Iowa’s 1st Congressional District covers 20 counties in the northeast part of the state and includes the cities of Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, and Waterloo.
One of the things that sets it apart from the other three districts is that roughly 37 percent of the voters have identified as no-party.
Chris Larimer is a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa. He says there are other factors that make the First District different.
“The vote share is imbalanced, the number of no-party voters is imbalanced. It is a district that in the past has done Democratic," says Larimer, “ If you look back to 2014, Rod Blum won by 6,000 votes out of over 300 thousand cast, it was one of the closet in the state, so I would expect it to be close again."
Larimer says the race has the attention of groups like the Democratic Congressional Committee
“This district is one of the top ten most competitive as far as the vulnerability of the incumbent. I think Roll Call (Washington DC newspaper) had it last week as the number two most vulnerable of all 435 seats across the United States,” he said.
The incumbent himself, Republican Rod Blum, is just finishing his first term. He admits that to win re-election, he will likely have a fight on his hands.
“President Obama won by 18 points in 2008 and he won it by 14 points in 2012,” the Congressman says. “There always has been a target on my back from the day I won the election, by the Democratic national party, they want this seat back and since it’s a Democratic district they’ve come after me hard since the first day I took office.”
Professor Larimer says Blum’s success or failure to be re-elected rests squarely on who shows up at the polls.
“We know that when a presidential electorate shows up for this district, it goes Democratic and does so quite convincingly," he says. “So that’s another element that adds to the challenge. It’s not just party registration, it’s not just an increase in turnout, it’s an increase in turnout that’s favorable for a Democratic candidate."
Blum’s challenger is Democrat Monica Vernon. She says part of her campaign focus has been on party unity.
“My opponent, the man that they elected, went right in to Congress and joined the Freedom Caucus which is the Tea Party,"she says. “They’re fighting among themselves, I think the last thing you want to do is throw a wing ding there as opposed to going in to work with everyone.”
Professor Larimer says for Monica Vernon to be elected, there’s work to be done to generate some excitement.
“Her challenge is to find those voters who normally vote in a presidential race and make sure they understand and are excited about voting in a congressional race," he said.
Larimer says unlike other election years, there’s been very few voter preference polls conducted on the state level.
“It would be nice to get some sort indication to see what’s been going on at the congressional level. It would nice to see what’s going on in the 1st District, because a lot of this is lost due to the attention on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton,” he said.
One poll that was recently released by Loras College in Dubuque shows Blum leading Vernon 45 percent to 38 percent among likely voters.