By William Smith
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack was greeted with thunderous applause from about 300 delegates during the Democrat District 2 Convention on Saturday at Fort Madison High School.
Despite a primary challenge Loebsack will face from state Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport, the delegates unanimously approved a resolution to support Loebsack on June 5. The congressman, who is serving his third term while seeking a fourth, was momentarily choked up from the display of support.
"This election is going to be about the middle class, and jobs and the economy. It's going to be about restoring the middle class, and what has happened to the middle class over the last 30 years," Loebsack said. "The middle class has taken a bipartisan beating."
Before Loebsack took to the stage in the middle of the high school gym, state Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, provided a rousing introduction, taking a few good-natured jabs at Loebsack's incredibly low odds of winning his first term as congressman.
"Dave is in a tough race this time," Courtney said. "The first time he got elected, no one said he could win."
Loebsack didn't disagree with Courtney's recollection.
"Even though Tom was not optimistic about my chances, he was there for me. It was a perfectly rational approach not to help Loebsack in 2005 and 2006," Loebsack said.
If he is re-elected, Loebsack promised to continue what he's been doing, which includes fighting for Social Security, veterans and, of course, the middle class.
"We got a lot accomplished, like health care and many other things before the house was split," he said. "We need to re-elect (President) Barack Obama, so we can finish what we started in 2006."
Loebsack didn't grow up in the middle class, but it was a goal he achieved once he made it to college. Born in Sioux City and raised by a single mother who was in and out of mental institutions, Loebsack said he wouldn't have been able to make it through high school if it wasn't for Social Security survivor benefits.
"I'm never, ever going to vote to voucherize Medicaid and turn it over to private insurance companies," he said to a standing ovation from the delegates.
Loebsack also reaffirmed his stance on the war in Afghanistan, saying it's time to bring the troops home.
"I think we had a legitimate right and reason to do what we've done there," he said. "But we've taken care of Osama bin Laden. We've built up the Afghan security force. We are safer now as a result of what we did in Afghanistan."
Though Loebsack said he wouldn't disregard his principles and compromise his values just for the sake of working across the aisle with Republicans, he is looking to foster bipartisanship on important issues that can be agreed on by both parties. He's already found an unlikely ally in U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. - the congressman who yelled "You lie!" during Obama's 2009 address to Congress on health care reform.
Though Loebsack referred to Wilson by his infamous outburst rather than his name, a strong chorus of boos echoed through the gym at the mere mention of Wilson.
Those boos transformed into cheers once Loebsack described what they did together. After discovering each of their families had been touched by mental illness, Loebsack and Wilson inserted a requirement in a defense reauthorization bill that makes each National Guard and Reserve unit include a mental health professional.
"(Wilson) was there to help," Loebsack said. "That is now a law because of bipartisan support."
State Sen. Gene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, who represents the Senate's southeastern-most district of Iowa, also was honored at the convention. Fraise, 79, announced he will retire at the end of this session after winning a special election 27 years ago.
"I've known Gene for a number of years, and he has been a fantastic state senator," Loebsack said after his speech. "He's been a great fit for the area. It's going to be hard to replace him."