CENTRAL CITY, Iowa — Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) is emerging from a summer of Republican doldrums battered but still standing after taking tough votes to legalize same-sex marriage and oppose legislation capping insulin prices.
Hinson represents the newly configured 2nd Congressional District, a swing seat that offers no guarantee a red wave will sweep her to reelection and puts her on the knife’s edge of politically charged issues. The freshman congresswomen discovered as much after some grassroots conservatives chaffed at her vote to codify same-sex marriage, and voters on the opposite side of the political spectrum took issue with her rejection of federal price caps for insulin.
Hinson waves off the pressure, at least publicly, saying it’s part of the job, especially in Iowa, where voters are politically engaged.
“For me, it was a vote to uphold the Constitution. I see the vote I took on Jan. 6 [certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory] on the same level as that — and people were unhappy about that vote, too,” Hinson said of her support for legalizing same-sex marriage. She spoke to the Washington Examiner on Sunday, just prior to welcoming hundreds of grassroots Republicans to her second annual “BBQ Bash” near Cedar Rapids.
As for Hinson’s opposition to Democratic legislation to cap insulin pricing that enjoyed some Republican support, including from neighboring Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), she similarly refused to equivocate. This was despite being pounded with attack ads on television this summer over her vote that Republican strategists concede roughed her up and dented, somewhat, her reelection prospects.
“The bill that they brought to the floor did nothing to cap the actual cost of insulin,” Hinson said. “I’m against government price-fixing because I think that’s a socialist policy.” (Hinson emphasized she supports alternative legislation designed to reduce insulin costs.)
Hinson defeated then-Rep. Abby Finkenauer (D) in the old 1st District in 2020 with just 2.6 percentage points to spare. Republicans monitoring her race against Democratic challenger Liz Mathis, who, like Hinson, is a former television news anchor, say Hinson could finish with more breathing room this time around — but not so much that she can afford to coast or rely on what continues to be a favorable political environment for the GOP.
Iowa Republicans predict Hinson wins but underperforms Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in the 2nd District. To defend the congresswoman against the national Democratic machine — and Mathis, whom Republicans concede is a top-tier candidate — Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), has reserved $1.25 million in advertising. The National Republican Congressional Committee might also get involved. Hinson is not disputing her race is competitive.
Indeed, among the reasons she organized “Ashley’s BBQ Bash” last year, and brought it back for an encore, was to raise money and harness the support of grassroots Republicans and conservative activists vital to voter turnout. Hinson’s team estimates selling roughly 800 tickets this year. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a possible 2024 contender, was the headliner, and Reynolds, Miller-Meeks, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA), and Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann showed up.
Hinson, a trained violinist, warmed up the crowd with her red fiddle as her parents, husband, and two young sons looked on. She joined the warm-up cover band for some country and popular favorites and played a solo rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We can’t take anything for granted, ever,” Hinson said. “That’s why I go everywhere in the district every quarter.” Hinson said she figures if Grassley and Reynolds can hit all 99 Iowa counties every year, “I can do 20 counties four times.”
Hinson says the economy is still the No. 1 issue in her campaign, arguing she has seen zero evidence indicating Mathis had received a boost from Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating federal protections for abortion rights. “We’re in a great position still,” Hinson said when asked about GOP prospects for winning the House majority.
Democrats control the House floor with just a handful of seats and are playing defense in dozens of districts across the country. Although nonpartisan handicappers have lately downgraded projections for Republican gains, Biden’s job approval ratings are still languishing near 40%, and the GOP is still on track to reclaim the speaker’s gavel. Democrats hope to make that task harder by flipping Iowa’s 2nd District.
“Ashley Hinson has proven time and again she’s a hypocrite who is too extreme to serve Iowa or represent Iowa values,” said Matt Corridoni, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Liz Mathis is running to represent all constituents and will work with anyone to deliver results.”
If Hinson gets past Mathis, voters outside of Iowa might get to know her.
As a telegenic former local television news anchor, she’s comfortable mixing it up with the political press corps and adept at communicating on camera. In a new GOP majority, Republican leaders, always in need of more conservative female voices — mothers with young children, in particular — could tap Hinson as a top messenger. This cycle, Hinson is co-chairing the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program focused on assisting promising first-time congressional candidates competing against targeted Democrats.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), running for House majority whip, a post that would be open if Republicans prevail this fall, traveled to Iowa this past weekend to speak at Hinson’s event and boost her reelection prospects (and perhaps secure her vote for leadership). He said Hinson “happens to already be a leading voice in our Republican conference.”
“A lot of us, myself included — we look to her for helping us sharpen our message and get our message out,” Banks said. “Right now, there’s nothing more important than that.”