When I first volunteered to support Dave Loebsack for congress it was a dicey endeavor.
In 2004 I’d supported Dave Franker and he was not the best of candidates. He seemed a throw-away placed on the ballot next to Jim Leach to fill an empty slot. He was serious about his candidacy, but others were not. “Slot-man” would be a good moniker for Franker as he filled the space on the ballot and had very little real support. I was skeptical Loebsack, a Cornell College political science professor, could get elected either.
Leach lost me when he chaired the House Banking Committee’s investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation near Flippin, Arkansas. What else was there to do but support Loebsack? I was in.
Each Tuesday I faithfully arrived to volunteer at Loebsack’s campaign office in Iowa City. What I found, through hundreds of phone calls, was people were tired of Republicans, including Leach. After a while it became clear Loebsack stood a good chance of upsetting Leach. I’m glad he did.
Ten years in, Loebsack has had his ups and downs in support among people who first elected him. While some called for a primary challenge, the only person who did challenge Loebsack, State Senator Joe Seng, ran a weird and subdued campaign and never stood a chance. As recent elections of Terry Branstad and Joni Ernst indicate, the days of Harold Hughes and Tom Harkin liberals in statewide elected office are well over until something changes in the electorate. While no politician is perfect, and other bloggers may argue the point, Loebsack has been liberal enough when it mattered most.
This year Republicans nominated their own slot-man, Coralville surgeon Chris Peters. Since his first re-election, Loebsack has faced a doctor four times and a lawyer once. It is as if Republicans believe the professional class is somehow most qualified to beat an incumbent congressman in Iowa. None of them has gained adequate traction and there is little to indicate 2016 will be their year in the Second Congressional District.
What distinguishes Chris Peters from previous Loebsack challengers is his libertarian leanings. What I mean here is his feeble attempts to participate in the populist uprising against neo-liberalism, as described recently by Martin Jacques in the Guardian.
“Populism is a movement against the status quo,” Jacques wrote. “It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.”
Iowans benefit from international trade in soy, corn, beef and pork. To the extent they do, they tend to favor what Jacques describes as the “hyper-globalization era systematically stacked in favor of capital against labor.” This is the hallmark of neo-liberalism, something both Republicans and many Democrats participate in. The Trump campaign is opposed to neo-liberalism and wants to take us back to a freaky version of 1950s America in the midst of the post-World War II economic boom. That may play well among Republicans in predominantly white Iowa, however, voters have not embraced it.
Peters has not distinguished himself from the Republican pabulum about taxes, free market solutions, isolationism and school choice to his campaign’s detriment. He embraces the swill of ideas. Trump may win Iowa, and if he does, it will be because of the Republican Party of Iowa’s well-organized ground game. If one talks to Republicans rationalizing support for their 2016 presidential nominee, the argument is less about Donald Trump and more about supporting their party when party means something. Peters should latch on to the coat tails if he is anything other than a slot-man. He didn’t ask for my advice.
What enables Dave Loebsack’s re-elections is the popular appeal of his story of growing up in poverty and the importance of government programs in lifting him up. As a Congressman he appears to have followed Bob Dylan’s advice in Subterranean Homesick Blues, “Don’t wear sandals; Try to avoid scandals.” While not the most flashy member of congress, he shows up for work and attempts to serve constituents. Loebsack spends almost every weekend with constituents in the district — those who support him and those who don’t. This gives him a reliable finger on the pulse of the district, something a doctor could appreciate and any challenger would find a formidable obstacle.
Will Loebsack get re-elected? Not unless voters stand up for him again. As a seasoned campaign operative and political science professor, Loebsack knows how to manage his re-election effort. He built a political mechanism to seek insight into the district and has established relationships with movers and shakers in the Congress. (One almost tires of his stories about who he met last week in the Congressional gym). Loebsack brings a who’s who of prominent politicians to the district. Recent guests included Steny Hoyer, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, Collin Peterson, Tammy Baldwin, Tulsi Gabbard and others. This cements his relationship with many of his politically active supporters and helps build relationships he will need to get things done in the Congress.
Dave Loebsack’s chances are pretty good for election to a sixth term. My only regret is he is limited to two years at a time.
I don’t presume to know Loebsack’s plans but he has sponsored legislation restricting the revolving door from the Congress into lobbying. Expect him to follow his own bill and stay in Congress at least until full retirement age. If he seeks to remain in Congress until then, that means we’ll likely have to re-elect him in 2018.
I’m in now and will be in in 2018 if we are that lucky.