Axne, Nunn skirmish over economic policy and abortion in debate

By: - October 6, 2022 10:40 pm

Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, a Republican, (left) and U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, had their first debate Thursday in Des Moines. (Screenshot of KCCI broadcast)

In the first meeting of candidates for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District on Thursday, challenger Zach Nunn, a Republican, almost immediately steered the conversation to the economy and inflation. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, the Democratic incumbent, made an impassioned plea to restore abortion rights at the federal level.

“If you’ve been to the grocery store recently, you’ve seen prices rise,” said Nunn, 43, of Bondurant, a first-term state senator who previously was elected to two terms in the Iowa House. “And I see Democrats, Republicans and independents all shaking their heads ‘yes’ in the audience tonight.”

The debate was broadcast live by KCCI from the Iowa State Historical Building in Des Moines.

Nunn has criticized Axne for her support of major federal legislation—such as the Build Back Better Act—that he said was wasteful, increased taxes and contributed to inflation.

Nunn has said the tax reforms Iowa Republicans at the Statehouse adopted this year are a better option. Those changes created a flat income tax rate that will phase in by 2026, reduced corporate taxes and eliminated state taxes on retirement income.

Axne countered that unemployment in Iowa is exceptionally low at 2.6% and that she and other Democrats are still working to alleviate supply chain disruptions that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s more money in people’s pockets these days because of the support they received from the American Rescue Plan,” said Axne, 57, of West Des Moines, who has served two terms in the U.S. House and is the lone Iowa Democrat in the House and U.S. Senate. “And because of the supply chain agenda that we’re putting forth, we’re improving every single day on those price fluctuations to get them back down to normal.”

Polls have consistently shown that the economy—and more specifically, inflation—is the top issue for voters. In August, the average cost of goods and services was 8.3% higher than it was the year prior, according to the federal Consumer Price Index.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 77% of registered voters said the economy is very important to their vote. But Pew surveys found that abortion and U.S. Supreme Court appointments gained new importance for Democrats between March and August.

Abortion was very important to 71% of Democratic voters in August, up from 46% in March, according to Pew polling data. Between those months, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion nearly 50 years ago. Similarly, those Democrats who said court appointments were very important increased from 59% to 69%.


Nunn has waffled on abortion restrictions. He has supported legislation that would ban abortions for fetuses after six weeks of development with exceptions in the case of rape, incest and to protect the mother’s health. But in a primary debate earlier this year when he faced two Republican opponents, Nunn raised his hand to indicate all abortions should be illegal without exception.

“You have no idea what it’s like to be a mother,” Axne told Nunn Thursday. “You have no idea what it’s like to bear a child. You have no idea what it’s like to take care of a child from the framework of being a mother.”

Axne and her husband have two boys. Nunn and his wife have three daughters and a son.

“We have four wonderful children; we have two foster kids,” Nunn interjected.

Nunn accused Axne of supporting abortions as late as the day of birth. That was based on her vote to establish in federal law the right to an abortion, including late-term abortions if the mother’s life is at risk.

“Does he really think women are having babies, and then all of a sudden we’re saying ‘kill the babies?’” Axne said. “That’s crazy talk.”

Nunn responded: “Well, that’s exactly what you voted for.” He said the availability of abortions should be decided by states, and specifically in Iowa, by voters. If the Iowa Legislature approves an anti-abortion constitutional amendment during the upcoming legislative session, it would go to a public vote in 2024.


On gun control and mass shootings, Nunn said there are existing laws to address them that merely need to be enforced, and that schools should spend money to increase their security measures and should work more closely with law enforcement.

Axne called for a new “assault weapons” ban that would prohibit certain configurations of firearms and better background checks for gun buyers.

On agriculture, both candidates said they want to preserve federal crop insurance subsidies for farmers in the next farm bill and to ensure the expanded availability of ethanol-blended fuel.

Nunn said farmers are able to make the best decisions about how to conserve their land, and he insinuated that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has too much authority over the nation’s water quality.

“We’re sending out federal regulators to inspect everything from a ditch to a waterway, taking farmers out of their fields at a time when they need it most,” he said.


The newly drawn 3rd Congressional District covers parts of south central and western Iowa, including the Des Moines metro area. When Axne won her first two elections, the district stretched to the western border and included more-populous Pottawattamie County and Council Bluffs.

Axne defeated two-term incumbent Republican David Young in 2018 with 49% of the vote compared to Young’s 47.5%. She beat Young by a similar margin in 2020.

Nunn won a three-way Republican primary in June with about 66% of the vote to earn the party nomination and the opportunity to challenge Axne.

The district is among those Republicans seek to capture from Democrats in the election to take control of the House. The current party breakdown is 220-212, with three vacancies.

Axne had received about $4.8 million of campaign contributions this election cycle as of June 30, according to the Federal Election Commission. She had spent about $1.8 million.

Nunn had received about $1.1 million and spent about $842,000 as of Sept. 22.

Other groups are putting money into the 3rd District as well: Former Vice President Mike Pence’s political advocacy group said it would spend more than $400,000 on television ads critical of Axne.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.