State Sen. Zach Nunn’s decisive win in Iowa’s third congressional district’s Republican primary earlier this week has energized efforts by Republican activists and officials to flip the seat in November.
Nunn swept the primary with nearly two-thirds of the vote. Businesswoman Nicole Hasso and activist Gary Leffler, Nunn’s two other challengers for the Republican nomination, secured almost 20 percent and 14 percent of the vote, respectively. The last time the third district experienced a crowded and competitive congressional primary was 2014, when no candidate reached the 35 percent threshold required to make the general election ballot; David Young emerged as the GOP candidate after a special convention, then going on to win the seat twice before losing to current incumbent Cindy Axne in 2018.
Nonpartisan election forecasters such as Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball had rated IA-03 as a “toss up” battleground House race. After Nunn’s comfortably captured the nomination, both forecasters changed their ratings to “lean R.”
Crystal Ball House Rating Change:
Rep. Cindy Axne (D, IA-3) Toss-up to Leans R following apparent primary victory by state Sen. Zach Nunn (R). Nunn is most proven of potential R challengers and Axne holds a very narrow Trump district.
— Kyle Kondik (@kkondik) June 8, 2022
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) June 8, 2022
“Nunn is [the] most proven of potential R challengers and Axne holds a very narrow Trump district,” Sabato’s Crystal Ball Managing Editor Kyle Kondik tweeted shortly after early primary results showed Nunn in a clear lead.
An Air Force intelligence officer, Nunn served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019 before being joining the Iowa Senate in 2019. Nunn announced his candidacy for the third congressional district in July 2021, and was “on the radar” for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) Young Guns program for promising first-time House recruits by October.
Axne has already been under fire as crisis after crisis materialized on President Joe Biden’s watch. Biden is polling with a net disapproval rating in Iowa, and a recent poll commissioned by former Vice President Mike Pence’s political nonprofit group that surveyed four battleground House races, including Iowa’s third congressional district, found that a plurality of voters listed inflation as their top issue of concern. A plurality of respondents, moreover, blamed Biden for inflation.
Despite record inflation, a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, a baby formula shortage, a raging border crisis, and numerous other Biden scandals, Axne hasn’t shied away from the Democrat president. During a November “Iowa Press” interview, Axne praised Biden as a “great president” and defended his handling of inflation, among other issues. She later campaigned with Biden in Iowa in April.
Biden’s record, Axne’s support of Biden, Nunn’s decisive primary victory, and other factors have contributed to heightened optimism among Republican officials as they seek to elect the first fully Republican congressional delegation since the 1990s.
“Iowa Republicans are set to make history this November by sending the first fully Republican congressional delegation to Washington in decades,” Republican National Committee spokesman Kush Desai said in a press release. “And Cindy Axne has no one to blame but herself.”