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As a city civics and U.S. history teacher in the small town of Osceola, Thomas Kedley experienced what some fellow educators might refer to as a teachable moment. 

After all his talk advocating for engagement in the political process, students in his class began challenging him to walk the walk and run for city office. That advice led Kedley, a 31-year-old Republican, to become the mayor of Osceola back in 2015, a job he still holds. He jokes that he’s been a teacher by day and a mayor by night since then.

Now, Kedley says he’s taking that lesson up a notch as he joins the open congressional race for Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s seat.

As he campaigns for the office, Kedley pointed to public education, mental health, agriculture and conservative spending as key issues he’d like to focus on if elected to Congress. He also drew on his experience as a mayor, saying his city has made strides toward increased recreation and quality-of-life initiatives under his leadership, and he wants to see if he can help “on a bigger stage.”

A native of Clinton who calls himself a “Mississippi (River) boy” at heart, Kedley said he understands the diverse needs of the congressional district — from the family farmers to the city dwellers — because he’s “born and bred” here. And he says he plans to hit the road this summer to build a grassroots organization, listening to the issues voters care about.

“I want to hear their concerns and take those to Washington, too,” Kedley said, speaking by phone Tuesday during his lunch break as he was waiting for the next crop of grade-schoolers to come to class.

“It’s a really interesting district,” Kedley added. “You have the agriculture sprinkled throughout, you have the urbanization of Iowa City, you have the industrial base of the Muscatine-Clinton region. Really I believe the 2nd district is the core of what Iowans are,” Kedley said, adding: “I really am proud of this district and I think it needs better representation.”

Loebsack, the 24-county area’s congressional representative since 2006, surprised many in Iowa’s political realm last month when he announced he would not seek reelection in 2020, saying he planned to retire. In 2018, Loebsack handily defeated Republican opponent Chris Peters, who lacked the financial and vocal backing of the national party, cruising to his 12th consecutive term.

Loebsack’s planned bow-out has set off high interest from members of both major political parties as the 2020 election season already begins to creep in. Some Democrats have also announced or are thought to be considering a run, including Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls and Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken.

Meanwhile, the absence of Loebsack from the ballot is likely to trigger a highly competitive push from Republicans eager to wrestle the district away from Democratic control in the November 2020 election. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the main campaign arm of congressional Republicans, already had listed his seat — along with another two picked up last year by Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer — among its 55 offensive targets for 2020 well before Loebsack made his retirement plans known.

Kedley, meanwhile, is the first Republican to announce candidacy, making him the lone GOP player on the field — for now. But he says he plans to stay in the race for the long haul, saying he encourages challengers to come forward and give the voters options to choose from.

“I plan on staying the course. That’s for sure,” he said. “And I would say too, if more people throw their hat in the ring, that’s the point of America: to give people a good representation to choose from through electing. And I welcome that opportunity.

Asked why he thinks a Republican might win this time around, Kedley said he’s willing to work with people to find solutions that are the best for the district.

“People in today’s world get too caught up in Democrat and Republican when they should be looking at what’s the problem, what’s the issue and how can we find the best solution for our people — the people we are elected to serve,” he said.

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