New polling cast warning signs for Democrats in Iowa and Wisconsin working to win back rural voters who backed Barack Obama in 2012 but flipped for Donald Trump in 2016.

A recent Monmouth College poll shows President Trump retaining most Obama crossover voters in three key Midwestern congressional districts, including northeast Iowa’s 1st district and southwest Wisconsin’s 3rd district.

The poll surveyed Obama-Trump voters in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District and Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District from April 21 to 23.

Strong majorities of voters in those districts say they will definitely or probably vote for Trump in 2020 (Iowa: 63 percent; Wisconsin: 61 percent).

Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Dubuque County since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. He won the presidency fueled by a surge of working-class, white voters across a band of Midwestern states that had twice backed Obama.

The poll also found that support for the president extends to Republican candidates for Congress this fall.

A majority — 51 percent — of Obama-Trump voters surveyed in northeast Iowa’s 20-county 1st Congressional District, said they will vote for the Republican candidate this year. A plurality of those voters — 48 percent — in Wisconsin’s 3rd District, which includes Grant and Crawford counties, will do so as well. Support for Democratic congressional candidates ranged from 20 to 25 percent.

The profiles of the Obama-Trump voters are similar in all three congressional districts. Most earn less than $50,000 per year, have less than a bachelor’s degree, are women and identify themselves as nonpartisan.

The poll surveyed 329 voters in Iowa, 302 in Wisconsin and 336 in Minnesota, and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 5.2 percent in Iowa and Minnesota and 5.3 percent in Wisconsin.

IMPACT OF PRESIDENT’S PERSONAL LIFE: Roughly one-half of the Obama-Trump voters in the three congressional districts said their opinions about the president haven’t changed as a result of accusations about his personal life.

THE WALL: Strong majorities of Obama-Trump voters in all three congressional districts support expanding the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Support for the wall is closely aligned with support for Trump’s re-election.

TRADE VS. AGRICULTURE: Opinions varied when voters were asked whether strengthening the manufacturing economy through tariffs was more important than protecting the agricultural economy, which would likely be hurt by tariffs. In Iowa and Wisconsin, more voters chose the agricultural economy than manufacturing as the top trade priority.

Bustos: Dems focused on small-town America

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., stopped in East Dubuque, Ill., on Friday.

The only member of Democratic Party leadership from the Midwest, Bustos has been tasked with tutoring her fellow House Democrats on talking to rural voters whom her party lost to Republicans.

She not only won a district Trump took in 2016, but did so by a 20-point margin in a region dotted with farms, small towns and conservative voters. Those are places where Trump opponent Hillary Clinton lost big and where Democrats have lost ground the past several years.

“Politically, it is showing up to towns ... no matter how rural it is (and) listening to people,” Bustos said. “We can’t go wrong if we talk about economic issues. People are still struggling and that’s where we have to make sure that we keep our focus on that, and not issues that divide every time we walk into a room.”

The number of Democrats holding office across the nation is at its lowest point since the 1920s, and the decline has been especially severe in rural America, according to Bustos.

“It’s a very high priority to make sure that we do well in swing districts,” Bustos said, including Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

“I think we have the best crop of Democratic candidates running for Congress since I’ve been involved in politics,” she said. “And what makes them so good is they fit their districts.

She noted Dubuque Democrat and Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

“Blue-collar background. She would be the youngest woman ever elected to the U.S House of Representatives. She is working really hard,” Bustos said. “She is going to every corner of her future congressional district. I think she has a great shot at being successful.”

Finkenauer, Heckroth air Television ads

Finkenauer’s campaign last week released its first TV ad of the primary campaign.

The ad, “Shirt,” started airing Friday in the Cedar Rapids market. It focuses on Finkenauer’s working-class background, growing up in a blue-collar union household as the daughter of a pipefitter welder.

Her campaign previously released a 90-second digital ad last month on social media called “Tough.”

Cedar Falls Democrat Thomas Heckroth last week released his fourth television ad in the primary race.

The ad highlights his support for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and his record of working to pass progressive legislation. Heckroth advised former Iowa Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin on agriculture, education and labor policies before joining the U.S. Department of Labor during Obama’s presidency. Most recently, he worked in the private sector to uphold labor and environmental standards.

The two are among four Democrats running in the June 5 primary to seek the nomination to face off against two-term Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, of Dubuque, in the Nov. 6 general election.

Also running are Democrats George Ramsey III and Courtney Rowe, both of Cedar Rapids.


Lindsay James, a Dubuque Democrat running for the Iowa House seat being vacated by Finkenauer, announced an endorsement from Iowa Women for Progressive Change. The group, according to its website, seeks to elect a diverse group of leaders committed to building a more equitable Iowa by dismantling systems and forms of discrimination in the state.


MONDAY: Iowa Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, will host an early vote rally in support of her Senate colleague Nate Boulton, a Democratic candidate running for Iowa governor. Monday is the first day to vote early in the June 5 primary. Boulton is one of six Democrats running for their party’s nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in November. The rally is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. at the Town Clock, 680 Main St.

WEDNESDAY: The Dubuque League of Women Voters will host a forum for Democrats running for Iowa House seats representing Dubuque County in the June 5 primary. The forum is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 in City Council Chambers in the Historic Federal Building, 350 W. Sixth St.

Telegraph Herald reporter Bennet Goldstein contributed