Congress

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling announces he’s running in Iowa

Former congressman moved across the river from his old district in 2017

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling, who lost to DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos after district lines were redrawn, is running for the seat that Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack is retiring from in Iowa . (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Illinois Rep. Bobby Schilling announced that he’s running for the open seat in Iowa’s 2nd District, across the Mississippi River from his old district.

Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack announced in April that he would retire at the end of his seventh term next year. The race could be competitive: President Donald Trump carried the district in 2016.

The race will attract national attention from Democrats in part because of some recent history: Schilling fell in 2012 to Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, who now serves as the chairwoman of House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In his campaign announcement, Schilling lambastes the Democratic Party as too left wing. He names progressive Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as emblematic of the party, even though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has recently hewed to the moderates in her party and criticized those same congresswomen.

“Our politics have worsened considerably. The voices leading the modern Democratic Party have forced the party dangerously leftward,” Schilling said. “We have enough radical progressives in Congress — let New York have Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, let Minneapolis have Rep. Ilhan Omar — Iowa can do a whole lot better.”

The Iowa Democratic Party hasn't ceded the “radical” line of attack to Schilling though. In a statement Monday, Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price criticized him for pushing for billions in spending cuts to popular government programs as a new lawmaker with Tea Party backing.

“His signature achievement includes backing a radical plan that would have gutted Social Security and Medicare to pay for billions in special tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations,” Price said. “Iowans deserve a representative who will work to grow our economy and create opportunities for all of us. Illinois politician Bobby Schilling has already proven he's not up to that task, and it’s why Iowans will reject him.”

Schilling moved to Iowa to escape what he said were heavy taxes and a poor business environment, The Gazette reported.

The Republican Party has thus far been unsuccessful in their efforts to flip the district: though the National Republican Congressional Committee targeted it last year, Loebsack won re-election by a 12-point margin. 

Meanwhile, many Democrats have coalesced around Rita Hart, a former state senator whose unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor last year raised her statewide profile. Hart has garnered the endorsements of Loebsack and EMILY’s List. 

Newman Abuissa, a transportation engineer from Iowa City, has also announced a bid, The Gazette reported. 

A self-described “defense hawk,” Schilling served on the Armed Services Committee during his tenure in office, pushing for more business between private contractors and Army industrial facilities. He championed federal crop insurance from his perch on the Agriculture Committee. 

It’s now possible that all four of Iowa’s House seats will be hotly contested in 2020.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2nd District a Toss-up.

In addition to Loebsack’s open seat, Democrats will be defending two House seats they flipped last fall: the 1st District, represented by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, and the 3rd District, held by Rep. Cindy Axne.

The DCCC is also targeting Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King in the 4th District, who was stripped of committee assignments following racist remarks. Despite the heavily Republican lean of King’s seat, Democrat J.D. Scholten came within 3 points of upsetting him in the midterms.

Simone Pathé and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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