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Iowa Democratic Party picks Rita Hart as its new chair

Former Iowa state senator Rita Hart has ended her challenge in a U.S. House race she lost to Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six votes. Above, Hart appears at her farm in Wheatland, Iowa on Aug. 13, 2019.
Caroline Brehman
CQ-Rolle Call, Inc via Getty Images
Former Iowa state Sen. Rita Hart has been chosen as the new Iowa Democratic Party chair. Above, Hart appears at her farm in Wheatland in 2019.

Rita Hart is a former state senator who ran for Congress in 2020 and lost by just six votes to U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Former state Sen. Rita Hart is the new chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. Hart is a farmer and former teacher who lives near the small eastern Iowa town of Wheatland. She told voting members before Saturday's vote that her focus is squarely on helping the party begin winning elections again.

“This last year I became Clinton County chair where I’ve seen at a grassroots level the kind of support that our county parties need in order to work more effectively," Hart said before the vote was taken during the state central committee's virtual meeting. "I’m under no illusions that this will be easy and I know it will take time.”

Hart was Fred Hubbell's running mate during his unsuccessful 2018 gubernatorial bid. She also lost by just six votes in 2020 against now-U.S. Rep. Marinette Miller-Meeks.

“I’ve won two races in a state senate district that Donald Trump carried twice," Hart also said during her speech before the vote. "In my 2020 congressional race, we raised $5 million and outperformed Joe Biden by more than any of the congressional races.”

Iowa Democrats have had a long run of losses over the last decade. Most recently in November when Republicans gained a supermajority in the state senate, took out Iowa’s longtime attorney general and state treasurer, and defeated Iowa's only Democratic member of Congress. Hart takes over as chair from State Rep. Ross Wilburn, from Ames, who announced last month he would not run for the seat again.

“We’ve got to continue to fight that fight for first-in-the-nation status and then be very practical about how we move forward," Hart recently told a Southwest Iowa Democrats forum this week the caucus battle is not done.

Hart takes over the job a week before the Democratic National Committee will meet to approve the new list of early states that ends the Iowa Democratic Party’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. Former state lawmaker Bob Krause and campaign organizer Brittany Ruland were the other two Democrats seeking the post.

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.