All Eyes on the Hawkeye State: Iowa Baseline by District

by Bradley Wascher October 23, 2020 · 1:37 PM EDT

A staple of the presidential primary season, Iowa has re-emerged as a key state in this year’s general election, with competitive races for President, Senate, and House.

The extent of Iowa’s battleground status is quantified by the Inside Elections Baseline metric, which captures a state or congressional district’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four election cycles into a single average.

Following the rollout of Baseline by district for Texas and Virginia, we are excited to share the statewide and congressional-district Baseline scores for Iowa

Key Congressional Districts
Control of Iowa’s four-seat congressional delegation swapped hands in 2018, shifting from a 3-1 Republican majority to a 3-1 Democratic majority. Similar competitiveness will likely be the story of 2020 as well: three of Iowa’s four House races (all except the Solid Republican 4th District) are currently rated as Lean Democratic or Tilt Democratic.

The 1st District, with a Baseline of D +1.5, is located in northeast Iowa and contains Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Dubuque. While party control of the district has flipped three times since 2012, its current representative is Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who defeated incumbent GOP Rep. Rod Blum in 2018. This year, Finkenauer faces a formidable Republican challenger in Iowa state Rep. Ashley Hinson. But because this district has trended slightly toward Democrats in statewide elections over the last three cycles, a combination of strong fundraising and up-ballot assistance might be enough to secure Finkenaur a second term. Tilt Democratic. 

The 2nd District, with a Baseline of D +3, is located in southeast Iowa and includes Davenport and Iowa City. Democrat Dave Loebsack has represented this district since 2006, winning subsequent terms by at least 5 points in every cycle following his initial election. But Loebsack’s decision to retire this year pits former Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart and GOP state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks against each other. The 2nd has consistently been Democrats’ strongest-performing in the state — even in 2014, when incumbent Republican Governor Terry Branstad carried the 2nd by nearly 17 points, voters still split tickets and preferred the Democrat in three of the six remaining statewide contests. Tilt Democratic. 

The 3rd District, with a Baseline of R +3.1, is located in southwest Iowa and home to the capital city of Des Moines. Republicans had previously held control of this congressional seat since 2012. But in 2018, and with only 49 percent of the vote, Democrat Cindy Axne unseated GOP incumbent David Young. The two candidates are on the ballot against each other again this November. Alongside being Iowa’s most urban district, the 3rd is also the most highly-educated, with 35 percent of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although the 3rd consistently voted to the right of the 1st and 2nd districts earlier in the decade, it has drifted to the left recently, preferring the Democrat in four of the five statewide races in 2018. Lean Democratic.

Overall Outlook
Iowa’s statewide Baseline is R +4.3, but that doesn’t make the state a shoo-in for Republicans. In the past two presidential elections, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd congressional districts all broke for the same candidate, crowning a statewide winner (and becoming Obama/Trump districts) in the process: Iowa voted for Barack Obama by 5.8 points in 2012, and for Donald Trump by 9.4 points in 2016.

With a Baseline of R +19.2, the 4th District will likely go for Trump again and elect Republican Randy Feenstra to replace controversial GOP Rep. Steve King. But if Joe Biden were to pull ahead in the three remaining districts by approximately 7 points — which, based on recent polling, is entirely plausible — he has a good shot at moving Iowa’s six electoral votes back to the Democrats’ column. Inside Elections currently rates the state as a Toss-up.