Same State, Different Political Climate
SHELDON, Iowa — Over fall break, I went home to my small town in northwest Iowa. Sheldon is home to about 5,000 people, located in O’Brien County and situated thirty minutes from the Minnesota border and forty-five minutes from the South Dakota border. Growing up in the corner of the state, I noticed that the people around me were relatively involved in politics – agriculture policy affected much of the largely rural county so people often had things to say about that. But I did not pay a lot of attention to the political happenings in my county until after I went to college. So I was excited to return home during caucus season to see what was going on politically back home.
I really didn’t expect to see events popping up with candidates around the county, still, I expected to see some indication of the upcoming caucus. But there really wasn’t a trace of the upcoming presidential race to be seen. I thought that this couldn’t be right. People around here were involved in politics, there should be yard signs and some sort of events around town. Then I realized that I was in a generally red county during a very Democrat-focused caucus season. People did not have yard signs up because they already knew who they were voting for, because he was really the only choice on their side of the aisle.
O’Brien County is a relatively red county. Of the roughly 10,000 people registered to vote in the county 52 percent of voters identify as Republican while only 13 percent identify as a Democrat. In the 2016 presidential election, 78 percent of people in O’Brien County voted for Donald Trump. In fact, the county has voted Republican in the last five presidential elections. It seems rather clear at the moment who the county will vote for in the upcoming presidential election. At least, it seems clear who those that will be of age by the 2020 election in the MOC-FV high school volleyball student section will vote for after chanting “Trump 2020”, sporting their red, white, and blue gear to align with their patriotic theme for the game.
Regardless of political affiliation, O’Brien County does not yet seem to be focused on the upcoming presidential election, it seems like they’re focused on a different race: the congressional seat for the Fourth District of Iowa currently held by Republican Steve King. King has served in the House of Representatives since 2003, though recently he has received backlash against his openly white nationalist views. King was reelected in 2018, narrowly beating out Democratic candidate J.D. Scholten by a margin of 3.4 percent (roughly 10,000 votes). Now in the 2020 primary, King is being challenged by four other Republican candidates, one of whom hails from the county just to the west. It’s too early to tell what exactly will come out of this race, but it seems like some O’Brien County residents are interested based on the yard signs posted around the area.
It was strange to go home and not be bombarded by candidate events constantly happening, seemingly at every minute of every day. It’s like a different world. In Des Moines, especially around Drake, you can leave work and suddenly find yourself caught in the middle of a Kamala Harris rally with union workers at McDonald’s – speaking from personal experience. In rural northwest Iowa, you need to travel at least an hour to attend any campaign event. Everyone says that those in Iowa have a unique position during the caucuses but more specifically those in Des Moines and other major cities have opportunities literally knocking on their doors.