Iowa congressional primaries: GOP incumbents win, Baccam defeats Vine

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Democrat Lanon Baccam gave a victory speech at an election watch party held at the New Northwestern in Des Moines after winning the Democratic primary for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District June 4, 2024. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

In three contested congressional primary races, two GOP incumbents defeated competitive challengers while the 3rd District Democrat primary was decided early Tuesday.

The primary election is the final step in deciding which Iowa candidates will appear on the general election ballot in November. While there are no statewide elected positions or U.S. Senate seats on the ballot this year, all four of Iowa’s seats in the U.S. House, as well as state legislative positions will be considered in the election.

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Here’s what to know about the results of congressional races in Iowa:

3rd District: Baccam defeats Vine in race to take on Nunn

Democrat Lanon Baccam gave a victory speech at an election watch party held at the New Northwestern in Des Moines after winning the Democratic primary for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District June 4, 2024. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Lanon Baccam won the race against Melissa Vine to become the 3rd Congressional District Democratic nominee with 84.5% of votes counted, according to the Associated Press.

The race to take on U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn has been one of the state’s most contentious primaries this election cycle. Nunn won the seat in 2022, defeating then-U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, by a margin of roughly 2,100 votes. Though election forecasters have rated the election for Iowa’s 3rd District as “leans Republican,” U.S. House Democrats’ campaign arm has identified the seat as a potential pick-up for the minority party.

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Baccam and Vine argued on the primary campaign trail that they were the best candidate to unseat Nunn in 2024. Baccam, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture under former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and for Biden’s Iowa campaign, received significant support from Iowa and federal Democrats in addition to raising more than Nunn in the first quarter of 2024, according to the Federal Election Commission data.

Baccam has highlighted protecting programs like Social Security and Medicare, defending access to abortion and promoting economic development in rural areas as top campaign priorities. At a watch party in Des Moines Tuesday, Baccam celebrated his victory and said he was preparing for the fight to win the upcoming general election against Nunn — harkening back to when Gov. Robert Ray welcomed thousands of Southeast Asian refugees to Iowa in the 1970s. Baccam’s family emigrated from Laos to the U.S. as refugees. 

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“Over the next five months, we have an opportunity to tell a story about what it means to be an Iowan and an American,” Baccam said. “About time in our state when partisanship wasn’t a standard for how our elected officials operated or make decisions. We’re going to remind people of an incredible legacy that we can all be proud of, when Bob Ray, a Republican, was the only governor in the country to volunteer to relocate refugees from Southeast Asia to Iowa. We’re going to show is that the connections we have to each other and the communities we build together are more important than the political disagreements we may have.”

Candidate Melissa Vine, joined by her sons Samuel and Jack Ulrickson, voted at Valley United Methodist Church in West Des Moines in the primary election June 4, 2024 where she faced Lanon Baccam to become the Democratic nominee for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. (Photo by Robin Opsahl)

Vine entered the race with less establishment support, but argued that she was best suited to take on Nunn as a female candidate and mother of four. After voting at Valley United Methodist Church in West Des Moines Tuesday morning, joined by her sons Samuel and Jack Ulrickson, Vine said that “this race is about abortion.”

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“It’s the top issue for voters,” Vine said. “Sixty-one percent of Iowans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. And as a female candidate, I believe I’m the strongest general election candidate to take on anti-choice Zach Nunn.”

At her campaign watch party Tuesday night in Des Moines, Vine thanked her supporters for their efforts during the primary campaign season and called for voters to support “our amazing candidates who are standing up for abortion and women’s health care rights.”

“I hope that we instilled in this district the importance of showing up in every space for every person in every community, of being your authentic self, and building an inclusive coalition that can move our party into the future,” Vine said.

Baccam thanked Vine for “lifting up many issues that are important to Iowans that we encountered across this campaign” in his speech.

While the race has concluded, there may be further potential action surrounding Vine’s primary bid on the horizon. Vine and her former campaign manager Lou McDonald, were investigated and fined $500 each by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in May for making contributions to an Iowa PAC, the Iowa Unity Coalition, under other individuals names. The contributions were made using McDonald’s personal credit card as a means to participate in the organization’s vote on which candidate to endorse in the 3rd congressional district primary.

Information about the incident was sent to the Polk County Attorney’s Office before being referred to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Nunn’s campaign manager Kendyl Parker said in a statement that the “the Democrats’ messy primary finally came to a close” Tuesday night.

“Clinton, Pelosi, and Biden hand-selected their paid political activist, Lanon Baccam, to move to Iowa after years as a D.C. bureaucrat,” Parker said. “We’re confident Iowans will reject Lanon and his former bosses’ tax-and-spend, open-border policies that he has made his life’s mission to defend. While Lanon tries to run from his past to deceive Iowans, Zach will continue to deliver results for families.”

Miller-Meeks wins primary election

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks won her race against David Pautsch Tuesday night with 55.4%to Pautsch’s 44.6%, the AP reported just after 10 p.m.

Miller-Meeks won the election to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District in 2022 against Democratic challenger Christina Bohannan, who will face her again on the 2024 general election ballot. But Miller-Meeks’ first election win was representing Iowa’s 2nd District in 2020, prior to redistricting, when she defeated Democrat Rita Hart by six votes.

