Iowa, considered a swing state for decades, went drastically Republican in the 2016 election cycle. Democratic leadership speculated Iowa might never return to a position favorable to the party. Before 2016, 31 of Iowa’s 99 counties voted for Barack Obama twice. All 31 flipped in 2016 to support Donald Trump. Just 41.7 percent of Iowans supported Hillary Clinton for president in the weakest showing for a Democrat since 1980.
For the first half of 2017, Democrats viewed Iowa as a warning. White voters without college degrees wiped Democratic candidates out in the eastern part of the state where they always won strong. National groups tied Republican Representative Rod Blum to Trump, expecting a victory in a district that voted for Obama by 14 points in 2012. But Trump won and Blum, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, became a reliable voter for his agenda.
Even Barack Obama cited Iowa as the place where Democrats lost their way.
I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points.”
But Iowa Democrats believe they’ve turned a corner. On January 31, the party easily held a state House seat in the first special election after Trump’s inauguration. On August 8, Democrats won in a southeast Iowa district where Trump won by 21.3 points in 2016. And on December 12, while most national political attention focused on Alabama, Democrats lost a special state Senate race in red northwest Iowa by only nine points. The Senate seat, considered so safely Republican, prompted Democrats to never even put forth a candidate in 2010 or 2014.