Race projected for Nunn, giving GOP a sweep of Iowa’s federal races

By: - November 9, 2022 12:12 am

(Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature, Axne's office and U.S. Capitol Police)

Republican challenger Zach Nunn is projected to win over U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in Iowa 3rd Congressional District race, the Associated Press reported.

Nunn had already declared victory twice. “This race changes the course of America,” Nunn said in a speech Tuesday night.

Nunn has 50.3% of the vote to Axne’s 49.6% in unofficial results as of Wednesday afternoon. The Republican challenger was leading by more than 2,000 votes with all counties reporting. The Associated Press called the race for him Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re humbled and honored to have won our mission and are ready to bring change to our country,” Nunn said in a statement Wednesday. “We didn’t get into this race to win, we got into this race to serve – and after hearing directly from Iowans the last few months, it’s clear we need to hit the ground running.”

Axne did not make a public statement Tuesday but she tweeted a concession Wednesday afternoon. “Even though the numbers weren’t in our favor this year, I encourage you all to have the hard conversations with your friends and neighbors about the issues that matter most to you,” she wrote.

She didn’t congratulate Nunn in the tweet, but wrote, “… I hope Zach Nunn understands the responsibility of the office and will continue to uplift Iowans’ voices in Washington, D.C.”

The Democrat currently serves as the state’s sole elected Democrat in federal office. She first took the seat in 2018, defeating Republican incumbent David Young, and won again in 2020 despite former President Donald Trump winning the area.

Republican incumbents won reelection Tuesday in Iowa’s remaining three congressional districts and the U.S. Senate.

National Democrats have invested heavily in keeping Axne in office. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the candidates and outside groups have spent over $14 million in the race. Axne has raised raised about $5.7 million throughout the entire election cycle, and spent $2.3 million on ads in the most recent reporting period from July 1 to Sept. 30.

Nunn’s campaign had a smaller footprint, with the Republican challenger spending around $370,000 on ads in that same period. But political action committees and other Republican groups are making up some of that disparity: The National Republican Congressional Committee has put more than $2.1 million into the 3rd District race.

The candidates traded barbs in advertisements not just on policy differences, but one another’s stock trades and ties to foreign businesses. An October ad targeting Axne criticized her for failing to disclose stock trades; An ad targeting Nunn alleged he had taken money from a company owned by the Chinese government.

Many of Axne’s ads focus on Nunn’s views on abortion. The Democratic incumbent made defending access to abortion and reproductive health care a central piece of her strategy this year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer. Axne called for passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe’s protections for abortion access at the federal level.

She said her opponent supports a total ban on abortions, running ads from a GOP 3rd District primary debate where Nunn raised his hand indicating he supported making abortions illegal without exception.

Nunn fired back alleging she supports abortions “up until the moment of birth,” which Axne denied. He also has said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

Amber Castillo, a 24-year-old from Des Moines, said abortion was her top concern when voting in this year’s elections. Castillo said she supported Democrats like Axne to protect abortion access, but was worried economic concerns might push people toward voting Republican.

“It’s scary, I think, COVID kind of ruined the economy and that could overshadow some of these other issues,” she said.

Nunn has campaigned against Biden administration spending measures like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Build Back Better Act, which he said contributed to inflation and rising gas prices. The state senator said if elected, he would advocate for legislation like Iowa’s recent tax cuts at a federal level. Recent changes to Iowa’s tax system include phasing in a flat income tax rate, eliminating retirement income taxes and cuts to corporate taxes.

But Axne said spending measures like the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan are helping families make ends meet as costs of living rise.

“There’s more money in people’s pockets these days because of the support they received from the American Rescue Plan,” Axne said in a KCCI debate. “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.”

Correction: This story has been updated to remove references to a pending recount in Warren County. The recount will take place in the 1st Congressional District and will have no effect on the 3rd District race.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.