How Cindy Axne Picked Up 307 New Votes In A Rural County

Photo by Julie Fleming

Congresswoman Cindy Axne out-performed the top-of-ticket margin in Fremont County by nearly 15 percentage points, lending credibility to the Democrat’s belief that her visibility in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District helped put her over the top on a day when other politicians in her party struggled.

Fremont County, in Iowa’s far southwest corner along the Missouri River, experienced record flooding in the spring of 2019, only a couple months into Axne’s first term.

On Election Day, Republican David Young received 62.3% of the vote there compared to Axne’s 34.5%, according to unofficial results from the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. President Donald Trump won the county with 70.3% support versus Joe Biden’s 28%. Biden lost Fremont County to Trump by 42.3 percentage points compared to Axne’s 27.8 percentage point defeat, resulting in a 14.5 percentage point margin improvement for Axne over Biden.

Axne earned 307 more votes in the small, conservative county compared to the support she had in 2018. In a county where only 3,757 votes were recorded this year for the 3rd District contest, every little bit helps, particularly for Democratic candidates in Iowa who must winnow the margins in rural counties in order to be successful.

In Mills and Pottawattamie counties, also along the Missouri River, Axne increased her support over 2018 by 471 votes and 4,376, respectively. In Mills County she out-performed Biden by 5.7 percentage points and 3.7 percentage points in Pottawattamie County. The nearly 15-point difference between Axne and Biden in Fremont County is where she most out-performed the top of the ticket.

“I held my own in those counties,” Axne said on election night, of the 15 counties she lost but improved upon compared to her first run in 2018.

“That means I held my own in rural areas and didn’t lose ground amongst an entire field that did. Sure, I’d love to have picked up more counties, but I think the folks who came out to vote for me, voted for me because they know I’m going to stand up for their needs and I’m going to put Iowa first.”

Though Polk County, home to Des Moines, is the only county Axne carried this year (as in 2018), she earned more votes in every county than she did two years ago. Compared to the top of the ticket, Axne out-performed Biden in every county accept for Dallas, where it’s theorized that some suburban Republicans voted for Biden but stuck with Republicans down-ballot.

Axne is the only incumbent Democrat who will return to Washington, D.C., next year for a second term. 1st District Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, also nearing the end of her first term, was unseated by Republican Ashley Hinson in a surprise loss on election night. 2nd District Congressman Dave Loebsack is retiring, and the race to replace him remains too close to call. The 4th District, like the 2nd, also was an open seat and will be represented by a Republican. Democrat Theresa Greenfield was unsuccessful in her bid to defeat Sen. Joni Ernst.

“They say your first reelection is your toughest election,” Axne said. “I won when, literally, the state looks pretty red right now. That meant I was able to hold my own amongst a Trump-supporting ticket. So yeah, I certainly believe that it was every single little bit that counted, the constituency work that we did.”

In the flood-ravaged counties, Axne was on the ground in 2019 and worked with constituents there for more than a year to deliver funding and resources to help the communities build back.

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The 3rd District congresswoman responded to the flood recovery not only with constituent outreach, but by moving legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives, legislation that ultimately made it to the president’s desk.

She secured $3 billion in the House disaster relief bill, not including the $1 billion in amendments to the legislation aimed at flood recovery in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South.

In December 2019, Axne’s office launched the Iowa Flood Funding Tracker so constituents could stay up-to-date on how disaster relief funding is spent in the state. As of Oct. 27, at least $610.18 million has been spent in the state, with 468 grants and loans made available to Iowans affected by the flooding. According to the tracker, 481 grant and loan applications still are pending.

“I was able to get things done by working in a bipartisan way, half of my bills were with Republican co-leads,” Axne said. “I worked with my party and I worked with Republicans as well. I able to bring things home for Iowa, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

To cap off her first year, Axne was named the most accessible member of the freshmen class by Town Hall Project for the 57 public town halls she held in 2019. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, she was visiting the district’s 16 counties every month. Starting Line tagged along in August 2019 on a district tour day that included four visits across four counties. This year, when Democratic members of Congress discontinued in-person events due to COVID concerns, Axne shifted the 16-county tour to Zoom and worked with businesses to secure loans and health care providers to get protective equipment during the pandemic.

In her first term, Axne also worked with colleagues to pass an extension to the biodiesel tax credit and repeal a couple health care-related taxes — legislation that was signed by President Trump. When presented this spring with a Democrat-backed coronavirus relief bill she felt included too much aid to people and industries that did not need it, she voted against the legislation.

“I think [voters] saw in me a fighter and someone who comes through with what they said they would do and somebody that they can trust,” Axne said. “I mean it when I say it; I’m here to represent the people in our district, and if decisions are being made in Washington, no matter who’s making those, if they’re not right for our district I’m going to stand up and change that.”

Of the 42 House members the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee labeled “frontline” members — Democrats who won tough swing districts in 2018 — at least five lost their reelection bids this year, including Rep. Finkenauer, with several races still uncalled by The Associated Press.

Axne, however, held her seat by 1.4 percentage points on an otherwise disappointing day for Iowa Democrats. Unlike the state’s other congressional districts, the third party candidate in the 3rd District shaves a significant number of votes off the leading candidates. This year, Libertarian Bryan Jack Holder won support from 3.4% of voters, or 15,361 votes. No other district had a third party candidate on the ballot.

“I think that what they saw in me was somebody that they can trust,” Axne said, “somebody who understands their issues, somebody who they can relate to as a mom, as a small business owner, as a fifth-generation Iowan with parents from farm families. I think what they saw was somebody who they see as a fighter in their corner, and that’s what everybody needs right now.”


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 11/11/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

2 Comments on "How Cindy Axne Picked Up 307 New Votes In A Rural County"

  • I’m very happy that Cindy Axne is going back to Congress. But it’s depressing to read about some of what it took to get her there.

    The mismanagement of the Missouri River is not being done by the Army Corps. It’s being done by the Big Ag interests that have used their money and clout, starting decades ago, to permanently drown large areas of Native American land in South Dakota and then ensure that they themselves could continue to profit by rowcropping the Missouri flood plains that should be kept available for public-benefit floodwater storage (that’s why a flood plain is called a flood plain), not for enabling private landowners and producers to make as much corn and bean money as possible, at huge cost to taxpayers, water quality, wildlife, public water recreation, etc.

    Certainly Cindy Axne will be better for the environment than her opponent would have been, and I’m very glad she was re-elected. I just hope that someday, though I won’t live to see it, there will be enough enlightened Midwestern voters so that Big Ag money will no longer determine what happens to our Midwest landscape and our degraded, mismanaged waters. Iowa used to have one of the most diverse and productive fisheries in North America. That’s gone for good, but at least we could try to save and protect what’s left.

  • I think the demographics as well as the dynamics of rural counties have changed from almost 50 years ago to now but it would be interesting to compare the John Culver 1974 Senate race with the amount of votes the Democratic Congressional candidates received in 1974. This comparison would include Tom Harkin’s first successful race. One would have to analyze a situation like this before saying the Axne increase in performance is an amazing feat, no offense intended to her reelection.

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