Why was GOP primary surprisingly close in Iowa’s 1st District? (2024)

Why was GOP primary surprisingly close in Iowa’s 1st District? (1)

DAVENPORT — A passionate right-flank campaign and low turnout helped propel a Davenport prayer breakfast organizer to within 12 percentage points of a Republican congressional incumbent in Tuesday's primary.

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks fended off David Pautsch for the 1st Congressional District’s Republican nomination with 55 percent of ballots cast to Pautsch's 43.9 percent, according to unofficial results.

Miller-Meeks will face Iowa City Democrat Christina Bohannan, a former state representative, in the Nov. 5 general election.

Turnout was low in primary contests throughout Iowa, with unofficial results showing 29,432 Republicans voted in the 20-county 1st District primary.

On the other side of the state, U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra won the GOP primary with a little more cushion— 60 percent to Kevin Virgil's 39.6 percent of the vote.

in 2022, Miller-Meeks ran unopposed for the Republican nomination in the 1st District, when more than 41,000 people voted for her in the primary. But that primary had more top-of-the-ticket state races than this one, which had none.

Why was GOP primary surprisingly close in Iowa’s 1st District? (2)

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said the low turnout may help explain why Pautsch did so well in the primary.

Pautsch raised about $35,000 during his campaign, according to the most recent federal election campaign finance reports, while Miller-Meeks raised $2.9 million during that time.

As is the case in many primary races, though, Pautsch's backers were likely fired up to vote for a more conservative candidate, Hagle said, and voters who would normally back Miller-Meeks likely didn't feel the same sense of urgency to get to the polls.

"If Pautsch showed up to central committee meetings, if he's able to talk to the activists, and people who vote in the primary tend to be more conservative, it gave him the opportunity to give him a good showing at least in terms of the percentage," Hagle said.

At least two county party organizations voted to censure Miller-Meeks over her support for the Respect for Marriage Act, which provided federal protections for same-sex marriages performed legally in states.

Sending ‘a message’

Pautsch said Wednesday that while he was disappointed in the outcome, his end goal was to “find brave and courageous people to address existential crises” and bring more attention to what he called an “invasion of terrorists” at the border, the U.S.'s “duplicitous involvement in Ukraine,” issues in schools and votes that Miller-Meeks has cast.

He said members of Congress like Miller-Meeks have stuck their heads in the sand instead of addressing the issues he campaigned on. The results, he said, send a message “clearly to those that have ears to hear.”

Why was GOP primary surprisingly close in Iowa’s 1st District? (3)

After the race was called Tuesday night, Miller-Meeks said in an emailed statement that she shares “Iowans’ priorities” for the next Congress: “securing our southern border, getting inflation and the cost of living under control, tackling the mounting national debt, making sure we have strong K-12 education and addressing escalating conflicts around the world.“

Dems see opportunity

Democrats were quick to jump on the results of the closer-than-expected primary, looking ahead to the Nov. 5 general election and seeing the primary results as indicative of weakness in Miller-Meeks’ campaign for re-election.

National Democrats have prioritized Iowa’s 1st Congressional District (in southeast Iowa) and 3rd Congressional District (in central Iowa) as ones they'd like to flip from red to blue in November.

Bohannan, the Democrat running against Miller-Meeks, said in a statement that “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.”

Former U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, wrote in a tweet that Tuesday's primary was an “incredibly weak performance by Miller-Meeks, especially given Pautsch had almost no money and outside groups poured in nearly a million bucks for Miller-Meeks.”

But Hagle isn't so sure the primary results will translate to general election sentiments when more people will be voting.

He said the presidential race, presumably between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, likely will drive the national conversation more than what's happening in individual congressional districts or Statehouse races.

“I would assume the people who voted for Pautsch would say maybe Miller-Meeks isn’t our first choice, but we certainly prefer her over Bohannan, who is much more liberal,” Hagle said.

Comments: swatson@qctimes.com

Why was GOP primary surprisingly close in Iowa’s 1st District? (2024)

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