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Discussion:Iowa Congressional District #2 - A Profile

posted on October 3, 2008 at 11:23 AM

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In the studio to talk about the district and the campaign for 2nd district Representative, are two political reporters: James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and Matt Milner of the Ottumwa Courier.


Paul Yeager: So, here are a few of the questions we'lltalk about tonight.  What will ultimatelydrive how voters of the second district cast their ballots?  Are there issues under the radar that mightalter the outcome in November?  And whatis the outlook for the political races in the district?  To help us address these questions we havewith us a couple of observers of the district. James Lynch is with the Cedar Rapids Gazette.  And Matt Milner is with the OttumwaCourier.  Gentlemen, welcome to theprogram.  Anything to add, Matt, to thatpiece of other things in the district?

Matt Milner: I think it hit the main points verywell.  Three weeks ago I would havethought that the floods would have been the primary issue but the way thingsare going economically that has shot right to the top, it's on everyone's mindsright now, it's all over the papers, all over TV and right now that really doeshave the potential to swing a lot of voters from the top of the ticket to thebottom.

Paul Yeager: James, same question.

James Lynch: If anything it reinforces how we've seenthis campaign season change from the war in Iraqbeing the number one issue pretty much anywhere you went to high gas prices tothe flood and now the economy as Matt said. It's really changed and it's a challenge for the campaigns and thecandidates to keep up with that and re-tool their campaigns to address thosetop of mind issues as they change.

Paul Yeager: Because more times than not you're usuallygoing to have a good idea, okay, we don't have many issues that are standingout.  You've got three huge ones to pickfrom and things are changing.  So, how doyou know in Cedar Rapids that the flood is beingtrumped by the economy and it's not just a flood related closing of a businessand not returning of a business?  Howdoes anybody try to make heads or tails of that?

James Lynch: Well, I think what has happened is we'veseen a couple of things.  One, themortgage crisis has risen to the top and as it affected we saw Lehman Brothersand Merrill Lynch and these names that people thought were going to be thereforever and all of a sudden they're not. At the same time Congress finally did take action on flood relief andthat $23 billion package has been approved and signed so I think that hasrelieved some of that pressure about the flood, at least folks know that thereis an aid package, a recovery assistance package that has been approved andabout the time that happened, boom, they were hit with a shock in the economyin their economic news.

Paul Yeager: We'll talk about flooding a little bitmore.  But, Matt, with your companies in Ottumwa, John Deere, Cargill are two of the big employersif not the biggest in town, those two don't seem to be having any effects ofthe economy or do they?

Matt Milner: We haven't seen anything large scale yet butthere are a couple of factors that could play into it as we move forward.  One of those is immigration.  Cargill has brought in or has attractedrather a large Hispanic workforce and that has caused some, I don't want to sayconcerns, but some tensions occasionally. Any time you have demographic shifts that happens.  And so immigration was a major issue goingback to the caucuses when you had Tom Tancredo and some of these people really hammeringon it.  That has died down, it couldabsolutely come back and that has got to be an issue for one of the majoremployers in town.

Paul Yeager: The Columbus Junction Mayor had made acomment about they see immigration on a national scale and it's painted with awide brush but when you get to know the families it changes.  Do you think that's true in Ottumwaas well?

Matt Milner: I think it is to some degree.  When people know folks who have moved to Ottumwa, moved to Iowa fromother countries, other parts of the country even there does tend to be perhapsa moderation of what used to be a harder stance.  Is that in every case, absolutely not.  But there does seem to be that effectsometimes.  We did a series aboutimmigration and the new immigrants to the area about a year ago and we got somevery positive feedback, we got some very negative feedback as well becausepeople are uncomfortable with changes, people don't tend to like change ingeneral.  And I think that goes whereveryou are.  If you're comfortable you wantto stay comfortable and that's why the economy is a concern right now, that'swhy gas prices were a concern, that's definitely why the flood was a big issuebecause these things provoke change and these things make people uncomfortable.

