How Cindy Axne, one of Congress’ most at-risk Democrats, is hanging on
Holding a blue seat in a place tinged with red like Iowa’s third congressional district takes discipline. It takes a relentless focus on the people at home, which is why you won’t see Cindy Axne poking fun at “Morning Joe” or rubbing elbows with Jake Tapper on CNN. You have to make who knows how many hits on rural radio stations that can reach a few hundred people at a time.
Axne is a living case study in political survival. Donald Trump carried his district in his two presidential races. In 2020, a bad year for House Democrats, she clung to her seat by less than 7,000 votes.
This year, Axne has one of the toughest re-election tasks of any member of Congress. She is the only Democrat in Iowa’s delegation to Washington, representing a state that has shifted sharply to the right. Thanks to the redistricting, she just inherited nine additional counties that voted for Trump in 2020. At town hall meetings, she proudly tells her constituents that hers is “the No. 1 targeted race in the nation.” Forecasters say it’s a “trick of the lot,” but privately, Democratic strategists acknowledge she could be doomed.
What is his survival strategy? Although Axne doesn’t state them explicitly, we pulled these unspoken rules from an interview in his office on Capitol Hill. That’s the kind of advice President Biden could use as he tries to reverse polling numbers that threaten to bring down his entire party:
Having trouble explaining your policies? Visualize the voter you want to reach: “Take these big things and bring them back to this individual. If that mom isn’t sitting in the audience, put that mom in your head.
Sell your infrastructure bill? Talk about convenience, not the number of dollars allocated to the program: “It doesn’t resonate. Sounds like I gave you 40 minutes of extra time when that bridge gets fixed. It’s enormous.”
You also won’t hear much rhetoric about saving American democracy from Axne. Constituents are his clients, which reflects his business background. “I’ve been a manager all my life,” she said. “I ran customer service and retail departments.”
And the way she understands it, the onus is on her to earn the customer’s approval. “It’s my job to reach out to them, to show them that they can trust me and that I deserve their vote,” she said.
She urges the president to embrace the same retail mentality: leave the mess in Washington behind, get into local communities, and bring politics to a human scale.
As she said, “Come out and say, ‘Guys, here’s where we are. “”
And where his customers are right now, Axne said, can be summed up in one word: “Tired.”
They are fed up with the pandemic. Tired of the disruption he brought to their families. Tired of their packages not being delivered on time. It’s the common thread running through every complaint she hears about, whether it’s about education, jobs, or masks.
“I’ve never seen anything so important to our psyche, have I?” she said. “There are just a lot of things that families deal with. It’s just hard for them to see some of the benefits that Democrats delivered — because honestly, Democrats delivered, I delivered — but it’s hard to see when things still haven’t returned to normal .
If and when they are, Axne said, “We need to be really vocal about it and make people feel comfortable and understand, ‘Get back to normal, folks.'”
Axne has had to think a lot about how to explain the major legislative packages she helped pass and is urging the White House to break them down into relatable pieces.
She goes back to her infrastructure example, referring to bridges in Iowa that are so poorly maintained they can’t support the weight of a bus full of school kids, resulting in long detours. “You know, ask any parent what their mornings are like and would they like 40 more minutes? Shit, yeah.
Win counties, then lose them
Axene was first elected to Congress in 2018as part of the anti-Trump wave that year.
She was a longtime Iowa state government official with an MBA who started a consulting firm before running for Congress. If you ask him what Iowa farmers are concerned about, prepare for an impromptu seminar on the intricacies of soybean processing.
In 2019, when flooding devastated communities in his district along the Missouri River, Axne was everywhere: visiting destroyed levees, lobbying for federal aid. It earned him some credit in the suburbs around Council Bluffs and Indianola, helping him earn that victory in 2020.
In a stroke of bad luck for Axne, these areas along the river are no longer his responsibility. After Iowa’s last round of nonpartisan redistricting, they are now part of Rep. Randy Feenstra’s district, a Republican.
His first task this year was to visit his new counties, which together voted for Trump in nearly 19,000 votes. She doesn’t have to win them — just keep the margins small enough while boosting votes in her stronghold of Des Moines, Iowa’s capital. But she has to create some distance with the National Democrats, which she tries to accomplish through humor.
“I’m not Nancy Pelosi,” she joked during a recent town hall style meeting in Ottumwa, one of 74 she has held since her first election. “I’m a foot taller. I come from another state. I don’t wear five inch heels.
Axne would like to see Democrats break the Build Back Better Act, their stalled social policy bill, into “coordinated policy pieces.” And in the meantime, she wants Biden to come out and hear directly from her disgruntled clients.
“It’s not that he doesn’t understand it,” she said. “It’s just that there’s so much going on at that high level that sometimes it’s very difficult to bring it down to that very micro level. But that micro level is what adds up across the country.
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McCarthy and Pompeo to woo megadonors
As Republicans prepare for the midterm elections they hope will give them control of both houses of Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the man who hopes to become their House Speaker, is expected to speak in Palm Beach, Fla., this week to some of the megadonors expected to fund the party’s efforts this fall and into 2024.
The occasion is the biannual gathering of the American Opportunity Alliance, a coalition of major donors led by New York billionaire Paul Singer that has worked mostly behind the scenes to shape the Republican Party.
Mike Pompeo, who served as Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, is also expected to speak and is reportedly considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, which could pit him against Trump.
Other potential Republican candidates for 2024 attended an alliance meeting last year in Colorado, including Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador. United Nations. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who leads the Republican Party’s Senate campaign arm, also addressed alliance donors last year.
The Palm Beach rally is expected to draw candidates vying for Republican congressional nominations, including Herschel Walker (running for Senate in Georgia), Katie Britt (Senate in Alabama), Jane Timken (Senate in Ohio) and Morgan Ortagus ( House in Tennessee).
Donors to the alliance are likely to be assiduously courted by Republican candidates for a range of positions and solicited for donations to super PACs and party committees.
Their donations and associations will be closely watched as the party and its donor class grapple with whether to — and how — to quit Trump.
Singer was among the most aggressive Republican donors to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in 2016. A conservative website he funded funded early research into Trump’s ties to Russia. But Singer later donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund and visited Trump’s White House several times.
Other donors who have been involved with the American Opportunity Alliance include brokerage titan Charles Schwab, hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin and Todd Ricketts, who served as the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman under Trump.
Among the donors expected in Palm Beach are former Trump cabinet officials Wilbur Ross, who served as Secretary of Commerce, and Linda McMahon, who served as administrator of the Small Business Administration.
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