New lines, new numbers, new ratings in Iowa

Three of four districts remain competitive, but climate favors GOP

Rep. Cindy Axne, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, faces a Toss-up race for reelection next year. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Cindy Axne, the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, faces a Toss-up race for reelection next year. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 15, 2021 at 6:30am

ANALYSIS — Republicans didn’t have full control of redrawing the congressional lines in Iowa, but the new map gives them an opportunity to squeeze one more seat out of the Hawkeye State on their way to the House majority.

With maps originating from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, or LSA, and then subject to approval by the state Legislature and governor, Iowa has been a model for those trying to wrest some control of the redistricting process from politicians.  

The process and guidelines have resulted in consistently competitive races. Over the last decade, an Iowa seat switched party hands five times. That’s five more than in Ohio, which has more than three times the number of seats. 

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

In 2020, Republicans flipped two Democratic seats by unseating Rep. Abby Finkenauer and winning the open seat vacated by Rep. Dave Loebsack. If Republicans can hold those seats and defeat Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne next year, they will have full control of the House delegation for the first time since the 1950s. 

1st District (Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R)

Because the LSA was not permitted to consider incumbent residences or political data, and had to try to keep each of Iowa’s 99 counties whole, it presented Miller-Meeks, a freshman who won her current 2nd District seat last year by just six votes, with a decision.

After finally getting to Congress following three unsuccessful attempts over more than a decade, Miller-Meeks found out things don’t necessarily get easier after winning. The new map put most of her constituents in the new 1st District, which is basically the southeast quadrant of the state. But her Ottumwa home will be in the redrawn 3rd District, currently represented by Axne. 

According to the Constitution, members only have to live in the same state and not in the specific district they represent, but Miller-Meeks recently announced she would move to the new 1st District. 

The new 1st, which includes Iowa City and Davenport, is competitive. President Donald Trump would have won it 50 percent to 48 percent, according to calculations by Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections. In 2018, it would have voted for Democrat Fred Hubbell for governor by 4 points, even though he lost statewide.  

State Rep. Christina Bohannan, who is also a law professor at the University of Iowa, gives Democrats a credible challenger. But the political environment should boost Miller-Meeks. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

2nd District (Ashley Hinson, R)

In a great example of the confusion brought on by redistricting, the new 2nd District sits in the northeast quadrant of the state even though it encompasses much of the area of the current 1st District. 

Republican Ashley Hinson, who defeated Finkenauer in the 1st District in 2020, is running for reelection from the new 2nd, while Finkenauer is running for Senate. Hinson would likely have been a top Senate candidate on the GOP side had longtime Sen. Charles E. Grassley decided not to run for reelection. 

The new 2nd has a narrow Republican bent, considering Trump would have carried it 51 percent to 47 percent in 2020 while Hubbell would have won it by a narrower 48.8 percent to 48.6 percent in 2018. Next year, Hinson will likely face Democratic state Sen. Liz Mathis in a matchup of former local news anchors. In the current political environment, Hinson will start with the advantage. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

3rd District (Cindy Axne, D)

The redrawn 3rd District remains in Iowa’s southwest quadrant, although its boundaries have changed a bit. It still includes Des Moines in the central part of the state and, on paper, is Iowa’s most competitive district.

Trump would have won the seat narrowly, 49.2 percent to 48.8 percent, in 2020, putting Axne at significant risk, considering Democrats’ 12-point underperformance in the recent Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.

Axne was first elected in 2018, unseating GOP Rep. David Young, and then won a close rematch last year. This top takeover opportunity has attracted multiple Republicans to the race, including state Sen. Zach Nunn, former state Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa and financial planner Nicole Hasso, who has been endorsed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. This will be a tough seat for Democrats to hold in the current political environment. Initial rating: Toss-up.

4th District (Randy Feenstra, R)

Ever since Feenstra knocked off Rep. Steve King in a 2020 Republican primary, this seat has lacked excitement. The redrawn 4th District is still in the northwest quadrant of the state and is still a Republican stronghold. Trump would have won the seat under the new lines 59 percent to 39 percent. Initial rating: Solid Republican.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.