Political Newcomers Look To Unseat GOP In Rural House Seats

Iowa Starting Line – Josh Cook

As attention has finally moved away from the caucuses, there are plenty of other races in Iowa gearing up for the June primaries and beyond. A couple of those races, happening in rural House districts, feature political newcomers taking on Republican incumbents.

Carissa Froyum is running for House District 63, which includes rural portions of Black Hawk County, and all of Bremer County in Northern Iowa.

Nick Miller wants to represent House District 19 in Dallas County, which covers most of the area west of the Des Moines suburbs, but also takes in Polk City and part of Urbandale..

Froyum is running against Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Republican incumbent who Democrats have tried to unseat for years.

“We’re really excited. Things are going really well. We’ve been working on creating a broad coalition of people in our area,” Froyum said. “So, families like me, but also other people; people with disabilities, social services workers, teachers, other union workers. So, we feel like we’re off to a really good start, and we’re excited.”

Miller is running against Rep. Chris Hagenow, the former majority leader who is serving District 19 for the first time after previously representing District 43 for several terms before surrendering the seat to Democratic Rep. Jennifer Konfrst in 2018.

“I was anticipating going into it, knowing that it’s going to be a hard race, but it doesn’t take anybody who is in politics to know that that would still be a tough race, regardless,” Miller explained. “Even the fact that I am so young, I feel very encouraged that this year is going to be really good regardless of the outcome of the election.”

For Froyum, It’s Personal

Froyum is running for office for the first time, so she’s learning a lot on the fly.

“You know, being a first-time candidate, there’s always a learning curve, of course. I feel like we have things pretty well figured out and are about to start our ground game much more,” Froyum explained. “I’ve been focusing a lot of my time on meet-and-greets and fundraising.”

She knows she has a tough race ahead of her to unseat an eight-year incumbent.

“I’m going against an established candidate, which is always a challenge,” Froyum said. “But I feel like we have the wind at our backs, and people are energetic and ready to go.”

Health care is a personal issue for Froyum, who has struggled to keep up with Iowa’s privatization of Medicaid to help her 8-year-old son, Hans, who has a costly breathing condition.

But on top of fighting for an issue that is near-and-dear, Froyum is concerned about the state of health care and education, especially how resources are being allocated in rural areas.

“My approach is to always ask the question: how is the policy going to play out in a rural area?” Froyum asked. “Because I think a lot of policies are passed, and they are created, ideologically, or with the concern of more urban or suburban areas. And things work really differently in smaller communities and in rural areas.

“So, there’s a ripple effect in rural areas that people don’t talk about because we just expect people to be hardworking, and just plow through whatever they’re doing,” Froyum said, continuing on to talk about mental health services. “And there just aren’t the support networks and services in rural areas that people need.”

Her team is actually off to a pretty nice start on fundraising, with a little more than $15,000 in the bank, and is looking to build on that going forward.

“We raised that amount in just a couple of months, and we’ve been doing really well the first part of the year already, again. And I’ve got I’ve got my organization ready. I have a campaign manager, I have a team of volunteers who are really dedicated and working closely with me,” she said. “I was only, what, $200 behind what my opponent raised, which I think is pretty good for a first-time candidate.”

Yes, Nick Miller Knows He’s Young

At 21, Miller has his work cut out for him to build a team, fundraise, grow his name recognition and convince voters to support his candidacy against a well-funded Republican.

“I certainly would say that one of the biggest obstacles is my age,” Miller said. “Between the fundraising with being so young, as well as just my general appearance of being much younger than anybody else who has run for this seat in the past, or run for any public office in the area. There are many gatekeepers to keeping younger people out of the process.”

Despite that, Miller already has raised more than $6,000 and is looking for ways to make up ground without large swaths of funds coming in.

Miller wants the Iowa Legislature to invest in business development, re-invest in education and take steps toward a sustainable future. All three of these pieces fit into Miller’s central goal to help the community that allowed him to thrive.

“I just want to ensure that the voters in my district know that I am there to work alongside them, and I want to make a difference in their lives for a brighter future, as well as letting them know that I want to build up my community,” Miller said. “I’m from the district. So, I want to see it thrive. And I love the state of Iowa. I want to make sure that Iowa, overall, thrives in the future as well.”

For starters, though, Miller expressed gratitude for the support he’s already received from his community.

“I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support that I’ve received, not just from my friends and family, but the amount of new people that I have met that have invested time and resources into this campaign and will continue to invest time and resources in this campaign,” Miller said. “Not just that they invest in the campaign, but that they believe in me as a leader and somebody that they would be willing to vote for.”

Drake student casts sights on Iowa House

Times-Delphic – Mina Takahashi

Last May, Drake University junior Nick Miller announced that he was running for a seat in the Iowa House. His opponent in District 19 is House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow. Miller’s campaign centers around three main themes: investing in economic development, reinvesting in public education and investing in a sustainable future.

Miller has worked with state legislators for the past two years, which has given him a good feel for what the job entails.

I’ve always had a passion for being involved in public service, and I had always been thinking about it,” Miller said. “After talking to my academic advisor here we came to the consensus that we could make it work. I chose now because I figured why wait. There’s no downside to getting out there, and I genuinely want to make a difference in the state of Iowa.”

Miller initially applied to Drake as a theater major, but ended up switching to strategic political communications. 

I was always involved in community volunteering throughout high school, but I really had a passion for theater,” Miller said. “Between when I graduated high school and started college I switched my major over to strategic political communications, which was a much better fit for me.”

Miller’s opponent, Chris Hagenow, is originally from House District 43, but switched to District 19 in the 2018 election.

“In between 2016 and 2018, following a very close election in his former district, he actually moved districts,” Miller said. “He cited reasons for why the move actually happened, but, at the end of the day, he moved into a district that he was never focused on. So maintaining that power bothered me a little bit.”

Miller is a fifth-generation Iowan who grew up in District 19. 

“I’m from the district, it’s my home, everything I am is because of that area,” Miller said. “I’ve been humbled and amazed at the amount of people who have come out and supported me. Even though they may disagree with me on every single policy, they’ve known me for a long time, they know I’m doing what I think is best for the district.”

Besides being a Drake student and running for office, Miller is also a small business owner. 

“I thought I knew time management; I now know time management,” Miller said. “Balancing being self-employed and running my business, being a student, and running for office, are three major tasks that people usually take on individually. It’s a major balancing act, and I’m lucky to have friends and resources around me to support me through this process.”

Sophomore Adam Koch is very active in politics, and is supportive of younger candidates.

“It’s obviously unique, because the majority of legislators, whether it’s in the state house or just the local city government, are usually predominantly older and more established members,” Koch said. “I think it’s really cool to get a perspective of a younger audience, of a younger constituent, because, let’s be honest, if 100% of the council is fifty-year-old men, obviously 100% of the city is not fifty-year-old men.”

Koch has supported Miller throughout his campaign process.

“I’d encourage students to do this. However, if you want to talk about “Drake Busy,” because that’s obviously a big part of the conversation, technically running for office isn’t a Drake sponsored event,” Koch said. “It does feed into the Drake Busy mentality, but it’s incredible that Nick’s passionate about this and going for it, and I one hundred percent support him.” 

For the time being, Miller’s focus is on serving Iowans.

“Anyone who wants to go into politics in one way or another at some point wants to run for public office,” Miller said. “I mean, that’s the dream, just representing the people. I can say that I really like Iowa. I think that Iowa has a lot of potential. So for now, I want to stay in Iowa, I want to stay in the Iowa House. I can’t really see myself moving anywhere else. Whether that’s a life in public service or in the private sector, who knows.”

Nick Miller challenging Chris Hagenow in Iowa House district 19

Bleeding Heartland – Laura Belin

Nick Miller announced his candidacy in Iowa House district 19 at a May 23 event in his home town of Polk City. The fifth-generation Iowan, who is also a small business owner and Drake University student, would face House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow in the general election if he becomes the Democratic nominee. Miller said his campaign will be grounded in the principles of “Investing, Educating, and Sustaining.”

I want to represent all working families and Iowans; I want to represent a new generation of Iowans; and, I want be a voice for the voiceless and will stand up and fight for what is right.

Although I didn’t include this district in my overview of potentially competitive state House races, I’ll be watching this campaign for a couple of reasons.

House district 19 covers a large area of Dallas County, including several small cities and the westernmost part of Urbandale and Grimes, along with the northwest corner of Polk County, including Polk City.

The area leans strongly Republican, with 5,945 active registered Democrats, 10,168 Republicans, and 10,252 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Residents of House district 19 favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 56.7 percent to 36.5 percent in 2016.

After fleeing from the suburban district he had represented for ten years, which was trending Democratic, Hagenow won his first election in House district 19 last November by 10,539 votes to 7,689 for Gregg Gustafson (56.2 percent to 41.0 percent). The result was comparable to Governor Kim Reynolds’ margin over Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell in the same precincts (56.4 percent to 41.7 percent).

The GOP spent more than $420,000 defending Hagenow in House district 43 in 2016 but less than $20,000 on his race last year (see here and here).

Assuming Hagenow remains majority leader in 2020, he will be among the top fundraisers in the Republican caucus. Forcing him to spend any significant amount in his own district would keep that money out of many other battleground races.

In addition, Dallas County will be central to GOP aspirations to win back Iowa’s third Congressional district. Representative David Young carried the county by only about 2,500 votes in 2018, not nearly enough to counteract Cindy Axne’s huge advantage in Polk County, where most IA-03 residents live.

Every down-ballot Democrat dedicated to getting out the vote in Dallas County will help Axne and the presidential nominee. Kenan Judge’s successful campaign in House district 44 surely boosted Axne in Waukee and the Dallas County part of Clive.

Miller’s on Facebook and Twitter @millerforiowa. Here’s his May 23 news release:

Nick Miller Announces Bid for Iowa House Against Majority Leader Hagenow

Polk City, Iowa – On Thursday, Nicholas “Nick” Miller of Polk City announced his candidacy for the Iowa House of Representatives in District 19. HD 19 is currently represented by the House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow.

Miller is the eldest son of Mike and Shari Miller of Polk City and has one brother, Kellen. Miller is a Polk City native, a fifth generation Iowan, a North Polk High School graduate, a small business owner, and is currently a Drake University student with a major in Strategic Political Communications and a minor in Sociology.

“The people of House District 19 are not being represented on Capitol Hill,” Miller said. “wealthy corporations and the Republican party line are the only things represented by Chris Hagenow.”

Miller has been engaged in the community with the Polk City Four Seasons Festival Planning Committee, the Polk City Comprehensive Planning Committee, North Polk High School Key Club, Polk City Kiwanis Club, Polk City United Methodist Church Board of Trustees, Youth Leadership Initiative – an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

“Iowans deserve a Representative who is committed to investing in the middle class, working families, education, small businesses, and family farms. It is not enough to just make promises; you have to actively listen to what is affecting people’s lives and work with them to enact the change they need. This campaign is going to be about listening and having conversations about how we can build a brighter future for future generations. From sustainability to education, it is time to bring the voice of everyday Iowans and working families back to Des Moines.”

During his time at Drake, Miller worked as a Legislative Clerk for two years in the Iowa House to Rep. Bruce Bearinger (HD 64); he currently serves as the Youth Coordinator for the Greater Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations; and he was the interim Director of Communications for College and Young Democrats of Iowa in 2017-18. Miller worked as a Field Representative for the Turnout PAC during the 2018 election cycle, where he directly engaged with voters and heard their stories across central Iowa.

Miller provided the following photos from his May 23 kickoff.

With Polk City Mayor Jason Morse:

Top image: Nick Miller on the left, Chris Hagenow on the right.