Christina Bohannan, Mariannette Miller-Meeks galvanize University of Iowa students at dueling rallies

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The Iowa Memorial Union was abuzz on the first day of early voting Wednesday as students cast their ballots downstairs and both candidates running for Iowa's 1st Congressional District, coincidentally, held dueling, back-to-back campaign events.

Democratic state Rep. Christina Bohannan held a "Get out the vote" rally in the Big Ten Theatre on the third floor of the IMU with Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan as a guest. The Iowa City native and Pocan told the crowd about the importance of voting in a race that was decided by just six votes in 2020, when U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks beat Democrat Rita Hart.

"Our democracy is on the ballot. Reproductive choice is on the ballot. Hope for your future is on the ballot. And never has there been a time where your vote mattered more than it does now," Bohannan said.

Two floors down, in the North Room of the IMU, Republican Miller-Meeks held a town hall-style event with several supporters. The congresswoman reflected about her time in office and answered questions from audience members.

"It's been my privilege and it's been my honor and it's been humbling to be able to serve you in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District. But there's more things we want to do. We have a lot of challenges as a country," Miller-Meeks said.

The events contrasted with each other in the rhetoric of the candidates, the energy of the rooms and the candidates themselves. While the walls of Bohannan's room were peppered with her own campaign signs and others calling Miller-Meeks "too extreme for Iowa" and "too extreme on abortion," the congresswoman's room had only some campaign signs for herself.

Bohannan often elicited cheers and the crowd delivered loud "boos" when she criticized Miller-Meeks. On the other hand, if Election Day wasn't less than three weeks away, it would be hard to tell Miller-Meeks' event was for a campaign. The congresswoman rarely mentioned her opponent.

Miller-Meeks did draw laughter from the crowd when she joked she won the 2020 election in a "landslide," which is now a nickname U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and others in Congress call her. Miller-Meeks' election was one of the closest in U.S. history.

The events were organized by the two college political parties, the University of Iowa College Republicans and the University Democrats.

Bohannan's crowd of more than 80 people was mostly college-aged adults and several local and statewide political figures like former Iowa state Sen. Bob Dvorsky and Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn. While it was in a smaller room, Miller-Meeks drew a significant crowd of more than 50 people, with some college-aged adults and many other older members of the community.

More:Johnson County voting guide 2022: What's on the ballot, how to register and how to vote early

Democrat Christina Bohannan focuses on climate change, abortion and college affordability in speech to UI students

Bohannan introduced herself to the crowd as a University of Iowa law professor and spoke about her 23 years teaching thousands of students at the college. She said what brings her joy is working with young people and teaching them.

Before going through what has become her regular stump speech — talking about her family's struggles as a child and growing up in Florida in a double-wide trailer in the 1970s with a burnt orange shag carpet — Bohannan focused on relating to the students in the room. She spoke about seeing incoming, first-generation students from small towns worrying about fitting in and being able to afford a college education and pay off student loans.

"Sometimes even people who work hard need help, and everybody deserves a fair shot. So many times as I talk to students over the last 23 years, I hear that and I hear about their struggles," Bohannan said.

1st Congressional District candidate state Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, waves while being introduced during a "Get Out The Vote" rally with the University of Iowa Democrats on Wednesday at the Iowa Memorial Union.
1st Congressional District candidate state Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, waves while being introduced during a "Get Out The Vote" rally with the University of Iowa Democrats on Wednesday at the Iowa Memorial Union.

Bohannan herself was a first-generation college student at the University of Florida. She does not support fully forgiving student loans or the action President Joe Biden recently took to forgive up to $20,000 for some borrowers, but she did say she wants to make college more affordable by offering more Pell grants to low-income college students.

When she walked into her event with a Taylor Swift song drowned out by the applause, Bohannan hyped up the crowd with a quick "Go Hawks." She pointed out many of her campaign staffers are current or former UI students and that many are "Swifties," or fans of the popular singer.

Bohannan pushed back on the notion she said she hears often that young people today are "entitled" or "don't work hard" or that they have it easy.

