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Iowa’s Dave Loebsack will not run for re-election in 2020

Democrat’s retirement opens up a competitive seat

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is retiring at the end of this Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is retiring at the end of this Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack will not seek an eighth term in 2020, opening up a potentially competitive district that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

Announcing his retirement Friday evening, Loebsack said he’d originally planned to serve no more than 12 years. But that changed when Trump was elected. 

“It became apparent that I needed to run for at least one more term in the hopes that I could provide a check on his worst impulses,” the congressman said in a statement.

“Currently, there are nearly two years remaining in this term and I look forward to playing an important role in the new House majority, not only to prevent further damage done by President Trump, but to also help set the stage for a new Democratic president to be inaugurated in January of 2021,” he added.

Trump carried Loebsack’s 2nd District, based in southeastern Iowa, by 4 points. The National Republican Congressional Committee was already targeting Loebsack this cycle, and an open seat may make this a more appealing endeavor for GOP recruits.

“Loebsack’s district immediately becomes a top tier pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2020,” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said in a statement.

Republicans failed to effectively target this seat last year, when Loebsack won a sixth term by 12 points and Democrats flipped two House seats in the Hawkeye State.

Democrats taking a look at running in the 2nd District may include state Sen. Zach Wahls and and former state Sen. Rita Hart.

Wahls garnered national attention in 2011 when he defended his two mothers at a hearing in the state Capitol on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Hart ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018. She has also been floated as a potential Democratic challenger to GOP Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up for re-election next year.

On the Republican side, potential candidates include Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph and state Sen. Chris Cournoyer (who succeeded Hart).

“This race will shoot to the top of both parties’ target lists I would think,” said Pat Rynard, a former Democratic operative who founded the political news site Iowa Starting Line. Rynard noted that Loebsack was unique among Iowa Democrats, performing well in his blue-collar district and withstanding GOP waves in 2010 and 2014.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos expressed optimism in a statement Friday that Democrats would field a strong candidate to replace the veteran congressman.

“As a Midwesterner who shares a border with Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, I am confident we will nominate and elect a Democrat worthy of succeeding Congressman Loebsack,” the Illinois lawmaker said.

Sue Dvorsky, the former chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Friday evening that she was surprised by Loebsack’s decision. Despite the competitive nature of this newly open seat, she was certain Democrats would hold on to it.

Dvorsky described the 2nd District as a microcosm of the state, with cities including Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, as well as rural areas. She predicted there would be no shortage of local Democrats eyeing a run.

It’s now possible that all four of Iowa’s House seats will be hotly contested in 2020.

In addition to Loebsack’s open seat, Democrats will be defending two House seats they flipped last fall: the 1st District, represented by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, and the 3rd District, held by Rep. Cindy Axne.

The DCCC is also targeting Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King in the 4th District, who was stripped of committee assignments following racist remarks. Despite the heavily Republican lean of King’s seat, Democrat J.D. Scholten came within 3 points of upsetting him in the midterms. 

With competitive races at the House and Senate level and a crowded Democratic primary for president, Dvorsky said Iowans were in for an exciting election cycle.

“In a presidential year, in a 20-person field for the caucuses and Sen. Ernst up for her first re-election, exciting is the only word I’ve got,” she said.

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