Moreover, as the title of the New York Times article suggests, Iowa's economy is changing. For example, Des Moines is now home to around 20 startup technology companies that have set up shop across a few blocks of Sixth Avenue in the city's downtown area. This particular stretch of Sixth Avenue is now known as "Silicon Sixth," and recently hosted one of four Startup Weekends in Iowa, where businesspeople and technology experts are invited to participate in a conference on business building. Even as Des Moines becomes increasingly "happening," as one young Iowan stated, Iowa's rural areas are struggling to adjust to population losses. For example, Pocahontas is a small town in north-eastern Iowa with a population of 1,757, down from 1,956 in 2000 and 2,144 in 1990. Consistent with this steady decrease in overall population, Pocahontas's public school enrollment has decreased by 32 percent in the last ten years, forcing schools and sports teams to consolidate.
However, despite the population shift from rural to urban areas and the changing nature of Iowa's economy, the current political climate suggests that Iowans still hold rural values dear. One of Iowa's United States Senators, Tom Harkin, announced in January that he would not be running for re-election, leading to a Senate race that has come down to Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley. Ernst has largely appealed to Iowa's conservative base with ads that align with conservative values and a rural way of life. For example, one of her ads states:
I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.You can read more about Ernst's attention-getting ad and opinions on it here. Meanwhile, Braley, who has been advocating a more urban-focused agenda, appears to have won the disfavor of much of Iowa's rural population by criticizing Iowa's current Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley, as a "farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." Indeed, a poll in September demonstrated that Ernst established a 4-to-1 advantage over Braley among the rural voting population. However, an October poll shows that, among Iowa's overall voting population, Ernst leads Braley by only one percentage point.
Joni Ernst. Mother. Soldier. Conservative.
Washington’s full of big spenders. Let’s make ’em squeal.
Of course, this Senate race is taking place against the backdrop of Iowa's shifting population and changing economic climate. With the significant migration of rural Iowans to metropolitan areas of the state, and the increasingly modern and technological character of cities like Des Moines, it will be interesting to see how the Senate race plays out. The state's current political climate appears to highlight Iowa's rural-urban divide. Will the swing-state elect a more conservative candidate that appeals to rural values, or is Braley's urban-friendly agenda more likely to win out in light of the changes in Iowa's population and economy?