House Freedom Caucus member Rod Blum narrowly won re-election in Iowa Tuesday, helped by Donald Trump’s surprise showing in turning back a strong Democratic challenge in one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races.
Blum, a first-term congressman with one of the most unapologetically conservative records in Congress, represents northeast Iowa’s 1st Congressional District ― the country’s second-most Democratic-leaning district held by a Republican. With Trump’s at the top of the ticket, Blum survived a challenge by former Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon by roughly 6 points, 53 percent to 46 percent.
Blum, who snuck into Congress during the 2014 Republican wave as former Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) vacated the seat for an unsuccessful run for Senate, started his congressional career by voting against then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Blum followed that act of defiance up by joining the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
While Blum has had a better relationship with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ― Ryan actually traveled to Iowa last week to campaign with him ― Blum has stuck to his aggressively conservative record. He voted against the December 2015 omnibus spending bill. He was one of 33 Republicans to vote against a Medicare reimbursement deal. He was one of 34 Republicans who voted against the rule for Trade Promotion Authority, (though he ended up voting for the actual bill to fast-track trade legislation).
Blum argued that a Republican, even in a Democratic-leaning district, could hang with the most conservative elements in the House and survive, even under the worst conditions.
Blum tried to use his conservative record to make the case that he was an independent voice in Congress.
Even a seemingly dumb tweet in March that D.C. needed a recession because it had construction cranes everywhere didn’t seem to harm him. Blum told HuffPost in June that people in his district understood what he was saying. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seized on the tweet and dubbed Blum “Recession Rod.”
His opponent, former Cedar Rapids City Council member Vernon, argued that Blum was a loose cannon who broke his word to voters. Blum had promised to give half his salary to charity during a previous run for Congress, and that pledge apparently remained on his website during his 2014 campaign.
Vernon stressed her desire to see more infrastructure jobs in Iowa, as well as to preserve Medicare and Social Security and make college more affordable.
But her message didn’t seem to gain much traction. And Trump didn’t turn out to be as much of a weight on Blum as some had expected.