DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack announced Friday he won’t seek re-election when his current term ends, a move that likely will lead to a wide-open race in a district both parties see as winnable.
Loebsack was elected seven times to represent southeast Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, but Republican Donald Trump won the district in 2016.
Given Iowa’s nonpartisan process for drawing congressional district lines, Loebsack’s decision means the race to replace him likely will be competitive. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 20,000 in the district, but Trump carried the district by four percentage points. Republicans believe they have a real shot at capturing the seat as they try to retake the House majority in next year’s elections.
Chris Pack, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm, said Loebsack’s decision means the district “immediately becomes a top tier pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2020.” Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and whose district borders Loebsacks’, said Democrats will mount “an aggressive effort” to protect the party’s House majority.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said the announcement caught him by surprise.
“Obviously, we’re absorbing this information and this news just like everyone else but I’ll say that we’re going to keep that district blue in 2020,” Price said.
Loebsack was first elected in 2006, when he beat 15-term Republican Jim Leach in a race still recalled for its civility.
“I have enjoyed beyond my expectations serving the people of Iowa’s Second District for the past 13 years,” Loebsack said. “Having grown up in poverty, I never would have imagined having the honor of serving as the voice of Iowans in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The district includes 24 counties stretching from central Iowa to the Mississippi River. Major cities include Burlington, Davenport and Iowa City.
Before being elected to Congress, Loebsack was a political science professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon.
Loebsack, 66, said he intended to serve no more than 12 years but decided to seek re-election after Donald Trump was elected president.
“After Donald Trump assumed the presidency, it became apparent that I needed to run for at least one more term in the hopes that I could provide a check on his worst impulses,” Loebsack said.
Since his first election, Loebsack has had a reputation as a low-key member of Congress who typically would easily win re-election but was little known outside his district. He focused on improving the rural economy, health care and veterans, and for many years he sought federal funding to assist in recovery efforts after flooding devastated parts of his district in 2008.
Minutes after Loebsack announced his decision, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted about Loebsack’s decision, saying he “has represented the 2nd district of Iowa well in Congress by working hard & keeping in touch back home. I consider him a friend & wish him well.”
Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said vigilance during the region’s recovery after historic floods in 2008 is among Loebsack’s most lasting legacies.
“Dave and his staff were outstanding in trying to help out in Cedar Rapids, but also Iowa City, which were heavily damaged in 2008,” said Corbett, a Republican.
Loebsack’s district included Cedar Rapids and Iowa City from 2007 through 2011. But Cedar Rapids was moved into Iowa’s 1st District in redistricting after the 2010 Census.
Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont and David Pitt contributed to this story from Des Moines, and writer Alan Fram contributed from Washington.