In Midwest, some concern about Russia, but worries at home win out

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — National Democrats hoping to parlay the latest furor surrounding the Russia investigations into political victory in the Midwest may want to take a different tack.

The party has targeted Iowa's 1st Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Rod Blum, as a battleground in the 2018 house race.

But in the days leading up to former FBI Director James Comey's blockbuster testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, residents made it clear that while news of the scandal billowing around President Donald Trump's White House was impossible to avoid, it was far from their biggest concern.

"People are making too much of it," said Jim Wagner, a Vietnam veteran who earned a Purple Heart and founded the Veterans Freedom Center in Dubuque. "I don't think there was really anything going on. I just wish [Trump] would shut everybody up and tell them instead of playing the game. I didn't vote for him, but if he can put it to bed, he ought to."

"Right now," Wagner added, "I'm more worried about the economy and that [the Trump administration] want[s] to take the VA and privatize it. That ain't gonna work."

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23 PHOTOS
Political images from Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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Political images from Cedar Rapids, Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS, UNITED STATES: Texas Governor George W. Bush (R) hugs Dr. Rosanne Freeburg after his speech at the historic Amana Colonies 12 June 1999 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Bush, who describes himself as a 'compassionate conservative', as begins his race for the US Presidency campaigning through Iowa and New Hampshire this weekend with his wife Laura. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, UNITED STATES: Slovak Republic President Michael Kovac(L), US President Bill Clinton(C), and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel(R) acknowledge the crowd 21 October during dedication ceremonies of the National Czech and Slovac Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clinton departs from Iowa 21 October for New York, where he will attend the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, UNITED STATES: Texas Governor George W. Bush arrives to screaming supporters at the local airport, 12 June, 1999, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Bush is beginning his race for the US Presidency by campaigning through Iowa and New Hampshire this weekend with his wife Laura. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) George W. Bush during his electoral campaign at Cedar Rapids in Iowa. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)
George W. Bush and his wife Laura arrive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during the presidential campaign. Bush won the 2000 Presidential Election against Vice President Al Gore after a controversial vote recount in Florida. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)
WATERLOO, IA - JANUARY 13: U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) speaks at a town hall meeting with veterans and other supporters of Kerry's presidential bid at the Black Hawk County Soldiers Memorial Hall January 13, 2004 in Waterloo, Iowa. Kerry is scheduled to make additional stops in Independence, Manchester,Vinton, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa later in the day in the runup to the Iowa caucuses January 19. (Photo by Shaun Heasley/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - DECEMBER 22: Democratic Presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) stands next to teacher's assistant, Carmen Toney, during a campaign stop at a community center after school program December 22, 2003 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kerry has begun his 24 hour sleepless tour. (Photo by Alex Dorgan-Ross/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - SEPTEMBER 21: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CN) speaks during the Hear It From The Heartland forum at Kirkwood Community College September 21, 2003 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) moderated the event. (Photo by Alex Dorgan-Ross/Getty Images)
Cedar Rapids, UNITED STATES: US Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama from Illinois shakes hands with supporters after a town hall meeting 10 February 2007 at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Earlier in the day, Obama launched his quest to become America's first black president, in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln, the US icon who abolished slavery. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - JANUARY 01: Republican presidential hopeful and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee speaks during a 'Meet Mike Huckabee' event at the Elk's Lodge January 1, 2008 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. With less than two days to go before the Iowa caucus, Mike Huckabee continues campaigning across Iowa as Mitt Romney catches up in the polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - DECEMBER 8: Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (R) (D-IL) speaks at a campaign rally December 8, 2007 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Obama was campaigning at the event with talk show host Oprah Winfrey (C) and his wife Michelle Obama (R). Barack Obama and Winfrey are scheduled to make two stops in Iowa before heading off to campaign events in South Carolina and New Hampshire tomorrow. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - JANUARY 2: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) walks to his plane after a campaign event at Cedar Rapids Airport January 2, 2008 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Candidates, volunteers and media have converged on Iowa for Thursday's Caucus. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - JANUARY 03: US presidential hopeful John Edwards, along with his wife Elizabeth Edwards (middle L) addresses campaign workers to encourage them to make a last-minute push to get out caucusers January 3, 2008 at his campaign headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Iowa Caucus is today and Edwards, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama are locked in a tight race for the first victory of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
An sudden remember holds a sign reading "227 Years of Men. Its Her Time!" during a "Get Out to Caucus" rally with U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
A child sits on a barricade as she waits for an autograph from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S., July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea listen as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a "Get Out to Caucus" rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - MAY 09: U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) hosts a town hall meeting on May 9, 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The meeting is the second of four town hall meetings Blum has scheduled in his district this week. About 1,000 people attended the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - MAY 09: Guests react to a statement by U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) during a town hall meeting on May 9, 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The meeting is the second of four town hall meetings Blum has scheduled in his district this week. Guests, who were not allowed to bring in any signs, held up red paper when they disagreed with a statement and green when they agreed during the meeting. About 1,000 people attended the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - MAY 09: Guests react to a statement by U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) during a town hall meeting on May 9, 2017 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The meeting is the second of four town hall meetings Blum has scheduled in his district this week. Guests, who were not allowed to bring in any signs, held up red paper when they disagreed with a statement and green when they agreed during the meeting. About 1,000 people attended the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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The district where Wagner lives runs along the eastern and northern border of the state and includes the small cities of Dubuque and Cedar Rapids as well as large swaths of farmland. The area is more than 90 percent white and increasingly elderly with a median household income slightly higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Major employers include corporations and manufacturers like Rockwell Collins, Cargill, Transamerica and John Deere.

