A highly competitive congressional district in the southwest corner of Iowa is seen as one of a handful of races that could determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives for the next two years. Republican Rep. David Young is campaigning to keep his seat for a third term, and Democrat Cindy Axne is making the case for why she should replace him.
Congressman Young, R-Van Meter, was meeting with supporters at an Ankeny coffee shop one morning earlier this month, talking up Republican tax cuts and regulation rollbacks.
“Look what’s happening with our economy right now,” Young said. “We’re going forward.”
He also credited the Republican hold on both chambers of Congress and the White House with beefing up border security and the military.
“We’ve had some great successes so far, and we need to continue those,” Young said. “If we lose this seat, it’s a reversal of a lot of that.”
The former chief-of-staff to Sen. Chuck Grassley has represented the 3rd District’s 16 counties, including Des Moines and Council Bluffs, for the past four years. Young said it’s not the first time this district has been called a toss-up, so he’s used to competitive races.
But Rachel Paine Caufield, a political science professor at Drake University, said this one stands out.
“The sheer amount of money that has come into the race I think is remarkable. The fact that you have an incumbent who’s facing this kind of challenge from a first-time challenger, I think that’s pretty remarkable,” Caufield said. “And then of course you have this unique dynamic where you have a very moderate Republican running for reelection in a state that was won by Donald Trump.”
Caufield said Young is seen as a moderate, but members of Congress are largely defined by the agenda that’s put in front of them. According to political data website FiveThirtyEight, 98.9 percent of Young’s votes in the past two years have aligned with the Trump administration.
“He’s a very calm and deliberate person in terms of his interactions with constituents, and I think that that gives him an air of being more moderate,” Caufield said. “When the president comes to town, however, that voting record becomes that much clearer to a lot of constituents.”
Last week, President Trump held a rally in Council Bluffs.
“Remember this, a vote for David is a vote for me and our agenda to make America great again,” Trump said.
Two days after he joined Trump on stage to thank him for helping the economy and moving to expand ethanol use, Young was asked about that moment during a debate.
“A vote for me is a vote for the 3rd District,” Young said. “That’s how I see it.”
Young said he stands up to the president on tariffs, which Young considers unwanted taxes, and on health care, when policies don’t protect people with preexisting conditions.
Young’s opponent, Cindy Axne, told a house full of Democrats in Indianola that Young’s voting record shows he’s “quietly dangerous.”
“Whether it’s health care, whether it’s civil rights, whether it’s this tax bill that puts the burden on hardworking Iowa families, this guy is voting against us at every single turn,” she said.
Axne said Young favors special interests and corporations over the concerns of people in the state.
“I understand the struggles Iowans are facing,” she said. “I’m a small business owner, I’m a mom.”
Axne, who’s running for office for the first time, lives in West Des Moines and previously worked in state government management. She said her priorities in Congress would be shoring up the Affordable Care Act, passing an infrastructure package, and changing the Republican tax cuts.
“We need to make sure this tax bill actually works for hardworking Iowans, not all the benefits going to corporations and wealthy,” Axne said.
Rather than directly attacking Axne, Young tries to link her to former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and policies like “Medicare for all” and abolishing immigration enforcement, which Axne has not called for. Axne has declined to say if she would vote for Pelosi to lead the House if Democrats take control.
But Young said he trusts Iowans to elect him again because he’s been accessible, visiting every county in his district each month to meet with his “bosses.” He said his legislative priorities if reelected would be passing the farm bill and improving access to technologies that help blind people.
Steve Bisenius, a former state senator from Ankeny, said Young listens to his constituents.
“I think he’s right on all the issues—right to life, lower taxes, determination, border security,” Bisenius said. “We really appreciate David’s hard work.”
Betty Crawford of Indianola said Young has been a disappointment, and thinks Axne will do better than him.
“He claims he wants to help us, and he voted for Trump’s health plan which could leave millions of Americans without any health care,” Crawford said.
That bill, the American Health Care Act, never became law, but some Iowans won’t forget how their representative voted.
In a race with so much on the line, Iowans in the 3rd District can expect to see more attack ads and high-profile politicians streaming into the state ahead of Election Day, Nov. 6.