Kaufman: Iowa is a field of opportunity

The state is a toss up at the presidential and senate level for November. 

I recently traveled across various portions of Herbert Hoover’s home state to gather views from people about the presidential and crucial U.S. Senate race this fall.

Before President Trump carried it by nearly 10 points in 2016, Democrats had won Iowa six of the last seven presidential races, so it’s not a naturally conservative state. The Hawkeye State shares characteristics with Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, after all. 

Iowa has a regional voting bloc, shown more so in 2012 than 2016. The west toward the Missouri River is more agricultural and conservative, while the larger cities and Mississippi River towns to the east lean Democrat. The state is a toss up at the presidential and senate level for November.

I first met a friend who works as a social media specialist in Dubuque, a scenic city along the Illinois-Wisconsin-Iowa border. A Drake University graduate, she actually moved right in college, tiring of liberal bias. She voted for Trump and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. In a senate race garnering national attention and record spending, she plans to support Ernst again.

“Things are going well for me, my husband and my parents,” she said. “Joni is phenomenal. Is Trump rough around the edges? Should he quit tweeting? Yes and yes. But the Democrats’ behavior, like defunding police and ignoring dangerous rioting, has been appalling.”

Though Trump won the county by a point, Obama defeated Romney here by 14. During her improbable statewide win six years ago, Ernst also lost Dubuque County.

I then asked a reporting analysis manager from Council Bluffs — a western Iowa town bordering Nebraska — for his views. 

Though as a religious conservative he was “happy Trump won” last time, he did not vote for him. 

“Little has changed since last presidential election for me,” he said. “There’s no way I’d vote for Biden due to all the policies he supports which go against my faith, not to mention his health, which is a legitimate issue. Trump has plenty of issues, both politically and personally, but I’ll either vote for him or an independent.”

Romney prevailed here by six points over Obama, with Trump walloping Clinton by 20.

I struck up a conversation with an accountant at Chick-Fil-A in West Des Moines, a suburb in Polk County, Iowa’s largest. Obama and Clinton both triumphed here and Ernst also fell. He’s politically active, having spoken at his 2016 caucus.

“I couldn’t vote for Trump last time because I didn’t trust him. He started strong but the last seven months have been embarrassing,” he said. “However, as the Democrats increasingly cater to their radical wing, the GOP is the only option; it just needs a return to small-government roots. Even though I support spending when it provides the underprivileged with equality of opportunity, I’m alarmed at the spending Trump promotes. I’m encouraged, however, by the fiscal discipline promoted by senators like Ben Sasse.”

He said he’ll happily vote for his U.S. Army veteran senator this fall against opponent Theresa Greenfield, who’s now embracing a slew of left-wing racial grievances.

Visiting a machine shop in Burlington, a blue-collar town of 25,000 along the Mississippi, I sat down with a mechanic nearing retirement. Burlington saw a steady population decrease in recent decades due to economic downturn. Obama won by nearly 20 points there, but like many counties in key states, the tide changed and Trump took the area.

“I’m glad Biden won the nomination because I couldn’t stomach Bernie,” he said. “A lot of my co-workers switched from Obama to Trump. I’ll probably still vote Democrat but the party is becoming too corporate and moving away from the working class. If Democrats stopped hating small towns, they’d never lose here.”

He voted against Ernst six years ago but is considering her this time. With five school-age grandchildren, he’s appalled at current school closures. He said it’ll be interesting if Greenfield can balance the radical positions of her party with a “down-to-earth image she tries to convey.”

The vice president recently visited Des Moines after devastating storms, meeting with farmers who saw their crops flattened among an estimated 10 million affected acres. Ernst has been on the ground daily, and the president also reiterated support.

“We are going to stay with you. And we will work with your governor and your senators to make sure we bring Iowa all the way back,” Pence said. “Our economic recovery is on the ballot, but there are also things on the ballot that are more foundational to our country, as well. I think the choice this election is whether America remains America.”