By Matthew Jack
DUBUQUE — Republicans held on to Iowa’s 1st Congressional District on Tuesday after Rep. Rod Blum beat Democratic challenger and Cedar Rapids City Councilor Monica Vernon.
With an 8-percentage point margin of victory, Blum retained his seat in a district that had been locked down by Democrats in the four recent elections and in which 41 percent of absentee general-election ballots have been cast by registered Democrats, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday.
By 11:20 p.m., Blum had won 186,077 votes to Vernon’s 162,238. These numbers are preliminary and will be finalized after a canvass later this week.
Gary Walke, a Blum supporter from Dubuque, said he was looking forward to “more of the same” from Blum — representation of the 1st District.
“He does what he told us he’ll do,” he said.
Walke also praised Blum’s support of congressional term limits, which Luke Smith of New Mexico — whose brother volunteered for Blum’s campaign — called “historic.”
“They can only happen with someone who isn’t part of the establishment,” Walke said.
After narrowly defeating Democrat Pat Murphy in 2014, the 61-year-old Dubuque native positioned himself as Iowa’s “outsider” in Congress, breaking with the Republican majority and casting his first vote against the speakership of John Boehner, the then-Speaker of the House.
“As a lifelong small-businessman, I’m used to talking straight,” Blum wrote on his website. In a line recognizable from the Republican presidential ticket, Blum said in a 2014 debate with Murphy that he was “proud not to be a politician.”
Blum made his foray into politics as head of the Dubuque County GOP and was assigned to the Budget Committee and Oversight & Government Reform Committee after his election to Congress.
Running on a platform of limited government and traditionally conservative positions, he cast votes in Congress to reduce the federal deficit, defund Planned Parenthood, and increase the ability of states to deny the resettlement of refugees.
Blum said in a press release that he believes “Washington suffers from a lack of fresh, innovative ideas and the courage to implement them,” and co-chaired the bipartisan Congressional Term Limits Caucus dedicated to “enacting term limit legislation for members of Congress.”
Vernon, a 58-year-old “lifelong progressive” and University of Iowa graduate, began her political career as a Republican on the City Council of Cedar Rapids’ 2nd District in 2007.
Vernon switched her registration to Democrat in 2009, breaking with Republicans on such issues as climate change, women’s reproductive rights, and progressive policies including tuition-free college and the Affordable Care Act.
“We had some great vision; that doesn’t end here,” Vernon said at her Cedar Rapids watch party.
One of Vernon’s supporters, Charles Crawley, said her second run for Congress showed “she’s got a lot of guts” and said he liked that she was a businesswoman who “knows how to deal with data but [is] also a good people person.”
During her tenure as Cedar Rapids councilor in Cedar Rapids, Crawley said she “did a really good job when we had a bad flood.”
In his victory speech, Blum recalled his humble beginnings and the “dirt floors” of his parents’ house.
“The thought that their son could stand up here tonight and walk the marble staircase [in Washington, D.C.] — the same that Abraham Lincoln did,” Blum said, “it’s an amazing country, isn’t it?”