Rita Hart stood before a captive audience Tuesday night in Lee County to deliver one of her first stump speeches since announcing her candidacy in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.
Hart said in May she would run to replace outing Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack in a district spanning 24 counties in southeast and eastern Iowa.
At the Lee County Democrats’ picnic along the Mississippi River, Hart introduced herself to more than 100 people gathered outside, many of whom attended to see presidential contender Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
At the top of her remarks, Hart teased her latest fundraising haul, hinting at “good” results for the campaign.
“That’s what we got to do in this campaign to win. We got to put in a lot of sweat equity,” said Hart. “As Dave (Loebsack) said, this is not going to be an easy seat. They’re going to be after it, they’re going to come after it hard.”
Before launching into her main message, Hart briefly touched on her 20-plus-year career as a teacher, in addition to her work on the family farm in Wheatland, north of the Quad Cities in Clinton County.
“I’m a farm kid. My husband and I are both farm kids. We’ve been on the farm all our lives,” she said.
Hart grew up on a dairy farm in Charles City with eight siblings. It was a “divided household,” she said.
“My mom was a strong Republican, my dad was a strong Democrat, and we had our caucus at the dining room table every night. It was a spirited discussion, and that’s where I learned to love politics, to love the discussion,” Hart said.
Last time she was on the campaign trail, Hart was alongside gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell in 2018 as his pick for lieutenant governor. She also served in the Iowa Senate from 2013 to 2018, representing District 49 (Clinton County and part of rural Scott County), a seat with a mix of rural and blue-collar communities.
This time, the only candidates further up the ticket will be the Democratic nominees for president and U.S. Senate.
She might face a primary challenge, however. Newman Abuissa, an engineer from Iowa City, launched his candidacy in the 2nd District late last month.
Osceola mayor Thomas Kedley was the only Republican in the race, until he dropped out in June. So far, no other Republican has launched a campaign.
Hart’s pitch to voters in Lee County was not a list of policy objectives or campaign promises. Instead, she talked about her upbringing and the lessons she learned from her family, and her mother in particular.
“We all turned out good because she was such a great lady,” Hart said.
When Hart’s mother was pregnant with her second child, she went into heart failure, leaving her bedridden for months. She and her baby lived through the serious health scare, but as a side affect of her difficulty breathing, she never regained her voice.
“She was tough,” Hart said, of her mother. “But I think about that now, that she raised all nine of us kids with just a whisper.”
Because of her mother’s soft voice, Hart said, the children had to listen closely if they wanted to hear her. And that’s where Hart wove in the lessons she learned on listening, with how she wanted to serve Iowans in Congress.
“Sometimes, the small voices that you have to lean in and take trouble to hear are the ones that you should be listening to the most,” she said. “And that’s what’s not happening in Washington, D.C., right now. The loud voices, the ones with all the money, those are the ones that are getting all of the attention. Those are the ones people are hearing.”
People in positions of power “have to lean in and listen to those voices that say we can do better, but somebody by gosh has got to care. They’ve got to lean in and listen to what we have to say and make something happen.”
By Elizabeth Meyer