As we hurtle towards November, it’s becoming clear that the control of a few seats in rural districts and states could sway the balance of power in Congress. Here are some of the spiciest races shaping up in farm country.
Iowa Senate Seat
Democrats have high hopes of picking off Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s seat. Recent polls show the race is tightening between the Republican one-term incumbent and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield (who both have farming roots). A poll released by the Des Moines Register in June showed Greenfield leading by three percentage points. In response, a Democratic super PAC has pledged to spend an additional $3.6 million on the race.
Montana Senate Seat
Another Senate seat in play is that held by Montana Sen. Steve Daines. In June, the Cook Political Report shifted its rating of the race to “toss up,” as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (who is running to unseat Daines) saw his approval ratings soar thanks to his response to the pandemic. He has also been a fundraising machine since he got into the contest. A recent poll by the University of Montana had Bullock leading by three percentage points. Republicans are hoping that the threat of a Democratic-controlled Senate could push Daines over the finish line here, but this one will probably be close.
Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District
Democrat Collin Peterson has represented Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District for 30 years, despite the fact that it has consistently voted for Republican presidential candidates. The district, which contains most of western Minnesota, overwhelmingly favored Donald Trump in 2016 by more than 30 percentage points.
Peterson might be in trouble this year. The Cook Political Report has designated the race as a “toss up” ever since former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach announced she would run. Fischbach will first have to win a Republican primary on August 11 against retired Air Force Maj. Dave Hughes, who ran and lost to Peterson in the last two elections. Peterson, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, will face primary challengers, Stephen Emery and Alycia Gruenhagen.
California’s 21st Congressional District
California’s 21st Congressional District is set for a rematch between incumbent Democrat TJ Cox and Republican David Valadao, who was unseated in 2018. Cox won in a squeaker two years ago by a mere 862 votes. Valadao, who is a former dairy farmer, was first elected to represent the district in California’s Central Valley in 2012. Until 2018, he had vanquished Democratic challengers with sizable margins, including in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the district by 15.4 percentage points.
Iowa’s 4th Congressional District
The race for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District may not be as close as it once was predicted, now that nine-term Congressman Steve King is out of the picture. King’s racist and polarizing remarks had created an opening for Democratic challenger (and former professional baseball player) J.D. Scholten, who lost to King in 2018 by just 2.7 percentage points. But after King lost his primary last month to Iowa state Sen. Randy Feenstra, political observers started to downgrade Scholten’s chances. The Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race to “solid Republican.” A win by Scholten, however, is not entirely outside of the realm of possibility, given his slim margin of loss in 2018. The district also voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, before pivoting to Trump in 2016. Scholten might also have a fundraising advantage over Feenstra. As of mid-May, Sholten had raised almost $1.2 million, with $684,428 in cash on hand. Feenstra raised just over $900,000, with $126,543 in cash on hand.