Paul Yeager: Go back to about May 15th, James, that'sbefore the tornadoes, before the floods, before the economy dropped.  What would have been the top issue in Cedar Rapids at that point?  Would it have been immigration or would ithave been something else?

James Lynch: No, there was some concern about the economythen mostly because of high fuel prices, that's where it was hitting us mostobviously but not the sense that we're on the brink of some sort of a collapsethat we feel today.  Still the war in Iraq was still an issue but I think economic issues werestarting to percolate to the top.  Andthen, like you say, we had a tornado, we had the floods and those thingsweren't completely forgotten but they were replaced by the flood and all thoserelated issues and it all ties together too. We have a lot of businesses in Cedar Rapidswho need credit right now to rebuild, to replace inventory and if they can'tget credit it's going to really delay that recovery and that's why the federalaid package is so important to Cedar Rapids andother communities that were affected by the flood.

Paul Yeager: There are three large employers that come tomind when I think of Cedar Rapids and that wouldbe the Quaker Oats, Aegon has a large presence and Rockwell Collins.  Any of those three, maybe Aegon specifically,that concerns what their industry is and the economic situation?

James Lynch: Well, as was pointed out in the report thatthe insurance industry, or I guess David mentioned it, the insurance industryis tied to Wall Street so yeah there is concern there.  At the same time Quaker took a hit from theflood, it suffered a lot of damage and it is getting back online.  Rockwell seems to keep chugging right alongand doing quite well.  But everybody istied in one way or another to credit so it affects all of us and it affectsthose large employers as well as the mom and pop businesses who rely on that tomeet weekly payrolls and those sorts of things.

Paul Yeager: Matt, we talked about the large companies intown.  What about some of the smallerones?  Are they seeing any impact on Ottumwa Main Street or in the surrounding area?

Matt Milner: It's hard to say right now.  We've seen some smaller businesses growing inrecent years, a few smaller ones come to town, we've also seen a few smallerones leave town so it's hard to say that it's a huge expansion, it's also hardto say that it's a huge loss right now. Going back to what you said a minute ago, though, with credit I do thinkthat's going to impact people not necessarily for business issues but becausein Ottumwa, in southeast Iowa when we had the floods that hit people's homesmuch more so you look at recovery not from the business perspective so much butfrom simply putting your home back together.

Paul Yeager: There's a lot of homes trying to be put backtogether throughout the district, the second district when we drew thesestories up but it just looked like it was flood, flood, flood and that's stilla big concern to hundreds in Cedar Rapids. What on the congressional side, the federal side is going to be thebiggest thing to come out of the floods?

James Lynch: Well, I think there are some concerns thatit took Congress so long to react and whether or not Dr. Miller-Meeks can pinthat on Representative Loebsack and say that he should have done more to getthat aid moving faster, which she's certainly trying to do, I don't know ifthat will stick or not.  So, there isthat concern.  And then even though theaid package has been approved we haven't seen the money yet.  And so that's a good question, you know, howfast will the money get there and how fast can people rebuild their homes orhow fast will there be a buyout so they can move on, how fast can they rebuildtheir businesses.  It's still a hugeconcern and it's one that people are dealing with every day, three and a halfmonths later it's still an every day topic.

Paul Yeager: And I've read several articles in your paperabout citizen frustration with just the in town government let alone thefederal government.  How is thatimpacting the working relationship between a congressional office and thegovernor's office and the city council?

James Lynch: Well, they are working very closely togetheras you might imagine.  At thecongressional level they recognize that this is topic one for theirconstituents in Cedar Rapids, in Iowa City and in much of the district so theyare working very closely with city hall and with the county and government onputting together assistance and trying to say what do we need to change, whatdo we need to do more of.  It'sconsuming, I would guess, most of their time at this point.  Every time you turn around there's anotherproject, another building, another family that needs help. 

Paul Yeager: In fact, there was an article in your papertoday talking about the flood protection plan closer to a reality.  It's years before the study is going to bedone let alone any Earth is moved.  Doyou think people are going to take it out on anyone at the ballot this year?

