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Kitchen Table Economics Could Decide Iowa Primary, Expert Says

May 27, 2022 by Brock Blasdell
Kitchen Table Economics Could Decide Iowa Primary, Expert Says
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks with supporters before filing for reelection at the Iowa secretary of state’s office, Friday, March 4, 2022, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa — With Iowa’s primary election rapidly approaching its June 7 date, political analysts are wondering if the state’s large population of no-party voters will again turn the state red.

Historically, Iowa’s caucuses have been a measure of electability for parties, and while its grip on the unique voting position it holds may be faltering, many consider a political victory in Iowa a signal for any would-be presidential candidate.

This year, one expert predicts the state’s near 600,000 no-party voters will swerve clear of national politics and stay firmly concerned with kitchen table economic issues like gas prices, food prices and the baby formula shortage.

“You can go back 30 years to when the Clinton campaign was telling people ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and it was, and it still is, and it usually is,” Tim Hagle, a Political Science professor at the University of Iowa, said. “And that’s the particular case here in a state like Iowa because the no-party voters, what we call independents here, are usually the ones that will decide statewide elections… They’re the ones that don’t care about the party stuff quite as much and are more interested in what we call kitchen table issues — jobs, the economy, and health care.”

Price anxiety may continue to play a more important role in the general election as well, Hagle noted, as these localized economic issues tend to overlap with national economic trends — a phenomenon which could come to aid Republicans heading into November.

“It’s no surprise that when the economy is bad those folks go to the party not in power looking for a change… We’ve seen that in the past and it’s very possible we will see that again,” Hagle said. “The last couple of presidential elections went pretty heavily Republican, but before that it was Democrat. So again, it’s the no-party voters that kind of go back-and-forth on this.”

On the congressional end, long-serving Republican senator Chuck Grassley faces a re-election campaign against two possible Democrats: Abby Finkenauer and retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken.

Finkenauer, who was elected to one term in the U.S. House in 2018, hopes to edge out Franken, however, given that Finkenauer lost her re-election campaign in 2020 to Republican Ashely Hinson, some may wonder if she has the popularity to beat Grassley in a general election.

Grassley, who has kept true to himself amid the rising popularity of former President Trump’s burgeoning MAGA policies, has remained a popular pick for Iowans since he was first elected in 1981.

“Grassley is Grassley more than anything else. He’s kind of got his own style,” Hagle said. “Sometimes he can be a thorn in the side of some Republicans …because his thing is being a watchdog and keeping an eye on government. Sometimes that rubs some Republicans the wrong way, but not always, he’s a pretty solid conservative.”

Democrats have not been altogether absent from Iowa, however, and have spent considerable time trying to energize their voter base within the state. According to Hagle, the release of the Supreme Court draft decision on Roe V. Wade considerably fired up pro-abortion rights Democrats, and diversity and equity mantras have continued to permeate political discussions within the party.

“It seems like everything is racism these days, and Democrats are using phrases like White nationalism to energize their base or certain demographic groups,” Hagle said. “That tends to get certain groups fired up. On the other hand, … You had parents, groups pushing back at various places … some of that is occurring in Iowa.”

In the race for governor, incumbent Republican Kim Reynolds, who has served since 2017, faces little competition for re-election.

In the state’s newly redrawn 3rd District, two-term Democrat Cindy Axne must face off against one of three possible Republican candidates, Nicole Hasso, Gary Leffler and Zach Nunn.

With some predicting a “red wave” heading into the midterm elections, Iowa’s primary results could become a measure for Republican candidates heading forward.

Brock can be reached at brock@thewellnews.com.

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