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Why Iowa’s First Congressional District remains competitive

By Christopher W. Larimer, University of Northern Iowa Professor of Political Science.

Two of the leading organizations rating congressional races (Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball) put Iowa’s First Congressional District (CD1) in the category of “toss-up.”


According to the latest numbers from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, voters registered as Democrat outnumber those registered as Republican by nearly six percentage points. Not only that, Democrats have picked up over 7,000 new registrants since last May. On top of party registration, the “incumbency advantage” is real and since 2000, on average, nearly 94 percent of incumbents in the U.S. House have won reelection.

So why the “toss-up” rating?

First, and most notable, CD1 went for Trump in 2016 by 3.5 percentage points, putting Congresswoman Finkenauer in a group with 29 other House Democrats running for reelection in “Trump” districts.

Second, incumbents are generally considered to be most vulnerable during their first reelection campaign as they now have a voting record they must defend for the first time.

Third, challenger strength is important, and challengers with elected office experience have more (and better) campaign experience than those without, and have wider name recognition. The presumptive Republican nominee, State Representative Ashley Hinson, has both, having served in the Iowa House since 2017 and formerly as a television anchor for a station in the district.

Fourth, money matters and, as shown by political science research, this is particularly the case for the voter mobilization efforts of challengers. The parties and candidates are bracing for a competitive race, and the presumed challenger, Representative Hinson, has already raised nearly $1.9 million compared to $2.9 million for Congresswoman Finkenauer.

Finally, nearly 37 percent of active voters in the district are registered as “No Party” adds to the uncertainty of the district. So, expect an expensive, competitive campaign for CD1 this fall, one that may ultimately turn on perceptions of the president’s party.

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