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‘Past the point of no return’? Iowa Dems feel hopes fading

Democrats lost last year’s election for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District by the narrowest margin in a House race in almost 40 years. After the six-vote heartbreaker, some expected Democrat Rita Hart to immediately declare a rematch in the southeast district long held by her party.

So far, no Democrat has stepped up to run. 

The hesitancy to jump into a district now as competitive as they come is one measure of Democrats’ fatigue in a state viewed for decades as a true battleground. Even as the coronavirus pandemic gradually wanes and President Joe Biden’s job approval remains strong, Iowa Democrats say they can feel their party receding, particularly from the industrial river towns they once claimed as bastions.

“I kind of think we’re past the point of no return,” said Rich Taylor, a former Democratic state senator who lost last year after eight years representing economically struggling Lee County, which hugs the Mississippi River in the state’s southeast corner. “I believe that the people of southeast Iowa will wake up. But I don’t think it’s going to make a difference for the next 20 years.” 

It took years to reach this point. For more than a decade, Democrats have watched their ranks in farm communities dwindle. At the same time, their once-dominant strength in the state’s factory towns was undermined by shrinking union power and population loss. Republican Donald Trump’s popularity among the white working class in those areas to some feels like a final blow. 

“The big question is: Can we bring it back?” said Matt Pflug, a Democrat on the board of supervisors in Lee County. “I don’t know if we can.”

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