"That's not what I see. I have worked with so many students, and what I want to tell you tonight is that I see you," Bohannan said.

Bohannan told the crowd that when Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida, her small hometown was one of the hardest hit with major damage to roads, dams, bridges and homes. She said major weather events like that and the derecho storm that hit Iowa in 2020 will happen more often as climate change worsens.

"You don't deserve to have to deal with all of that yourselves. Your leaders need to be dealing with that," she said.

Bohannan hit Miller-Meeks on her voting record, saying the congresswoman isn't focused on finding solutions to climate change. She claimed Miller-Meeks refuses to even say the words "climate change," opting to instead placate conservatives by using less inflammatory language like "conservation."

At Miller-Meeks' event, she spoke about needing to improve U.S. energy production and produce more renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions. She did not use the words "climate change."

Bohannan criticized Miller-Meeks for taking $60,000 in campaign donations from oil and gas companies and other corporate political action committees and said people shouldn't expect action on climate change until someone is elected who doesn't accept that kind of money. Bohannan said she hasn't taken any donations like this and that she wants to get "dark money" out of politics.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette fact-checked this claim by Bohannan and found it to be correct.

"Money, especially corporate money, has a huge corruptive influence on our politics," Bohannan said.

Bohannan also touched on abortion, attacking Miller-Meeks for supporting a bill called the Life at Conception Act last year that would ban all abortions without exceptions for rape, incest or the life of a mother. Miller-Meeks is the co-sponsor of a new bill that would ban most abortions in the United States at 15 weeks but does include those exceptions. The congresswoman has said in past interviews and debates that she has always been "pro-life" with exceptions for the life of a mother, despite sponsoring that first bill.

"That is going to put many many people's lives at risk," Bohannan said. "This is an extreme position ... and it is completely unprecedented."

Miller-Meeks was asked by an audience member if she would campaign for a full ban on abortion and answered no, saying she believes life starts at conception but believes in exceptions for the life of a mother and incest.

Bohannan is pro-abortion rights, saying she believes in "reproductive choice." She said she would codify protections for abortion that were originally protected by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade before that ruling was struck down this summer.

"Your ability to determine your own destiny and your own future is on the ballot in this November," Bohannan said.

More:Johnson County plays key role in Christina Bohannan's effort to unseat Mariannette Miller-Meeks

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks highlights goals for U.S. energy sector, talks about college affordability and immigration

Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist from Ottumwa, opened her event by sharing her journey to achieve an "American Dream" that led her to enlist in the U.S. Army at 18, become a doctor and later a U.S. representative.

The congresswoman spent much of her time in Iowa City walking the audience through her history running against former U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack unsuccessfully multiple times, becoming director of the Iowa Department of Public Health and later being asked by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to run for Iowa Senate, an election she won. She also set a vision for what she would want to focus on if she is elected to a second term in Congress.

Miller-Meeks said the decision to run for Congress in 2020 was difficult because she would go from one voice in a chamber of 50 state senators to one out of 435 representatives. She said she was proud to pass health care bills in the Iowa Senate, including providing access to over-the-counter oral contraceptives and to get residents better access to Medicaid.

After making her "landslide" joke, Miller-Meeks spoke about the difficulty of seeing her six-vote win in 2020 being litigated for months. She said she was determined to do her job as a congresswoman for however long she held the office.

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, speaks during a University of Iowa College Republicans event Wednesday at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City.
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, speaks during a University of Iowa College Republicans event Wednesday at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City.

Miller-Meeks spoke about inflation early on and framed it for her college audience by saying students struggle with the costs of going to school every day. Like her opponent, Miller-Meeks opposed Biden's plan to forgive $20,000 in student loan debt.

When asked what she would do to make college more affordable, Miller-Meeks said the U.S. should make universities "have skin in the game" if loans are defaulted on. She said schools should also counsel students to make them aware of the cost of college and of career paths that don't require a degree so they can determine if they have an opportunity to earn enough to pay back their student loans or enter a public-service or military program that helps pay for education.

