +35,885
- Outside Polk County: Ernst +37,773
The Iowa Torch created a “mythical” Iowa 3rd Congressional District race result taking 2020 congressional race results from the 12 counties (Adair, Adams, Cass, Dallas, Guthrie, Madison, Montgomery, Page, Polk, Ringgold, Taylor, and Union) from the current Iowa 3rd Congressional District, eight counties (Appanoose, Clarke, Davis, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, Wapello, and Wayne) from the current Iowa 2nd Congressional District, and one county (Greene) that is currently part of the Iowa 4th Congressional District that will make up the new Iowa 3rd Congressional District.
Democrats won that mythical race. Here’s the breakdown:
- Total: Democrats +5,338
- Polk County: Democrats +39,247
- Outside Polk: Republicans +33,909
The Republican congressional candidates in 2020 (David Young in Iowa 3rd, Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa 2nd, and Randy Feenstra in Iowa 4th) all underperformed President Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Joni Ernst except in Davis and Wapello counties where Miller-Meeks’ name ID helped her win more votes than Ernst in those counties.
Republicans have a couple of challenges in their effort to flip the seat.
First, 2022 is not a presidential election year, so comparing 2022 with 2020 is an apple to orange comparison. Also, Trump will not be at the top of the ticket. He outperformed every Republican candidate in every county except Dallas County, where Ernst received more votes than he did.
Second, while Axne is an incumbent for only 12 of the new district’s 21 counties, she’s the incumbent in Polk County, where it will matter. She won Polk County by a wider margin than Greenfield in the U.S. Senate race and received only 203 fewer votes than Biden received in Polk County.
When you look at 2018, the last midterm election, in the gubernatorial race, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds lost to her Democrat challenger, Fred Hubbell, in what will be the new Iowa 3rd Congressional District.
Here’s the breakdown of that race:
- Total: Hubbell +14,915
- Polk County: Hubbell +37,784
- Outside Polk: Reynolds +22,869
In 2018, Axne won Polk County in the Iowa 3rd Congressional District race by 31,024 votes.
Now the opportunity for Republicans is that 2022 is also not 2018. The 2018 midterms were a reaction to Trump, and the suburban vote hurt Republicans. With President Joe Biden’s favorability being underwater in Iowa and nationally, there is the opportunity for a Republican wave.
In 2018, Democrats flipped two congressional seats. Republicans flipped two in 2020 by retaking one they lost in 2018 and winning an open seat in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, but they still could not retake the Iowa 3rd Congressional District.
Also, they’ll have Iowa’s most popular politician at the top of the ticket, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (provided he wins his primary, which is likely), so that doesn’t hurt. Also, Reynolds is in better shape politically than she was in 2018.
Ultimately, turnout will be essential (it always is). Republicans need to continue to make inroads in the suburbs and turn out their base and Republican-leaning independents in rural counties. If they can do that, they have a good shot at ousting Axne.