Democrat, nonprofit leader Melissa Vine launches campaign for Iowa’s 3rd House district

The Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third U.S. House district will be contested, with the formal entry of a second candidate into the race Wednesday.

Melissa Vine, a Des Moines-based nonprofit leader and small business owner, is jumping in to challenge U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn. She’ll face a primary opponent in former U.S. Department of Agriculture and veteran Lanon Baccam, who announced his candidacy last week.

Vine, who serves as executive director of The Beacon and is the single mother of four sons, told the Des Moines Register in an interview Wednesday she would be focusing her campaign on abortion access, increased wages and lower costs, and “moving away from extremism.”

“I think Iowans are getting fed up with our human rights being taken away and the divisiveness that goes along with that,” Vine said. “So it’s time to imagine what’s possible and embrace the gifts of democracy.”

Before leading the nonprofit that provides housing and programming to women recovering from trauma, Vine was a business owner who fell into poverty after getting out of an abusive marriage, eventually pursuing a master’s degree while starting and selling small businesses. She’s currently enrolled as a law student at Drake University alongside her role at The Beacon.

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Those experiences, Vine said, mean she has “lived and worked among Iowans” who she believe would support her over Nunn, a former state senator and Air Force veteran who won the toss-up seat by just over 2,000 votes in 2022.

“We have seen Zach Nunn side with extremists who are supporting a total abortion ban, and I think that’s dangerous for the future of Iowans and for our country,” she said.

Iowa’s 3rd district:Democrat Lanon Baccam launches run, challenging Rep. Zach Nunn

But in order to face Nunn in 2024, Vine will have to navigate a Democratic primary against Baccam — who quickly racked up prominent Democratic endorsements from former Gov. Tom Vilsack, State Auditor Rob Sand and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, among others. He raised just over $250,000 in the 24 hours after he announced his candidacy, according to his campaign.

A third Democrat, Des Moines therapist Tracy Limon, has also filed documents indicating a candidacy for the district but has yet to make any public announcement.

But Vine said she wasn’t concerned about a primary challenge, even one with support from established Iowa Democrats. She argued that “it’s actually an advantage to Iowans that I’m not a career politician,” and pledged to bring her first-hand experiences to Capitol Hill if elected.

“When I get into spaces, I change systems, and there’s not a whole lot that can stop me,” Vine said.

Nunn’s campaign manager Kendyl Parker addressed Vine’s entrance to the race in a statement Thursday morning.

“While the Democrat establishment in Washington, DC attempts to ordain Lanon Baccam as the nominee, it’s clear that Iowans want to make the decision for themselves,” Parker said. “Melissa, Tracy and Lanon are competing in a crowded Democrat primary, pushing the same tax-and-spend policies that have increased costs for Iowa families and driven up inflation.”

A spokesman for House Republicans’ campaign arm in a Thursday statement called Vine “just another extreme Democrat like Lanon Baccam and Tracy Limon, all of whom will fight to the far-left to stay relevant.”

“One thing is for certain, whoever is left at the end of this will be bruised, broken, and unpalatable for Iowa voters,” NRCC spokesman Mike Marinella said.

Vine first filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for the seat in mid-October. Her campaign committee is organized by Title Fight, a Des Moines-based political firm.

Galen Bacharier covers politics for the Register. Reach him at gbacharier@registermedia.com or (573) 219-7440, and follow him on Twitter @galenbacharier.

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