"There's a variety of mechanisms we can do to ... help students that are already in the educational system and... make colleges and universities bear part of the responsibility for making sure they're educating students and giving them degrees that are valuable and prepare them for a career pathway," Miller-Meeks said.

Miller-Meeks pointed out that Biden's student loan forgiveness program doesn't address the high cost of college.

Miller-Meeks said she has passed 13 bills in the Democrat-controlled Congress and been to the White House five times to be present when Biden signed bills. She said she is looking to accomplish even more

More:Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Christina Bohannan spar on abortion in 1st Congressional District debate

Miller-Meeks is a member of the Conservative Climate Caucus and said she hopes to join the House Energy and Commerce Committee if she is reelected.

"(I want to look) at energy solutions that will leave a cleaner, healthier planet, but also allow us to have affordable energy so we can continue to grow our economy and we can compete economically around the globe," Miller-Meeks said.

Miller-Meeks was asked about the production of electric vehicles possibly overloading the U.S. power grid and whether she would work on a bill that would focus on improving the energy grid.

"Yes, I would. We need to work together in a bipartisan fashion. We need to have an energy strategy on how we're going to produce the amount of electricity and energy we need to meet increasing demands to leave a cleaner, healthier planet," she said.

Miller-Meeks said she thinks the Biden administration set goals to add renewable energy, but doesn't have an energy strategy to keep up with consumer demand. She expressed doubt that that the current energy grid could handle passenger cars going all electric.

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, left, poses during a University of Iowa College Republicans event Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, left, poses during a University of Iowa College Republicans event Wednesday.

Miller-Meeks touted Iowa as an example for the rest of the country with its high amount of wind energy, biofuels and solar. She suggested the U.S. could look into other options like nuclear, natural gas and hydrogen.

Miller-Meeks also touted several bills on legal immigration that she hopes to pass, including the America's Children's Act, which aims to protect a population known as "documented DREAMERs," who grew in the United States legally under their parents' work visas, but are at risk of being deported as they become adults.

She said she worked with a group of bipartisan lawmakers who are trying to get Afghan refugees resettled. She also said she is working on a bill to prevent the U.S. State Department from "wasting" many thousands of green cards and visas that could have gone to these refugees.

"There's a lot of stuff that we want to get done and want to get passed and we'll continue to work on that to make sure Iowa is, No. 1, the best place to work, play, live and raise a family; the best place to get an education; that we're able to attract young people to our state and keep them in our state and grow the economy," Miller-Meeks said.

More:Iowa City a focus for U.S. House candidates Christina Bohannan, Mariannette Miller-Meeks in first ads

Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan stumps for Bohannan at Iowa Memorial Union

Because out-of-state politicians often make trips to Iowa if they have ambitions to run for president, the Press-Citizen asked Pocan about why he came to Iowa City on Wednesday.

Pocan, the co-chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said he has no interest in running for president and it made sense to come and support Bohannan in southeast Iowa, a region he said shares similar values with his district in south-central Wisconsin, which includes the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

"We're really trying to make sure we have a Democratic majority that is going to work, and (Bohannan) is one of those candidates that's got an excellent reputation at the state Legislature, excellent reputation in the community and we're excited she is running for Congress in this district," he said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., speaks during a "Get Out The Vote" rally with the University of Iowa Democrats for 1st Congressional District candidate state Rep. Christina Bohannan.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., speaks during a "Get Out The Vote" rally with the University of Iowa Democrats for 1st Congressional District candidate state Rep. Christina Bohannan.

Pocan, who is on the Education and Labor Committee in Congress with Miller-Meeks, said he has been to Iowa in the past to support Loebsack. The former congressman retired prior to the 2020 election.

Miller-Meeks did not directly respond when asked how she felt about her congressional colleague campaigning with her opponent. She said it is irrelevant and said she was glad to be at the IMU that night.

Election Day is Nov. 8 and early voting started Oct. 19. For more information on how to register to vote, request an absentee ballot and more, visit the Johnson County Auditor's website at

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Christina Bohannan hold Iowa City rallies