James Lynch: I don't sense that happening yet and I thinkthere will probably be some effort by challengers to make that argument.  Right now it's much easier to take yourfrustration out on city council members and the mayor and the local government,they're right there in front of you, you can go to their meetings and you canstand up and vent so it's much easier to do that.  There might be some of that at the ballot boxthat people may say, you know, I don't see any help from the state legislatureor Congress and so I'm going to vote the rascals out.  I don't sense it yet.

Paul Yeager: And you don't see Dr. Miller-Meeks usingthat on campaign speeches?

Matt Milner: Well, I think she will and actually when oneof Dave Loebsack's visits was the day after Congress adjourned without havingpassed the flood bill and he had to face some questions about that the dayafter.  Will it really hold on?  I don't know. That is one of the key questions I think she's going to go after him onthat.  Will the voters buy it?  It's hard to say. 

James Lynch: He's a freshman congressman.

Matt Milner: Right, exactly, he's a freshman congressman,it's kind of unlikely that he would tell the speaker to stay in session.  So you have to make the argument that heshould have made more noise, that he should have I don't know what but it's ahard argument I think to make stick when you're dealing with a freshmanlegislator.

Paul Yeager: When you're one of four hundred plus it'shard to make noise no matter how hard you try. What are some of the things that it's going to take for Dr. Miller-Meeksto pull off a win here?

Matt Milner: Well, two years ago the Washington Postcalled Dave Loebsack's win the biggest upset of the year.  He unseated a 30-year incumbent.  Dr. Miller-Meeks has to do some of the samethings that he did two years ago, argue that she can organize within her caucusbetter than he's doing.  She has to arguethat we need new voice in Washington.  Granted that has less weight when you'retalking about somebody who has only been there two years as opposed to thirtyyears but she needs to take some pages from two years ago.  What Dave Loebsack did very well, MariannetteMiller-Meeks needs to look at his campaign and I think there are someopenings.  One of the things that sheexploited beautifully during a very contentious primary was the second districtis not just Cedar Rapids and she did very well outside of that area.

Paul Yeager: Do you agree with those statements?

James Lynch: I think so, yeah.  I think one of the advantages that she mayhave is being able to appeal to those people outside of Linn and Johnsoncounties.  If you look at her she mightappeal to rural voters a little bit more with her background in rural Iowa, with her background in the military, that may appealto some of those folks.  I think she maytry to appeal to people who are concerned about gun rights and that's an issuethat doesn't get a lot of attention but when you go out into rural Iowa it's a concern, it's an issue people will askcandidates about.  So, she has to do someof those things, it's tough -- there is this huge vote disparity or voterregistration disparity, 59,000 votes difference between Democrats andRepublicans, so I think she's really challenged to hold the Republican vote andthen attract a lot of those independents and even some Democrats who voted forJim Leach in the past up until two years ago. But it's a big gap she has to close but two years ago nobody thought DaveLoebsack was going to beat Jim Leach so it's not out of the question that shecan't beat a freshman legislator or congressman.

Paul Yeager: As you look at the five congressional racesdo you see this as the one that is the possible that could change in the statethis cycle?

Matt Milner: It's hard to say if it will, if itwon't.  I don't think a whole lot ofvoters have made up their minds on that one right now.  It is a Democratic leaning district, there'sno question.  Voter registration you lookat Wapello County it's one of the heaviest concentrations of Democrats and thatI think is why you've seen Miller-Meeks make some comments about concerns forunion jobs even which is very rare to hear out of a Republican and she istrying to portray herself as a moderate Republican very much in the mold of JimLeach.

Paul Yeager: Can she pull off this win?

James Lynch: Possible, but the same thing I would havesaid two years ago, possible but not probable.

Paul Yeager: Very good, I appreciate it. That's James Lynch, Cedar Rapids Gazetteand Matt Milner of the Ottumwa Courier.  Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming in.


Tags: 2nd Congressional District campaign 2008 Cedar Rapids Centerville Columbus Junction Congress Fairfield floods Fort Madison immigration Iowa politics rebuilding tourism trade wind


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