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Republican David Young Runs To Regain 3rd District Seat

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Emily Blobaum
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Iowa PBS
Republican David Young debates Democrat Cindy Axne on October 5. The candidates have clashed on issues such as health care and tax cuts.

Republican David Young wants to go back to Congress. The former two-term representative of Iowa’s 3rd District lost reelection two years ago to current Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne. Now Young is challenging for his old seat.

David Young won elections in 2014 and 2016 to represent the 3rd District in Congress. The Republican from Van Meter said his basic message for voters in 2020 is that he wants to pick up where he left off.

“People knew that I was somebody who they could work honestly with and hard with and get the job done and across the finish line,” said Young, who was Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s chief-of-staff before first running for the House. “And I show up to work. Never missed a vote in four years, and I went to every county every month.”

The 3rd District covers 16 counties in the southwestern part of the state. It includes Polk County and fast-growing suburbs west of Des Moines as well as some of Iowa’s least-populated rural counties.

Young said if he regains the seat he would be assigned to the influential House Appropriations Committee, which controls spending of federal funds. He served on the panel while he was in office and said he used the position to secure funding for rural broadband and roads projects in Iowa.

“We want to make sure that we have good roads and bridges to get our grains and our livestock to market,” Young said.

The U.S. economy was the strongest it has ever been before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Young said, and restoring it would be one of his priorities in Congress. Infrastructure funding would be part of that, as well as upholding tax cuts passed in 2017.

That tax law, which Young voted for, lowered individual income taxes for most people, although critics point out the greatest reductions went to the highest earners. It also increased the child tax credit and Young said he’d like to expand access to child care through the tax code to help working parents manage the COVID economy.

“Now more than ever with this pandemic, maybe kids (are) not going to school or people who are out of work right now (are) trying to get back into work and dealing with childcare,” Young said.

Congress could increase individual child care tax credits, Young said, or incentivize companies to include child care as a benefit for their workers.

Claims of partisan voting

In television ads airing in the district, David Young criticizes Rep. Cindy Axne for largely voting on party lines with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, drawing on the perception among some voters that moderate Democrats have not challenged party leaders.

“She campaigned as kind of a middle-of-the-road, problem solving, Main Street kind of candidate - almost sounded like Republican sometimes - and then got in there right away and voted with Nancy Pelosi 95 percent of the time,” Young said.

David Young talks to voters in a supporter’s front yard.
Courtesy Young For Iowa
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Courtesy Young For Iowa
David Young talks to voters in a supporter’s front yard.

Marylee Vanderpool of Indianola is a Young supporter and chair of the Warren County Republicans. She said she is concerned about political division and what she sees as a turn in the Democratic Party toward its most progressive members.

“I see our Constitution being threatened mightily,” Vanderpool said. “I see too much liberal, leftist, socialist (politics), all those trends. It's just going the wrong way.”

Axne said she has stood against party leaders on issues that are important to the district. Last year she withheld support for a House budget bill because it did not restore biodiesel tax credits that expired in 2017. The biodiesel credits were added to the final bill.

“I stood up and told the Speaker that I would not vote for any budget that did not include aid for our farmers, and then gathered my Midwest colleagues together to say, ‘You bring it to the floor, you're not going to have the votes,’” Axne said.

Axne turns Young's criticism of her voting record back against him, pointing out that when he was part of a Republican-controlled House he nearly always voted for the position favored by President Donald Trump, as tracked here by Five Thirty-Eight.

Close race expected

The 3rd District election results in 2018 were close. Young won 15 out of the 16 counties, but Axne won the election - by fewer than 8,000 votes - because of a strong finish in Polk County.

According to Grand View University political science professor Bryan McQuide, Young needs to narrow the gap in Polk County in order to win. To do that he may need to distinguish himself from President Trump.

“A lot of people, they’re not happy about the way things are going, and so David Young needs to remind people that he’s fighting for Iowa, not for the party,” McQuide said.

But Young says the fact that 2020 is presidential election year gives him an edge. There were Trump supporters who never voted in the mid-terms, but Young thinks they’ll turn out to vote Republican for president and for other races on the ballot on November 3.

“You go back to 2016, the last presidential race, when I was on the ticket and Sen. (Chuck) Grassley was as well we won this district by 14 points, I did,” Young said. “So we like where we’re at.”

With the presidential race and a close Senate race energizing the Republican vote, Young believes he has a path back to Congress on Election Day.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa