A Civil Conversation in the 2nd District

Oct 17, 2016

The race for Congress in Iowa’s 2nd District pits the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation against a Republican challenger, who until recently aligned with the Libertarian Party. It’s a contest in which both candidates are viewed as moderates.

Second District Congressional Candidates Chris Peters and incumbent Dave Loebsack.
Credit Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The 2nd District covers 24 counties stretching from Clinton to Keokuk down the Mississippi River, to Newton and Pella in Central Iowa, along the southern border to Leon, and it includes the liberal bastion of Iowa City. Although the shape of the district has morphed, since 2006 it has been represented by Democrat Dave Loebsack. The 63-year-old former political science professor at Cornell College upset 15-term Congressman Jim Leach to win his seat in Washington. He has long cited the role government assistance played in allowing him to move from a single-parent household in Sioux City, where his mother battled mental illness, to a Ph.D. and a college teaching job. He talked about it again during a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Johnson County Task Force on Aging.

“I didn’t do it just because I worked hard," he says. "I did it because I had opportunities that were provided to me. I had a lot of financial aid when I was going to college. When my dad died, I got Social Security survivor benefits that got me through college.”

He says if elected to a sixth term, he will concentrate on lifting the middle class from the throes of the economic slowdown.

“Making sure we deepen the economic recovery," Loebsack says. "It isn’t as good as it should be. Folks are still hurting. Folks who are back to work aren’t necessarily earning what they were before the great recession.”

He says another priority if he returns to Congress is to invest in renewable energy, including wind, solar and biofuels.

Standing in his way is Coralville surgeon Christopher Peters, owner of Corridor Surgery and Vein Center. The 56-year-old ran for an Iowa Senate seat in 2010 as a Libertarian. Even though he’s on the ballot as a Republican this time around, he says party affiliation doesn’t mean much to him.

“I pick my principles based upon whether I think the principles are worth having," he says, "not based upon whether one party holds them or not.”

As a result, he’s the rare Republican in Iowa to completely drop support for the party’s presidential candidate.

“When my wife referred to Donald Trump as a pig, we had crossed the Rubicon there and I thought we had to do something about it,” Peters says.

He will not, however, vote for Hillary Clinton for President, and says he does not plan to endorse anyone.

The one area on which Peters does line up closely with Republicans is the economy, which he touched on during the same forum in Coralville, where Loebsack appeared.

“I think our biggest problem, and there are many, is our debt," he says. "It is a huge drag on the economy. It means our money is going to cover our debt and not going into productive investments.”

Iowa’s 2nd District skews strongly Democratic. The political columnist for the Des Moines Register, Kathie Obradovich, sees no signs that will change.

“There hasn’t been a lot of polling in these Congressional races, so it’s hard to say definitively," she says. "But it looks to me like Dave Loebsack has a pretty safe race for re-election.”

The 75 or so people who filled a conference room at the Coralville Public Library for the candidates’ joint appearance seemed pleased to listen in on a civil discussion addressing a number of pressing topics. Cindy Riley owns a small business in Coralville.

“We saw such a nice contrast between local issues, state issues, federal issues, international, so a good overall variety of topics, which is always good to hear," she says. "They both did an excellent job.”

During the 90-minute exchange, Congressman Loebsack and Dr. Peters even agreed on such hot-button issues as immigration reform and reworking the tax code to favor the middle class. And they did it in measured tones while sitting cordially side-by-side. An unusual sight in modern politics.