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Election results 2022: Nunn beats Axne in Iowa’s 3rd District race

A graphic shows Zach Nunn, the winner of the 3rd Congressional District race.
Zach Nunn wins the 3rd Congressional District race.

Incumbent Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is trailing Republican challenger Zach Nunn with more than 90% of the vote counted in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

Nunn is claiming victory in the race, but Axne is not conceding and a winner has not been declared by The Associated Press.

If the results hold, Nunn would flip control of a seat that Axne has held for two terms.

Election Results

Speaking to party supporters at the Iowa GOP election night gathering in Des Moines, Nunn repeated his campaign pledge to tackle inflation as a member of Congress.

“We have the ability to change that,” Nunn said. “This district, this race, changes the course of America.”

As early results were announced Tuesday night, Axne built a large lead in Polk County, where Democrats hold their largest margin of support. By the end of the night, though, Nunn had chipped away at her lead and pulled ahead by less than 1% thanks to lopsided returns from rural counties in the district.

Zach Nunn smiles out at crowd in front of an American flag.
John Pemble
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Zach Nunn claimed victory Tuesday night in Des Moines before a call from The Associated Press. As of Wednesday morning, current 3rd District Rep. Cindy Axne had not conceded.

Nunn emphasized the strong showing by Republican candidates up and down the midterm ballot in congressional and statewide races. He said it shows broad support for conservative leadership in Iowa.

“When we go to D.C., it’s about taking what’s great about Iowa — the playbooks that we have here of trusting Iowans to make the best decisions for their families, their friends, their farms and their hometown,” he said.

A spokesperson for Congresswoman Axne said she has not given up the race, adding that she is “waiting until every single vote is counted before she makes a statement, which will be at least (Wednesday) morning.”

A win over Axne would give Republicans control over all of Iowa’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since the 1994 midterms.

U.S. House Balance of Power

3rd Congressional District

The new 3rd Congressional District covers Des Moines and much of south central Iowa. The district has been redrawn so it no longer borders with Nebraska. The new map now excludes Council Bluffs while gaining Ottumwa.

A map of Iowa is shown outlining the new Congressional Districts.
A map of Iowa's new congressional districts

The 3rd District candidates

Cindy Axne

Democrat Cindy Axne has served as the current U.S. representative from Iowa's 3rd Congressional District since 2019. She defeated incumbent Republican Rep. David Young in the 2018 election in a close race. Axne is currently Iowa's only Democrat serving in Congress.

Axne has won two terms in the 3rd District, but the district looks different now that the boundaries have been redrawn. Out of the 21 counties in the district, nine are new. Clarke, Davis, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, Wayne, Appanoose and Wapello counties in south central Iowa used to be part of Iowa’s 2nd District.

Zach Nunn

Republican state Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, has served as an Iowa state senator from the 15th District since 2019. A U.S. Air Force officer, he was Iowa state representative for the 30th District from 2015 to 2019.

The issues

Abortion

During an hour-long debate on KCCI-TV on Oct. 6, the candidates were asked whether state or federal lawmakers should be in the position of deciding at what point in a pregnancy women can or cannot seek an abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for new abortion laws when it overturned the constitutional right to an abortion at the federal level in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Zach Nunn said states should decide what happens next with abortion rights, and that the issue should go to a statewide vote.

“This is Iowans’ decision. We should give them the opportunity to take a vote, have their voice heard and move forward,” Nunn said to Axne during the debate. “Unfortunately, you tried to take that away from them with the vote that you took in Washington, D.C., right after the Dobbs case.”

That vote was for the Women’s Health Protection Act, which Axne has voted to support twice. The bill would preempt states from placing restrictions on abortion access, and would codify abortion rights based on Roe v. Wade. It failed to pass in the U.S. Senate.

In response to whether state or federal lawmakers should decide on abortion access, Axne said the decision should be left to women, not lawmakers.

Axne called Nunn “extreme” for raising his hand in a primary debate when the candidates were asked whether they would support a total ban on abortion. Her campaign has targeted Nunn over that debate moment in frequent TV ads.

Nunn said Thursday night that he supports “the mother and the baby,” and has supported exceptions to abortion limits in the past.

As a state senator, Nunn has voted for restrictions including waiting periods and a ban on abortions after only six weeks into a pregnancy, which at the time was the strictest abortion law passed in the country. That law includes exceptions if the mother experiences a medical emergency or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. It remains blocked in court.

Carbon pipelines

When asked about carbon pipelines during a debate on KMA Radio on Oct. 9, Axne said it’s time to look at other ways to reduce carbon emissions, adding the pipelines would make a “negligible” dent in carbon output.

Nunn said carbon sequestration is “a great way” to help farmers and Iowa’s ethanol industry, but criticized the three companies that have unveiled carbon pipeline routes through Iowa.

Energy and wind

Both candidates say they support boosting U.S. energy production, but aired their differences over wind turbines during their KMA Radio debate. Axne said Iowa has become a leader in wind energy and can expand that industry, but steps should be taken to ensure wind farms don’t disrupt the lifestyle of rural Iowa.

“If we can upgrade these wind turbines to address those issues that these communities are facing, whether it’s noise or whatever their concerns are, we should be able to do those types of things for them.”

Nunn said clusters of wind turbines can be “a real blight” on the landscape and create “health challenges” for people who live nearby.

“Absentee landlords, many who live in places like California and New York… are finding themselves enriched while others have to live up the street from massive wind farms.”

Inflation

At The Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Rep. Axne touted the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden, as an example of what she and fellow Democrats can accomplish if they keep control of Congress after November’s midterm elections.

Axne was the only member of Iowa's delegation to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act. Among other criticisms of the law, Republicans have said funding for the IRS meant to improve tax collection will cause more people to face tax audits.

During his time on the soapbox, Nunn criticized the Inflation Reduction Act, saying it will do little to help Iowans better shoulder current rates of inflation.

During the KCCI debate, Nunn blamed inflation largely on spending packages passed by Democrats in Congress.

The 3rd District includes counties with some of the highest poverty rates in the state. Nunn said higher prices for things like gas and groceries cut into family budgets.

Axne said she agrees Congress should do more to deal with higher consumer prices, while also pointing to Iowa’s low unemployment rate as a sign of economic strength.

She said laws passed by Democrats to control prescription drug costs for people in Medicare, to grow renewable energy production, and to increase microchip manufacturing in the U.S. show that her party takes the issue seriously.

“I know the price of gas, I know the price of milk and I sure know the price of bread because I have two boys that eat a heck of a lot of food,” Axne said. “I certainly understand the pain that Iowans and Americans are facing and we’re continually working, and I’m continually working, to bring those prices down.”

Nunn criticized President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt up to $20,000 for many borrowers, saying it is unfair to others who worked or joined the military to pay their way through school.

Axne said she does not completely agree with the executive order, but supports parts of it including a cap on spending more than 5% of discretionary income each month to pay down federal student loans.