by Eleonore Sens
Though she’s a Democrat, Michelle Smith understood Donald Trump’s popularity in 2016 in her home state of Iowa.
She lost her job about 15 years ago at a factory for appliance manufacturer Maytag in the city of Newton. The plant eventually closed altogether in 2007, taking 2,000 jobs with it.
“I think people saw, ‘Oh, he’s not a politician. He’s somebody new. He’s a businessman. Let’s give him a chance for economic development’,” said Smith.
She says her situation has, however, not improved since the New York real estate mogul won the White House four years ago — and in fact may have worsened.
“I have no more money than I had four years ago,” said Smith, who now works in a call center and is head of the Democratic Party for Jasper County, which includes Newton.
“I can tell you that my (health) insurance cost more than it did four years ago.”
If the polls are correct, Iowa, in the country’s rural Midwest, has become a symbol of Trump’s troubles as he seeks reelection on November 3.
While Barack Obama won Jasper County in both 2008 and 2012, Trump touched a nerve here in the last election.
He won Jasper by 18 percentage points over his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
But this time, polls show Trump neck-and-neck with former vice president Joe Biden in the state, putting it in the column of key battlegrounds expected to decide who will be in the Oval Office come January.
‘State is changing’
Many voters in Newton have cast their ballots early, and officials expect record numbers will do so in the end.
Craig Elthof initially supported Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but has since lined up behind Biden.
“The state is changing, and I do think, too, that we’ve had a chance to see four years of Trump in action,” he said after casting his ballot.
“And his record is not good. If you’re paying attention, it’s not good at all.”
Republican voters however couldn’t see it more differently, reflecting the deeply polarized state of the country.
“I feel President Trump has done a good job with pretty much everything — the economy,” said Keith Eckhart, a retiree who also voted early.
“There’s a little question around the coronavirus, but I don’t think Biden would have done anything different. In fact, I think he would have done a lot worse.”
Thad Nearmyer, head of Jasper’s Republican Party, said it was time to move forward with an economic recovery following coronavirus closures — and that Trump is the person for the job.
“The economy is a huge, huge concern,” he said, even though “there’s been a little bit of spread around” of coronavirus.
Nearmyer had himself contracted Covid-19, but thinks “we need to just move on” — a similar approach to Trump, who has spoken of being “immune” from the virus after recovering from his own battle with it.
Iowa long saw more than 1,000 infections per day among its three million residents, though that number has dropped in recent days.
Suburban women key
The Hawkeye State has only six electoral college votes out of the 270 needed to win the White House, but Trump visited the capital Des Moines last week in a bid to energize his base of support.
Suburban women could turn out to be a key demographic in Iowa and other states.
During a trip to Pennsylvania, Trump pleaded: “Suburban women, will you please like me?”
According to a poll from September, Biden led Trump by 20 points among women in Iowa.
While the state has leaned strongly Republican in recent years, it is becoming more favorable to Democrats due to demographic changes, said Karen Kedrowski, a professor of political science at Iowa State University.
“The population demographics are moving. The population is sorting and moving towards urban areas,” she said.
“So all the fastest growing areas are in the Des Moines metropolitan area” and “suburban women are turning into being the crucial swing votes,” Kedrowski added.
Should Trump lose Iowa, it could be a sign of a larger struggle for candidates who have strongly supported him.
One-third of the Senate is also up for election this year, including Iowa’s Joni Ernst, a Republican trailing her Democratic rival in polls.
Republicans hold only a three-vote majority in the Senate, and Democrats are hoping to take control of the upper chamber of Congress after November 3.