CLINTON — Elected officials assume a certain sense of duty. In Iowa, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack's Second Congressional District covers more than 585,000 constituents in the state's southeast corridor. He's incorporating political desires from Clinton, Davenport and Iowa City when he legislates back in Washington D.C.
But after last fall, Loebsack has discovered there is even higher demand. He was the lone Congressional Democrat candidate to survive the November election.
With Iowa Republicans holding down both U.S. Senate seats, the governor's office and the other three U.S. House slots, Loebsack inadvertently became the highest ranking elected Democrat of a swing state.
Is this an added burden? He says "no."
"Responsibility is the right word for it," Loebsack said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I have a bigger voice now in Washington, D.C. There's no question about that."
Until swear ins at the start of 2015, Iowa was truly a purple state at the federal level — three congressional seats apiece for Republicans and Democrats. When Loebsack first assumed his office in 2007, he joined then District 1 Rep. Bruce Braley and long-standing Sen. Tom Harkin — both fellow Iowa Democrats — at the nation's capital. Both were people Loebsack says he turned to as allies, though he added he also worked with Sen. Charles Grassley and others in the Republican party.
The landscape in Iowa turned mostly red last November. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst beat Braley for Harkin's old seat, and Rod Blum (of Dubuque) took down State Rep. Pat Murphy for Braley's slot in District 1 — a loss of two seats for Iowa Democrats.
For Loebsack (who beat Mariannette Miller-Meeks with 52.5 percent of the vote last fall), this meant the new term had to begin with more attempts at bipartisanship. It's especially true given the new makeup of Congress overall: Republicans now control both houses.
"Bruce and I came in at the same time in 2007," said Loebsack, calling Braley "a friend." "I was very disappointed that he didn't win his election. But at the same time, I'm going to continue to work with folks in the state of Iowa on any number of issues...
"To some extent, that has happened already. More with my House colleagues than with my Senate colleague."
For instance, during the State of the Union address, he sat with Rep. David Young, a Van Meter Republican in his first term.
"Certainly I've talked to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I'll continue that," Loebsack said.
He said one way he is trying to collaborate is through his new position on the House Energy and Commerce committee. It's a sector that has strong (sometimes intersecting) desires from both parties.
Loebsack is no stranger to his own district, having made two stops in Clinton since his re-election. But now, the congressman finds that Democrats outside his district are beginning to reach out for his input.
This presents both a challenge and an opportunity, he said. It's given Loebsack the chance to familiarize himself with many new faces in the state caucus.
"There have been times when it's been a little bit difficult," he said. "I'm seeking out more of a role of getting around the state."
After eight years in Congress, Loebsack said he is used to change. While there was "definitely" a different feel when he returned to Washington, D.C., in January, there's at least one component he can control — himself.
Thus, he plans to continue the message he feels got him elected to begin with, one that helped him survive as Iowa's lone federal Democrat.
"My message is it's all about the middle class," said Loebsack, calling that demographic important to a strong economic recovery. Workforce development, student aid and social security are all pieces he is working on during the new term.
"A good number of Democrats talk about the issues our middle class is facing," he added. "I think that's what Democrats need to talk about. And going forward that's going to continue being my focus."
The only difference now is that Loebsack feels he plays a much bigger role in Iowa's message.
"I think it probably provides even more opportunities to work across the aisle," he said. "I'm looking at this (role) as more of that opportunity."
Assistant Editor Brenden West can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.