MONROE, Iowa – This swath of southeast Iowa isn't supposed to be a nailbiter for Democrats.
For more than a decade, voters in the college town of Iowa City powered Democratic candidates to Congress. But that changed this month when conservatives who dominate the more rural parts of the district turned out in droves, eager to support President Donald Trump and other Republicans on the ballot.
Nearly three weeks after Election Day, a winner hasn't been declared in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. That's a sign of the unexpected strength Republicans demonstrated in House races across the country, taking down at least 10 Democratic incumbents and dashing Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bold prediction of expanding her majority by double digits.
Instead, it appears Democrats made a serious miscalculation in assuming their antipathy toward Trump would fuel victories across the country. They failed to anticipate that Trump's supporters would show up, too, with even greater force than before in rural areas.
“It’s the Trump factor,” Jasper County Republican Chairman Thad Nearmyer said on his farm outside Monroe. “People were super excited to vote for the president.”
Of course, Trump lost the presidency and Democrat Joe Biden will move into the White House in January after winning nearly 80 million votes nationwide, a historic high. But the enthusiasm for Biden — or for defeating Trump — didn't trickle to other Democrats down ballot.
That leaves the party confronting a reckoning over how to move forward. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which supports the party's House candidates, is beginning a “deep dive” examination into what happened.
Early interpretations blame a series of missteps. Chief among them was allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as radical, which overtook the party's messaging in some cases on guaranteeing health insurance during a pandemic and rebuilding the economy. Democrats also failed to grow their appeal among some Latinos, particularly Cuban Americans in south Florida.