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Three Democrats Running to Challenge Southwest Iowa's Republican Congressman

democratic primary forum
Katarina Sostaric
Democratic primary candidates Eddie Mauro, Pete D'Alessandro and Cindy Axne speak at a youth voter forum in Des Moines May 2, 2018.

There’s a lot of Democratic energy surrounding the 2018 elections because Democrats see them as a chance to get into Congress and oppose the Trump administration’s agenda.

In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, which covers rural southwest Iowa and the cities of Des Moines and Council Bluffs, three candidates are running in the Democratic primary to take on two-term Republican U.S. Rep. David Young. Eddie Mauro, Cindy Axne and Pete D’Alessandro have similar views on many issues and all live in the Des Moines area, but they have different backgrounds.

Eddie Mauro is a small business owner, volunteer, former teacher and coach who said his service and advocacy work stands out. He addressed young voters at a recent forum in Des Moines.

“I’m here today because each of you deserves to know that the best possible world awaits you,” Mauro said. “And that is a progressive, inclusive populism, where the very promise, the very idea, of this country is made available to everybody.”

Mauro said one of his priorities is improving health care access, first by trying to pass “Medicare for all” legislation, and if that can’t get signed into law, by improving the Affordable Care Act.

Cindy Axne is also a small business owner, but she said her experience working in state government management sets her apart from the other candidates.

“We need somebody who can hit the ground running, and having spent a decade solving complex government problems, helping to protect our environment, making sure that we held government accountable to doing what’s right, and understanding the entire structure surrounding that to get things done is a really important thing,” Axne said.

She said changing the new federal tax law and shoring up the Affordable Care Act would be among her top priorities if elected.

Pete D’Alessandro highlighted his experience as a longtime political operative who led Bernie Sanders’ Iowa campaign in 2016.

“I think the other thing that sets me apart is I’m very specific on a lot of these issues,” D’Alessandro said. “I think we have to stand for Medicare for all, I think we have to stand for a $15 an hour minimum wage, and there’s really no nuance on it.”

D’Alessandro said focusing on those two issues, and not compromising on them, will lead to solutions for many economic and social problems.

The candidates agree on issues like opposing the new federal tax law, supporting clean energy, raising the minimum wage, and making college more affordable. They also agree on closing background check loopholes for gun purchases, protecting the right to obtain an abortion, and protecting immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents.

“Those Democratic candidates agree with each other in large part, and so then voters are left to kind of try to untangle which of these candidates they like more,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, political science professor at Drake University. “And when that happens, voters tend to be more reliant on personality and personal traits.”

Looking ahead to the November general election, Caufield said even though the state has been drifting to the right side of the political spectrum in recent years, she thinks the southwestern corner of Iowa is still a swing district.

“I think there’s a possibility it could switch to Democratic,” Caufield said. “Having said that, any time you have an incumbent in the House of Representatives, it’s going to be hard to unseat them.”

In 2016, David Young defeated Democrat Jim Mowrer by 14 points to win a second term.

Two of the Democratic candidates seeking the chance to unseat the congressman  this year pointed to a specific moment in his career.

“He told Iowans that he would vote against the Republican health care bill because it was a bad bill for Iowans and it didn’t do anything to fix the issues that we’re facing right now,” Axne said. “And then in the middle of the night, he went and voted for it.”

About a year ago, Rep. Young voted for a health care bill that would’ve undermined the Affordable Care Act. In the weeks leading up to the vote, he told constituents he didn’t support the bill. Young said in a statement afterward that a last-minute amendment won him over.

Mauro also mentioned that vote.

“We need a leader that’s going to tell people the truth, that’s going to stand with integrity, let people know where they stand and stand there firmly, and let the chips fall where they may,” Mauro said.

D’Alessandro was more general with his criticism.

“My biggest complaint with David Young is that when he goes to Washington D.C. he consistently, as in almost 100 percent of the time, votes against the values of the people of this district,” D’Alessandro said.

Early and absentee voting have started in Iowa’s primary elections, and primary Election Day is June 5th.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter