SIOUX CITY, Iowa – New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will be in Iowa this weekend, the latest Democratic 2020 presidential candidate testing the waters where the nation’s first caucuses are held. Gillibrand will start her tour in the western corner of the state, much like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., did last weekend.
Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson says because the eastern half of Iowa is already solidly blue, Democratic hopefuls are smart to reach out to voters in western Iowa, which is more rural and more Republican.
“They’re somewhat behind the progressive growth curve in terms of economics, lifetime opportunities,” says Swenson. “But what kind of message can you bring to some farmers? Farmers are always going to be conservative, but to some farmers that might resonate. What kind of message can you bring to shopkeepers?”
While Iowa voted for Barack Obama in 2012, President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in the state by nearly 10 percentage points over Hillary Clinton.
Iowa’s loss of manufacturing jobs and associated labor unions has meant deeper political divisions geographically than in earlier decades, according to Swenson. That’s because the state’s young adults now find more lucrative jobs in metro areas like Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City.
So, he says rural voters are generally older and more conservative.
“Distribution of the population changes where you have, increasingly, older people staying because they’re the ones that own the farms, they own the businesses,” says Swenson. “They have other entrenched anchors that keep ’em in that community.”
A December poll found that 26 percent of voters statewide say the Iowa Republican Party should discourage challengers to President Trump, while 63 percent feel the party should welcome them.