2 Congressmen In Iowa Decide Whether To Embrace Trump In Iowa, neighboring congressional districts are a test of how voters will weigh in this November on their representative's relationship with President Trump.

2 Congressmen In Iowa Decide Whether To Embrace Trump

2 Congressmen In Iowa Decide Whether To Embrace Trump

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In Iowa, neighboring congressional districts are a test of how voters will weigh in this November on their representative's relationship with President Trump.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

House Republicans running in tough races this fall have two choices when it comes to President Trump - embrace him and hope that action rallies Trump's base to their side, or they can keep their distance from the president and hope that doing so will mean attracting moderate and independent voters. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports on two incumbents in neighboring districts who are testing out those strategies.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: When President Trump came to Peosta, Iowa, this summer, he was on stage with the district's Republican congressman, Rod Blum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Without him, we wouldn't have...

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Without Rod, we wouldn't have our tax cuts. And we have massive tax cuts.

MASTERS: Trump's visit came as the president's trade war with China was just heating up. China has been one of Iowa's leading markets for soybeans. With commodity prices low, many in the state were already anxious. But Blum, a House Freedom Caucus member, did not seem concerned about the political risks for himself or Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD BLUM: And you've taken some heat for it in the short term.

TRUMP: Short term.

BLUM: But in the long run, the farmers, the manufacturers, the employers are all going to be better off.

TRUMP: Right.

BLUM: Thank you for having political courage.

MASTERS: Blum has a few challenges. He faces a House ethics investigation over a private business he founded, and his district has more registered Democrats than Republicans. But Jennifer Smith thinks voters will reward Blum with another term for his support of the president. She's an economics professor in Dubuque and the Republican county chair.

JENNIFER SMITH: So I do think it's going to be beneficial in the long run for Congressman Blum to align himself with some of the policies that Trump has done.

MASTERS: While Blum is embracing Trump, Congressman David Young, the Republican in the neighboring district, skipped out on the opportunity to show up with the president. At the state fair last month, Young didn't criticize Trump, but he wasn't enthusiastically supporting his trade policies either.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID YOUNG: But I do tell you personally it makes me nervous. And it makes a lot of people nervous around the district and around the state. I personally don't like tariffs. I think they're taxes on consumers. I think they're taxes on employers.

MASTERS: Most political forecasters show both of these congressmen in tough races against Democratic women. While Trump carried this district in 2016 by three points, Young won by almost 14. One reason - he's well-liked, even by some Democrats. Betty Brummett lives in a rural part of Young's district and is a local Democratic county chair. She won't vote for Young, but she understands why he does well.

BETTY BRUMMETT: He's out in the district a lot, seeing the constituents. And he sends gifts to people, and he sends letters to people. So, yeah, they like him as a person.

CINDY AXNE: I'll tell you what. I'm a really nice person, too. But you also have to take other characteristics out to Congress to get things done.

MASTERS: That's Young's Democratic challenger, Cindy Axne. She and Blum's opponent, Abby Finkenauer, regularly argue Young and Blum are a rubber stamp on the president's policies. For Young, keeping some distance from Trump may help him with voters like Jon Erkkila, who works in special education. Erkkila did not vote for Trump in 2016 or Hillary Clinton, but he did vote for Young because he's a traditional Republican.

JON ERKKILA: He's like eating scrambled eggs with no salt and pepper, you know? He's never going to inspire people to do great things with his rhetoric and oratory and so on.

MASTERS: Erkkila still plans to vote for Young this year because he supports much of the Republican platform even if he still isn't a fan of Trump's. Whether there will be enough voters like that for Republicans in swing districts to survive is one of the big questions hanging over the 2018 campaign. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

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