There was drama and even history in the results of Iowa’s June 2 primary election, but there were few surprises.
In a normal year any primary that sees an 18-year incumbent get beat would be a surprise, but that wasn’t necessarily the case when northwest Iowa Congressman Steve King lost his Republican primary to challenger Randy Feenstra, a state senator from Sioux County.
“Feenstra was the Republican establishment candidate,” says Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Des Moines.
Feenstra “is not a millimeter different than King in policy terms,” Goldford adds. But King’s continual controversial statements had always made him radioactive for Democrats and many independent voters and that finally led to him getting kicked off all Congressional committees by national Republican leaders. After Democratic challenger J.D. Scholten nearly beat King in 2018, state Republican leaders began considering the idea of backing a challenger.
When the votes were counted last week, Feenstra had nearly 46% of the Republican primary vote in Northwest Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. King was second at nearly 36 percent. Three other challengers split the rest of the vote. Feenstra will now meet Scholten in the fall.
Another big race came in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, where Theresa Greenfield grabbed nearly 48 percent of the vote to win a four-person battle. Former admiral Michael Franken was second with about 25 percent of the vote. Two other Democrats split the rest of the votes. Greenfield will now face incumbent Republican Joni Ernst in the fall.
“We have an interesting dynamic (in the Senate race),” says former Democratic State Secretary of Agriculture and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge. “For the first time we have two women battling for the seat and they are two women that both have strong rural backgrounds … That’s good.”
Ernst is a veteran who grew up in southern Iowa. Greenfield lives in the Des Moines area but grew up on a farm in Minnesota. Both have talked about rural values and issues.
There are also plenty of other women running in the fall. In Northeast Iowa’s 1st Congressional district, first term incumbent Abby Finkenauer will face the winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary, former Cedar Rapids television anchor and state legislator Ashley Hinson. In Southeast Iowa’s 2nd district, veteran Democrat Dave Loebsack is retiring. After Tuesday’s vote the nominees will be Republican Marriannette Miller-Meeks and Democrat Rita Hart. Miller- Meeks is a medical professional and former legislator who is making her fourth run for Congress. Hart is a teacher and farmer who has served in the legislature.
And in Iowa’s 3rd District, rookie Democratic incumbent Cindy Axne will face a re-match with the man she defeated two years ago, David Young.
There may also be a fight for control of the Iowa House this year. Right now Republicans control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. The governor is not up for re-election and Republican control of the Senate is solid, but it is possible that Democrats could take control of the House, Goldford says.
There are a couple of other items worth noting, according to Jeff Link, a long-time Democratic strategist who is working with Judge on Focus on Rural, a group pushing Democratic candidates to talk about rural issues this year.
Link says turnout in the primary was high for both Democrats and Republicans, with voter numbers larger than in 2016 despite the challenges of the COVID-19 epidemic. Republican numbers were up slightly while Democratic numbers more than doubled.
He also says 2020 will be a challenging election year for candidates in both parties because of the COVID situation. There will be fewer public events and very few chances to meet and shake hands with people. That may put more pressure on candidates to buy advertising or to get creative in their use of the internet or social media.