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Iowans rebel

IOWA CITY, Iowa — All day long they poured into the split-level house on Galway Circle, taking the stairs to the basement, receiving their get-out-the-vote packets, pausing to get their final instructions. These were the foot soldiers of the Democratic insurgency, and they were fired with purpose, urgency — and piles of egg-salad sandwiches.

Tuesday’s midterm congressional elections were 470 local contests, plus 36 governors’ races, many of them animated by local and regional issues, by distinctive personalities and by voting habits that customarily send incumbents back to Washington, usually at a rate of 90 percent, sometimes as high as 96 percent. This time, however, the personal style and policy priorities of President Donald Trump were a major element of the calculus, at least according to exit polls that showed a majority of voters factored the president into their vote.

The people who streamed into Janice Weiner’s home — men and women, executives and firefighters, homemakers and state House members — were determined to use the midterms to send a message. “We have an opportunity to restore some balance, so we can make sure one party doesn’t have all the power,” Weiner said, speaking in the middle of a room that by the noon hour was crowded with people. “We think if we can do it here, others can do it elsewhere.”

Others did do it elsewhere, with the result being a Democratic House to counterbalance the Republican Senate and the president. Tuesday’s election results may have been less a Blue Wave than a Blue Ripple, but even in an inland state like this one, the undertow was significant.

In contests like Tuesday’s, where regional character shapes both the campaigning and the voting, it is difficult to ascribe one explanation or another to the total result. Difficult, but irresistible. That said, the Republicans’ reaction to their loss of the House — a fury matched by the voters’ in Tuesday balloting, with finger-pointing and blame-casting beginning in the hours before the polls closed in the East — gave credence to the notion that the president had taken a beating.

And at least here in a university town that was the state’s first capital, it was clear that Trump — generally successful in the races he campaigned in — was an important part of the Democrats’ appeal.

The proof, oddly enough, didn’t come in the congressional race here; six-term Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack glided to re-election in a district Trump won by 4 percentage points, carrying the state’s southeastern district Tuesday by 12 points.

The proof came around lunchtime Monday when Fred Hubbell loped down the staircase. Hubbell, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, won heavily here in Johnson County, taking three out of four votes, but didn’t prevail statewide. He was defeated by incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds, who moved into the Terrace Hill governor’s mansion when Gov. Terry Branstad became ambassador to China and who Tuesday became the first woman to win a gubernatorial race here.

But the language Hubbell used among the Democratic activists showed how pervasive the president’s profile was in this part of the country, where farmers have been worried all harvest season about his trade policies. Listen to Hubbell talk about his campaign, not for a national office but for a state position:

“This governor’s race will show we’re tired of the extreme agenda on health care and taxes. We want an opportunity for everybody to have access to good health care and good jobs.”

Those themes had potency in the state’s congressional races — Iowa’s 2019 House delegation will have three Democrats and a single Republican — and across the country, where Democrats seized open seats and upended Republican re-election efforts.

The result will be a House likely to more often stop legislation than to start new policy initiatives.

The Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill will have Eastern liberals (and at least two quasi socialists) who loathe the president, and it will have Midwestern moderates, like Loebsack, who broke with the Easterners’ orthodoxy by supporting the Keystone Pipeline and opposing sanctuary cities. It will have some lawmakers close to labor leaders who support the Trump tariffs and some who oppose them. It will have lawmakers who respond to traditional Democratic impulses on social policy and some who reflect Trump Nation’s skepticism of, if not ardent opposition to, liberal society policy.

Then there is the elephant in the room: the new powers the Democrats will have to launch investigations against Trump and his campaign. Democratic committee chairs suddenly will possess subpoena power and face the question of whether to use the findings in Robert Mueller’s report to undertake impeachment proceedings. But no one believes there is anywhere near the 67 votes required in the Senate, especially with a fortified GOP majority, to remove the president from office.

This state, home to the first caucuses of the 2020 presidential election, always has been regarded as a petri dish of American politics.

The early 20th-century Republican Sen. Jonathan Prentiss Dolliver once said that Iowa would go Democratic when hell went Methodist. Iowa, once resolutely purple, took on a slightly blue tint this week. So did the rest of the country. Hell didn’t freeze over, nor turn Methodist, but it is incontrovertible that a rime of frost has descended on the nation’s political landscape.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (, 412 263-1890). Follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG.

David Shribman

David Shribman

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