Though her 2022 win was by a significantly larger margin – 53.4% to Bohannan’s 46.6% – the Republican representative emphasized on the primary campaign trail that she was the best candidate to keep Iowa’s 1st district in GOP control.

But Pautsch, her challenger, argued that Miller-Meeks did not represent conservative voters’ will in U.S. Congress. Pautsch, an Army veteran and the founder and owner of a marketing consulting business, criticized the representative for her votes on issues like same-sex marriage and COVID-19 vaccines.

He has also linked himself with former President Donald Trump — the presumptive 2024 presidential nominee — and attacked Miller-Meeks for her support for the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory against Trump in the 2020 presidential election and for her role in the investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Bohannan, who won the Democratic nomination uncontested, released a statement thanking supporters and saying that Iowans are “fired up” for the chance to replace Miller-Meeks in Congress.

“It’s no surprise Miller-Meeks earned herself a primary challenge — it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent, people are fed up with a representative who is clearly not interested in our voices or experiences,” Bohannan said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that our representative is making life harder for middle class families. I grew up in a working family; I know how tough it is to make ends meet. I will always fight for Iowans and work to lower costs, revitalize our rural communities, and protect reproductive freedom.”

Miller-Meeks said in a statement following the race being called Tuesday that she shares Iowans’ priorities in Congress on issues like securing the U.S. southern border, reducing inflation and the cost of living and addressing international conflicts. She also criticized Bohannan as having a “radical leftist agenda.”

“My opponent and her radical leftist agenda will continue to drive costs, keep our borders open, prioritize social politics instead of quality education for our kids and continue rampant government spending, which has led to crippling high prices and interest rates while simultaneously increasing our national debt,” Miller-Meeks said. “Her blind support for Democrat policies and Joe Biden’s failed agenda would mean years of financial hardship, limited opportunity for Iowans, pervasive crime in our communities, and weak support for Israel against Hamas.”

4th District: Feenstra wins

Kevin Virgil (left) is challenging U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra in the 4th Congressional District. (Photo illustration by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Two-term incumbent Randy Feenstra, of Hull, won the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District with 62.7% of the vote as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Feenstra said he was “humbled by the strong support for our campaign” in a statement Tuesday.

“Tonight, Iowans sent a clear message that they want a conservative voice in Congress who delivers results for our families, farmers, businesses, and our rural communities,” he said.

He defeated challenger Kevin Virgil of Sutherland, a native northwest Iowan, military veteran and entrepreneur, who recently moved back to the area and made his opposition to carbon dioxide pipeline projects a key part of his platform. Virgil has criticized Feenstra for supporting federal tax credits related to carbon capture that might enable a massive pipeline network to be built in Iowa and four other states.

Feenstra has declined to say whether he supports the project but said lowering the carbon score of ethanol — which the pipeline would do — is important for expanding the industry in Iowa. The two have clashed on whether the federal government should be assisting the industry, with Virgil largely deploring government incentives.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a statement supporting Feenstra winning the GOP nomination.

“The voters in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District sent a clear message this evening that Representative Randy Feenstra delivers results and he will continue to deliver results for the farmers and families of Northwest Iowa,” NRCC Spokesman Mike Marinella said. “We look forward to welcoming Rep. Feenstra back to Congress next year so he can continue his hard work alongside a strong Republican majority.”

Feenstra will face Ryan Melton, a Nevada Democrat, in the November election. In the congressional election two years ago, Feenstra had more than twice as many votes as Melton.

The Republican-leaning district encompasses most of the northwest quadrant of Iowa and a stretch of counties down to the southwest corner of the state.

2nd District candidates prepare for November election

Candidates in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District ran uncontested, but released statements following the primary election on officially becoming their party nominees for the seat.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican, said she was “grateful for the trust Iowans have placed in me to fight for our conservative values” as the Republican nominee. Hinson was first elected to office in 2020, defeating former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat, in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Following the redistricting process, she won election as the 2nd District representative in 2022 against Democrat Liz Mathis. Hinson criticized Biden, saying that he and Democrats were attempting to “turn America into a liberal wasteland.”

“The only way to save our country is to keep this seat and all of Iowa red, and to re-elect President Trump,” she said in a statement. “I am proud of what we’ve accomplished for Iowans so far, but we have more to do.”

Democrat Sarah Corkery will face Hinson in the November general election. Corkery, a small business owner, launched her campaign in October 2023 and focused on health care rights. She said in a statement she was ready to tackle challenges on issues like reproductive health care and protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions in Congress.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and the support I’ve got in Northeast Iowa,” Corkery said. “This November, we have a choice to make about what kind of country we want to live in and if you want to live in a country that values you, your freedoms, and your families, you have a home in our campaign.”

Hinson’s campaign manager Addie Lavis released a statement criticizing Corkery’s campaign, saying the “Corkery-Biden agenda of open borders, reckless spending, and silencing parents is extreme and out-of-touch with Iowans.”

“Sarah Corkery is trying to play a fake moderate on the campaign trail, but she’s a diehard radical and Iowans see right through her,” Lavis said. “Ashley and our team will never be outworked, and we look forward to another big victory in November.”

Reporters Jared Strong and Jack O’Connor contributed to this report.

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