Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer

Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque

Northeast Iowa voters could soon see another battle of Dubuquers to represent Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

In an exclusive interview with the Telegraph Herald, Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, said she will seek the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, in 2018.

Finkenauer filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last month. But at the time, she said she still was weighing whether she would run.

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She left no doubt of her intentions Tuesday.

“I’ve been watching the last few years, and the fact is the federal government is not working for Iowans that I know,” Finkenauer said. “And it’s time to have a voice in Congress who gets what life is like for everyday Iowans.

“We all want the same thing, whether rural or city,” she said. “And that’s to live in a state where if you work hard (and) you get a good education, you can have a good life. And I plan on fighting for that and bringing that back to Iowa again.”

Finkenauer will hold a series of events today across the district to discuss her run for Congress, kicking off with a 9 a.m. press conference at the Dubuque Union Labor Temple, 1610 Garfield Ave.

A two-term incumbent and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Blum represents a swing district that again will be a top target for Democrats in 2018.

On Tuesday, Blum, who owns a Dubuque software company, was named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Patriot Program, which assists the party’s most vulnerable incumbents.

“It’s still way too early to be talking about the next election,” Blum said in an emailed statement Tuesday, prior to Finkenauer’s announcement. “I am 100 percent focused on reigniting this economy, fixing health care and reducing taxes for working families across America.”

‘People are struggling’

Finkenauer is in her second term as a state legislator. She was re-elected after running unopposed in 2016.

The 28-year-old will not be able to simultaneously run for the state and federal seats. That means she will relinquish her Iowa House District 99 seat after the 2018 legislative session.

The filing deadline for state and federal offices is from Feb. 26 to March 16, 2018. The primary election is set for June 5.

If elected, Finkenauer would be the first woman from Iowa elected to the U.S. House. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, became the first woman from the state elected to federal office in 2014.

At age 16, Finkenauer served as a page in the U.S. House for then-Rep. Jim Nussle, a northeast Iowa Republican. She graduated early from Hempstead High School and went on to work as a page for Dubuque Democrat and Iowa Rep. Pat Murphy when he was speaker of the Iowa House in 2007.

Murphy lost to Blum in the 2014 election and was ousted in a 2016 primary in an effort to again challenge Blum in the November 2016 general election.

Finkenauer also worked for the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and was the state director for Make It Work, which is dedicated to equal pay in the workplace.

She said she intends to serve as a vocal opponent to GOP policies that restrict abortion and family planning services, “attack” women’s health care choices, working families and funding for public education.

She staunchly opposed state legislation passed this session to defund Planned Parenthood, strip collective bargaining rights for public workers and rollback local minimum-wage increases.

She said she sees similar attacks being made in Washington, D.C., and that Congress has become tone-deaf to everyday Iowans’ concerns. That includes a proposed tax reform package being pushed by the White House.

Finkenauer and other Democrats argue Trump’s tax plan would favor the wealthy over the middle class and cause the federal deficit to balloon. Republicans counter cutting tax rates will stimulate faster economic growth that would replace lost tax revenue, increasing business activity and helping the middle class.

“People are struggling,” Finkenauer said. “People can’t save the way they used to, because they’re living paycheck to paycheck, and those opportunities for people ... that want to work hard and have a good life here are slipping away.”

A purple district

Republicans have eaten into Democrats’ edge in the historically left-leaning district in the past two elections.

Blum rode a wave of GOP support in 2014 to take a seat that had been held by a Democrat in a district where registered Democrats and independents each outnumber Republicans. He was easily re-elected last year.

The district’s working-class voters also pulled for President Donald Trump in November, reversing years of support for Democratic presidential candidates.

Trump was the first Republican to win Dubuque County since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.

And while Blum outperformed Trump in the district, he faces a tough balancing act, said Chris Budzisz, politics professor at Loras College and director of the Loras College Poll.

“I think Blum, in one sense, has been able to demonstrate his independence from Trump, but it’s also potentially a vulnerability,” Budzisz said.

He used the example of Blum’s opposition to the House GOP health care bill. Blum argued the bill did not go far enough to remove existing elements of the Affordable Care Act and lower premiums for working people who have insurance through their employers.

Democrats likely will use that to cast Blum as “a radical,” Budzisz said, “arguing that he’s not a moderate figure, but someone who is more to the right ... and out of touch with the district.”

Democrats also could see a reversal in the district should Trump’s disapproval ratings climb and if they successfully link GOP candidates like Blum to Trump’s agenda.

Finkenauer recently took to social media to criticize Blum’s praise of Trump’s first 100 days in office.

Blum tweeted April 24 that Trump is “fulfilling his promises: strong Cabinet, confirming Gorsuch, reining in red tape, making America safer.”