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4 Iowa Democrats, 4 different messages. What will resonate with voters?

The 2018 midterm elections have sparked a fierce contest in one toss-up district in Iowa, where four Democratic House candidates are vying for their party's nomination and maybe to help define the soul of the party. On the eve Tuesday’s vote, special correspondent Andrew Batt of Iowa Public Television reports on how the fight is playing out.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    But first, a closer look at the primary contest in Iowa, one of eight states with elections tomorrow.

    For Democrats, this is the latest critical test of how the party thinks it can win back the House of Representatives in November.

    Andrew Batt of Iowa Public Television reports on how this fight is playing out in one tossup district.

  • Andrew Batt:

    On an unseasonably warm spring afternoon with temperatures cresting at 99 degrees, George Ramsey is walking the streets of rural Blairstown, Iowa.

  • George Ramsey:

    Hi. My name is George Ramsey. I'm running for United States Congress here in the 1st Congressional District.

  • Andrew Batt:

    Blairstown is quintessential rural Iowa, complete with surrounding farmland, a population hovering near 692, and a racial makeup of 98 percent white residents.

  • Man:

    Democrat, huh?

  • George Ramsey:

    Yes I am.

  • Man:

    OK.

  • Andrew Batt:

    Ramsey, a veteran of Desert Storm, is embarking on his first major political campaign after a career spent in the U.S. military.

  • George Ramsey:

    When I think about the two main responsibilities that we have as leaders in the military, the accomplishment of our mission and the welfare of our soldiers, I think about serving in Congress no different than that.

  • Andrew Batt:

    But Ramsey faces an uphill battle in a primary on the political front lines of rural Trump country. Iowa's 1st Congressional District voted for President Barack Obama by nearly 14 percentage points in 2012.

    But, in 2016, Donald Trump won the district by nearly four points. The political winds of 2018 have sparked a fierce Democratic primary in this sprawling northeast corner of Iowa, where four Democrats are vying for their party's June nomination, and define the soul of the party.

  • Courtney Rowe:

    And I'm married. My wife and I met how all lesbians meet their wives, I'm pretty sure, at church.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Andrew Batt:

    In the midsized eastern Iowa city of Waterloo, aeronautics engineer turned politician Courtney Rowe is greeting primary voting Democrats with an openness to her LGBT background and a central theme of health care.

  • Courtney Rowe:

    Everywhere I go, people are talking about health care. And I'm the only candidate in the primary who is supporting single-payer and for Medicare-for-all.

  • Andrew Batt:

    As Rowe stakes out a claim for the more liberal wing of Iowa Democrats, another 1st District candidate is drilling down on rural economic issues key to some Trump voters in 2016.

  • Thomas Heckroth:

    What I have heard from people is they wanted change. And they were frustrated with the status quo. And I think that's what we're still seeing. And we need real change. We need to change how this economy works and how it — makes sure that it benefits everybody, not just people at the top.

  • Andrew Batt:

    In the rural farming town of Strawberry Point, Thomas Heckroth is pitching a different path forward for primary voters on trade and agricultural issues.

  • Thomas Heckroth:

    Make sure that we have a farm bill that supports working families. And that means making sure that we have SNAP programs that are great benefits to our local farmers.

  • Andrew Batt:

    A former staffer to Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, Heckroth cautions against Democratic Party overconfidence in 2018.

  • Thomas Heckroth:

    A wave doesn't just happen on its own. We, as Democrats, are — have a unique challenge. We have to make sure that we're providing a path forward.

  • Andrew Batt:

    That path forward on primary day may rest in the hands of 29-year-old Abby Finkenauer, a state representative with strong financial donor advantages, national endorsements from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and a television ad blitz.

  • Abby Finkenauer:

    This is my dad's shop. These burn holes are from the sparks of his welding torch. That's Eastern Iowa tough.

    All the candidates that have run here, we're all very different, me in particular, with growing up in rural Iowa or, as I like to call it, the country.

  • Andrew Batt:

    Finkenauer wears Dubuque blue-collar roots on her sleeve, a telegraphed nod to potential general election appeal for Trump Democrats and independents. She often excludes the president from her stump speech.

  • Abby Finkenauer:

    I got to be honest, I barely mention him. I don't really have to, because we talk about the stuff that I'm going to do and how much work we have to do.

  • Andrew Batt:

    In order to reach Washington, Finkenauer or one of her three primary opponents will have to navigate June 5 and rural Trump country voters that await Democrats on the campaign trail this fall.

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