By Emily Schettler
For Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the Republican candidate in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, what a difference two years can make.
Miller-Meeks has confidence she can ride a change in voters' attitudes to a victory Nov. 2, a vastly different outcome from her first foray into politics in 2008.
Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist from Ottumwa, is again running against incumbent Democrat Dave Loebsack of Mount Vernon, who is seeking his third term in office.
The big difference this time, however, is a palpable shift in the attitude from 2008, Miller-Meeks said, and that could work in her advantage.
"I think people are vastly more upset than they were two years ago," she said.
People are frustrated with establishment candidates who have supported health care reform, cap and trade, the stimulus and TARP, Miller-Meeks said.
"This is a Congress that seems to be paying attention to themselves," rather than Americans, she said. "In my viewpoint, (voters have) an anti-establishment viewpoint; it's about wanting to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes."
Loebsack, a former professor at Cornell College, defeated Miller-Meeks in 2008 by garnering 57 percent of the popular vote to Miller-Meeks' 39 percent in the four-way race.
This year, Jon Tack, a Constitution Party candidate from Hiawatha and Libertarian Gary Sicard of Robins also are on the ballot.
However, for many voters, the excitement about the presidential election and strong Democratic sentiments from two years ago have disappeared, said Tim Hagle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
The anti-Democratic vibes nationwide, combined with a seemingly stronger candidate in Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad at the top of Iowa's ballot, could work in Miller-Meeks' favor, Hagle said.
Miller-Meeks said she's also spent more time out meeting with constituents than she did in her first run.
The 2nd Congressional District covers much of southeast Iowa, from Wayne, Appanoose and Wapello counties east and from Linn, Johnson and Cedar counties south.
As a resident of Wapello County in the southern part of the district, she didn't have the same name recognition in the population centers of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in 2008, Hagle said.
"Miller-Meeks also has more name recognition," he said. "She's based herself more in the northern part of the district. This is where she needed to do a little more work and put in the effort, not just with the base but with the independent voters."
Hagle said one major key lies in who can pick up those independent voters, which make up about 35 percent of the active registered voters in the second district.
"This is a Republican year," Hagle said. "Polls seem to be tightening. It could be a wave, or it could be a lot or a little. It all boils down to turnout, especially in the last two weeks."
Miller-Meeks, 55, got into the race two years ago because she said she was worried about future generations.
"It was really my children's future," she said.
The rising cost of higher education, coupled with the increasing deficit, concerned her, she said.
Miller-Meeks spent 24 years in the United States Army and worked as an ophthalmologist in Ottumwa before leaving her practice in 2008.
She received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Texas Christian University and her Master of Science in education from the University of Southern California. She received her medical degree from the University of Texas and completed her residency in ophthalmology at the University of Iowa before working on the faculty at both the University of Michigan and UI.
Her husband, Curt, works as a compliance officer at River Hills Community Health Center in Ottumwa. Earlier this year, she revealed she had gone without health insurance, a critical component in this year's election debate, for several months after her husband was laid off from his job.
To an extent, it helped her relate to voters, she said.
"Some people could relate to it," Miller-Meeks said. "Many people found it very encouraging. All of us go through difficult circumstances in our lifetime."
Throughout the campaign, Miller-Meeks and Loebsack have sparred on issues from Social Security and taxes to health care and environmental policy.
Miller-Meeks has been a critic of many of the steps taken by Congress during the economic downturn of 2008, including the administration's stimulus bill and the financial bailout for large banks, she said. She also has criticized Loebsack for not pushing to vote on the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire Dec. 31, before the Nov. 2 election.
"We need to take away uncertainty," Miller-Meeks said. "There's a massive tax increase coming in 2011, tax increases in the health care bill and a tax increase in cap and trade."
Instead of increasing taxes on America's wealthiest citizens, she said the country should focus on increasing the number of wealthy people who can pay taxes.
"If we want more revenue, instead of taxing more millionaires, we need to develop more millionaires," Miller-Meeks said. "If we over-regulate and create rules that are meant to penalize big business, those same rules affect the small businesses and create tremendous hurdles."
At a debate earlier this month, Loebsack said he regretted the Senate's decision to adjourn before voting on whether to extend the tax cuts.
Miller-Meeks supports creating a flat tax to replace the bracketed income tax structure currently in place.
Loebsack has argued that it would increase current taxes for many, a claim that Miller-Meeks denies.
The health care bill also imposes unnecessary and unfair requirements on small businesses, she said.
The bill increases access to coverage, but it's not affordable, Miller Meeks said.
Although she agreed that insuring young adults and not allowing insurance companies to drop patients for pre-existing conditions are good measures, Miller-Meeks said the health care bill needs to be repealed.
"Premiums need to come down, and patients should be able to choose their benefits," she said.