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Republican Leach endorses Democrat Bohannan in 1st Congressional District race

United States Office of Humanities
Former Congressman Jim Leach represented Iowans from 1977 to 2007 and served as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Barack Obama.

A longtime Republican Iowa congressman endorsed Democrat Christina Bohannan.

Updated: This article was updated to include a tweet form Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann and an interview with former Congressman Jim Leach.

Longtime Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican, endorsed Democrat Christina Bohannan in her bid against Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s first congressional district race. The district covers much of the area Leach represented for three decades.

The Quad-City Times first reported that Leach changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat to vote for Bohannan.

"Today, the Republican Party that I spent so many years with has really let the country down," Leach said in a press release from the Bohannan campaign.

Bohannan said going against the party was something she knew well. She unseated long-term Democratic incumbent Vicki Lensing for her Iowa House seat in 2020.

"I ran against a 20-year incumbent of the Democratic Party when I thought that neither the Republicans or Democrats were doing all they could for Iowans. That's something he (Leach) and I share," Bohannan told IPR News.  "And so I’m very honored to have this endorsement of somebody who served as a Republican but served well."

Both Leach and Bohannan taught classes at the University of Iowa College of Law.

Leach was chair of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee and was in Congress from 1977 to 2007, after losing a close election against Democrat Dave Loebsack.

IPR News reached out to the Miller-Meeks campaign, but it did not return comment by press time.

Leach contrasts with the new Republican Party

Shortly after Leach's endorsement was released, the chair of the Iowa Republican Party, Jeff Kaufmann, took to Twitter:

"For 14 years, Leach has been endorsing the most liberal Democrats this country has to offer. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention!" Citing The Quad-City Times' original story he wrote, "This is a pathetic attempt by the media to prop up @BoyhannanIowa’s failing campaign. #IA01"

In addition to his speaking engagement history, Leach also endorsed former President Barack Obama in 2008 and later served as Obama's chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. That was two presidential cycles before Trump descended a golden escalator to launch his presidential campaign.

IPR News reached out to Leach about Kaufmann's challenge of his record as a Republican. He said that while he respects the critique, he is unable to support the movement that brought President Donald Trump to power.

"The (Republican) Party in Iowa has had wonderful public officials: Mary Louise Smith to Bob Ray — who was one of the finest governors to ever serve in this state," he said. "I’m proud to have known them and to have worked with the party, but I’m unable to identify with this political party with some exceptions."

Leach has long been a critic of Trump. He was a vocal supporter of former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld who lost a primary challenge against Trump in 2020. Ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, he joined a long list of Republican national security officials calling Trump “dangerously unfit to serve another term.”

He said the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol motivated him to make a stir out of his endorsement of Bohannan.

"It’s not one of these issues that you favor one kind of tax approach and someone else approves another. What you have is people attacked law enforcement in America's greatest symbol of democracy," he said. "That's inconceivable to me."

Iowa Republicans have publicly decried the violence at the U.S. Capitol. Leach condemned the parties willing to stoke the unfounded claims of widespread election fraud that helped incite the mob.

This puts Leach at odds with Iowa statewide and Congressional Republicans who maintain public support for the former president. Just last October, Trump appeared alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann, as well as U.S. Reps. Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson. And ahead of this summer's primaries, Trump followed up with a "Complete and Total Endorsement" to Grassley, Reynolds, Hinson and U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra.

Miller-Meeks, in fact, stood out for not receiving Trump's endorsement during the primary. She was among the 35 Republicans to support a version of a committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, though her support for an investigation later waned. At the end of June, Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate — campaigned with Miller-Meeks in Davenport.

However, Miller-Meeks has remained a full-throated supporter of the former president, in the past calling herself as the "pro-Trump" candidate.

Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa