Campaigns

Loebsack backed Obama over Clinton in 2007, but unsure about 2020 field

Retiring seven-term Democrat questions whether his backing would make a difference

Rep. Dave Loebsack speaks with reporters Friday at the pork tent at the Iowa State Fair. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Back in late 2007, Rep. Dave Loebsack’s endorsement provided a boost to Barack Obama’s battle to deny the Democratic presidential nomination to fellow senator Hillary Clinton.

But with 13 current or former House and Senate colleagues vying for president in a crowded 2020 field of two dozen candidates — including Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden — the Iowa Democrat is questioning whether he should wade in at all.

After flipping pork chops here at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, Loebsack told reporters he is leaning toward backing a candidate ahead of the state’s caucuses in February, but he isn’t sure he will end up endorsing anyone.

“I question the value of these endorsements. I know people want me to give an endorsement and all that,” Loebsack said, before adding, “Iowans are going to make up their own minds.”

Congressional endorsements may not sway voters’ decisions, but they can signal a candidate’s viability in that lawmaker’s home district. Endorsements can also help someone stand out in a crowded field, and with more than 20 candidates swinging through the state fair over the weekend, every little bit helps.

In 2007, the Iowa delegation was split going into the presidential caucuses, and Obama’s victory helped jump-start his campaign. This year, Iowa’s three House Democrats have yet to weigh in on the presidential race, but that could change as the caucuses draw closer.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who ousted Republican incumbent Rod Blum in the 1st District last fall, told CQ Roll Call at the fair Thursday that she would likely pick her candidate during the primary process.

“Since we caucus, it’s kind of an open process,” Finkenauer said. “So I probably will [endorse], just not until the beginning of next year.”

For lawmakers like Finkenauer, links to the national party and the presidential race can be a balancing act. She beat Blum by 5 points last year, but President Donald Trump carried her district by 3 points in 2016, and Republicans are sure to tie her to more liberal policies of the presidential contenders.

Loebsack also represents a district that Trump won, although he is retiring after 2020. He did note that his endorsement could carry more clout in the race to replace him, where he has backed former Democratic state Sen. Rita Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018.

“If I do decide that, OK, I really think one of these people is the right person, then I’ll do it,” Loebsack said of the presidential race. “Not there yet.”

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