PERRY, IOWA – “Fired up?” Warren Varley's booming voice called out to a crowd of about 60 over the hissing and clunking of espresso machines and coffee grinders at Perry Perk Thursday morning.
“Ready to go!” the crowd yelled back at the candidate for Iowa House District 20.
Varley introduced Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell to the eager crowd that showed up to rally just a few days short of the 2018 general election.
Hubbell and his running mate, Rita Hart, are spending some crucial time during the last days of this election cycle in rural counties such as in Dallas County, where voters have traditionally supported Republican Kim Reynolds.
More than twice as many voters here cast ballots for Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds than for Jack Hatch in 2014. And, the Branstad/Reynolds ticket earned more than 15,000 votes here in 2010, as opposed to the 9,200 Democrat Chet Culver received.
Still, Hubbell and Hart each took time to stop in Dallas and Adair counties Thursday and Hart has a campaign stop scheduled in Greene County Friday. The last time all three counties voted for a Democratic governor was when Tom Vilsack was reelected in 2002. (That's also the last time a majority of voters in Guthrie County, which is nestled between the counties, voted for a Democratic governor. Republican Jim Nussle beat Culver by just 23 votes in Guthrie County in 2006.)
All four counties are also represented by Republican congressmen. Voters in Greene County have historically helped reelect Steve King in Iowa's 4thCongressional District, and the rest are part of Iowa's 3rd and have thrown their support to David Young.
Varley, the candidate who's running for the 20th district seat in the Iowa House lives in Stuart in Adair County, said at the Hubbell rally if Perry voters show up, they could carry him – and Hubbell to victory.
The Iowa House candidate noted that Perry is the largest city in his district, with population numbers that more than triple those of Greenfield, Panora or Guthrie Center.
“Perry could carry this thing,” Varley said.
Hubbell did his best to appeal to the crowd of rural voters, promising to undo the state's decision to privatize Medicaid his first day in office. He also promised to fully fund K-12 schools, provide all-day preschool to 3-year-olds so families can work and to save IPERS.
Hubbell said if Iowans elect Reynolds they can expect more of the same policies, which include cutting education, cutting healthcare, taking away things such as collective bargaining rights and eliminating IPERS.
“We want to put people first!” Hubbell said. “We need to stop the corporate giveaways and invest in our people.”
Hubbell's energetic display was complemented by his large, green campaign bus parked right outside the coffee shop's windows and his staffers who were sporting Green 'Hubbell Hart' t-shirts.
Two hours later in the rural town of Greenfield, Hart made a less aggressive bid to appeal to rural Iowans, sitting down with about a dozen people in a round-table style discussion at the city's public library.
Hart promised much of the same as her running mate, but it was a quieter affair. Showing up in her small car and without any handouts or clipboards, Hart told the group she's a rural Iowan herself.
She said she lives in Big Rock (and had to explain where the town was) and was a teacher for more than 20 years.
She talked about Hubbell's commercials that run on television, and how her nephew, Tucker, is featured in one.
Tucker is quadriplegic and has a hard time finding quality healthcare, Hart said.
“He struggled to get the healthcare he needed in Iowa City of all places,” Hart said. Despite the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics being just miles away, Tucker had to sell the house of his dreams and move to Waterloo so he could get reliable help.
“Tucker is really admirable. He's been such a great advocate and has done such a great job,” Hart said. “His story is one of conviction and determination.”
She said Tucker was paralyzed following an accident when he was just 19-years-old. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was shot in the neck, she said.
“He tells us he knew he was paralyzed before he hit the floor,” Hart said. “When the medics got there, they were shaken up because it was a pretty horrific scene, but Tucker looked at them and said 'you guys just have to do your job and I'll be OK.'
“I think about that all of the time,” Hart continued. “I think about those words. Because I know if we do our job, people like Tucker are going to be better off.” The small group of people that gathered to meet Hart listened intently to her stories, and applauded her healthcare reform efforts.
After her speech, Hart said she's confident she and Hubbell are going to be able to reach the red voters in western Iowa because their message is meant for rural Iowans, middle-class Iowans and everyone else.
“They're looking for investment in education,” Hart said about rural voters. “They're looking for a change in healthcare. They're dissatisfied with the privatization of Medicaid and this disaster that the administration has not recognized and has not been taking the right steps to fix.”
She said it's imperative Iowa doesn't become a state where there are five or six urban centers with nothing in between.
“We believe in an Iowa that is based on small towns and rural communities, where people can live and work and play and have a great life,” Hart said. “We have a great quality of life to offer in these small towns and that's what we want to support.”