Nearly a year before next November’s mid-term election, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo) was in Glenwood last Tuesday getting the word out on his bid to fill Tom Harkin’s soon-to-be-vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. Braley, who represents Iowa’s first congressional district in eastern Iowa, campaigned at Doodles Bar and Grill as part of six-stop tour through southwest Iowa.
Among the many topics of discussion for the 56-year-old father of three public education, student loan debt, veterans benefits, health care and Iowa’s infrastructure. The candidate also shared stories about his small town life, his father, a former Marine who served on Iwo Jima, and his mother, a school teacher who still substitutes at age 83. But the bulk of the congressman’s comments centered on the word “help.” Braley said he needs the help of voters to get the word out – on his campaign and the issues that affect them – even if the general election is 11 months away.
“I need your help because this is going to be a very, very tough race,” Braley said. “It will be a race without a presidential campaign at the top of the ticket, which will mean Democrats will have to come together and make sure that we turn out voters all over this state if I’m going to have any shot of winning this seat.”
Lora Swanson, spokesperson for the Mills County Democratic Party introduced Braley at the event. She liked what she heard from the congressman.
“I’m impressed,” she said. “He’s very charismatic. He is so well versed and he informs himself on issues. He gives a lot of Iowa information. He knows this is not just a farm state. Insurance is big. Technology is big. We’re a very diversified state with a lot of possibilities going for us.”
Since announcing in January he would not seek a sixth term, Harkin has thrown his support behind Braley, the lone Democratic candidate. Braley said Harkin’s endorsement is important, both personally and in his bid to fill the out-going senator’s seat.
“He’s been a mentor, a friend and a hero of mine,” Braley said. “But also, when I first met Tom Harkin he was representing this part of Iowa in Congress. He knows southwest Iowa and he connects with the people here. I believe, because of my background, growing up in a small town in Iowa, in a small county, I have a great understanding of the needs of Mills County, Fremont County and every other county in southwest Iowa.
A Brooklyn, Iowa, native and former trial attorney, Braley has gained a reputation for his progressive work with both house Democrats and Republicans since his election to congress in 2007. He was the first candidate to throw his hat in the ring for Harkin’s seat last February.
Braley is joined in the race by five Republicans who head into next spring’s primary election without a clear cut leader. Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. Attorney and University of Iowa football player, business executive Mark Jacobs, radio host Sam Clovis, Red Oak State Sen. Joni Ernst and David Young, a former staffer for Sen. Chuck Grassley, are all vying to challenge Braley next November.
The candidates are seeking Iowa’s first open senate seat since 1974. Iowa’s senate race could be a key national race in this battleground state as the Democrats look to hold their slim six-seat advantage in the senate and the Republicans look to trim that margin. Compounding interest, Braley said, is the fact this is a mid-term election in a non-presidential election year.
“I’ve been able to travel to almost 89 of Iowa’s 99 counties by Thanksgiving and I’ve learned a lot on those visits and I’ve learned how excited people are about this race because it is the first open senate race in many years,” Braley said.
“That’s why this is the important early phase of trying to generate enthusiasm and build a network of support all over the state.”
Building that network, Swanson said, is key in an area of the state where Republicans out-number Democrats more than 2-to-1.
“I think it’s important because sometimes people feel we’re more eastern Nebraska than western Iowa,” she said. “So, I think it’s important that he lets us know we’re important too. Even in Mills County where we have a tough time getting Democrat votes.”