It's a region that Barack Obama easily won in 2008 and 2012 with margins of 17 and 13 percent, respectively. (Obama would also take the state both election years.) In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stumbled and lost the district by four points and the state by 10 points to rival Donald Trump.

Most constituents interviewed by NBC News said that they need to see fire before they come to any conclusions about the Russia investigation and added that they are beginning to tune out news connected to it because of fatigue. Voters here are more concerned about issues like health care, veterans' benefits, Planned Parenthood and infrastructure.

In Cedar Rapids' Czech Village, local businesswomen and friends Jennetta Williams, 48, and Teresa Jensen, 44, chatted while seated in the trunk of a minivan. They're both increasingly concerned about the direction of the country and Trump's ability to navigate it, but they don't know what to make of the Russia investigations.

"The most recent information that came out about Russia has bothered me more," Williams said. "For a while I thought it was media hype to overshadow everything [Trump] was trying to accomplish — because I do think he's trying to accomplish some good things — but you just don't know what is true, what is real."

"Sometimes I just choose to put my head in the sand and pray that three years from now there will be a change," she added.

Jensen, who said she wrote in former Republican candidate Ben Carson's name in November, told NBC News that she's more concerned about the fear that is growing in the country because of Trump.

"I don't care for him," she said. "He's disturbed our country by trying to make too many changes that are too dramatic. Anything that he does that is good is completely overlooked because he has offended so many people, whether it's your race or your sex or if you're a refugee or an immigrant. He's instilled that fear in everybody, so we're all the more divided."

While watching a band play at a late-evening Cedar Rapids farmer's market with her boyfriend, recent culinary school graduate Cara Suebbel, 21, told NBC News that she also felt overwhelmed by the Russia investigation's news cycle.

"You just don't know what to believe," Suebbel said. "There's things coming up on all sides and people spin stories to fit their political agenda, so their readers will pick it up. It's weird that he's so close to Russia, but I don't know if it's my biggest concern at the moment."

"But defunding Planned Parenthood would be disastrous for the country," she quickly added.

Some Iowans, however, held firmer, more partisan opinions about the ongoing Russia investigations being conducted by the FBI as well as the Senate and House Intelligence committees.

Cody Klahn, who lives in Marion, started the 2016 election as a Ted Cruz supporter, but the 32-year-old accountant voted for Trump in November. He doesn't buy that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"I think it's a strategy on the Democrats' side and in the media to basically put a roadblock in front of the Trump administration, so that the he can't get legislation through," Klahn said. "Because if the Republicans know that people are starting to slip on Trump, then they're less likely to support his legislation."

German-born Richard Dudeck, 82, agreed. He voted for Trump and doesn't think the president is getting a fair shake.

"I'd like to see him accomplish something, but it's all tied up in this Russian deal — that's crazy," said Dudeck, who moved to Dubuque in 1952 and served in the 11th Airborne Division. "I think it's all a bunch of baloney. I wish they would let the whole thing go and let this country move forward. I don't know why they keep going over the same damn thing over and over again."

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19 PHOTOS
James Comey testifies On Russian interference In US election
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James Comey testifies On Russian interference In US election
Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 8: People watch a ticker tape display showing headlines of the days news that former FBI Director James Comey will testify at a Senate hearingon Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 8, 2017 in New York City. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
The witness table where former FBI Director James Comey will face the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and testify on June 8 about his meetings with President Trump sits at the ready in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, center delivers opening remarks before the start of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait in line hours aheads of time for the start of former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara attends the Senate Intelligence Committee where FBI Director James Comey is sent to testify in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Russian Federation Efforts to Interfere in the 2016 U.S. Elections" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
People wait in line hours aheads of time for the start of former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Preparations are made before former FBI Director James Comey testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is sworn in to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The gavel and placard for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, sit on a table in the hearing room ahead of testimony by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former FBI Director James Comey testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 8, 2017. Fired FBI director James Comey took the stand Thursday in a crucial Senate hearing, repeating explosive allegations that President Donald Trump badgered him over the highly sensitive investigation Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Capitol police officers stand outside the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing room ahead of testimony by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Mark Warner(C)D-VA and Vice Chairman, Intelligence Committee and Senator Richard Burr(R), Chairman, Intelligence Committee greet former FBI Director James Comey as he arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey takes the oath before he testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey takes the oath before he testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Meanwhile, John Sieh of Clear Lake, Iowa said he couldn't be more pleased with the new administration.

I'm tickled to death with how he's doing," he said at a gun show in Cedar Rapids. "If they would leave him alone, we would be doing even better."

Trump voter Dennis Roth, 52, emphasized that it's much too early to judge the new president, noting that the "mainstream media is crucifying him."

Roth said he wasn't worried about Washington D.C. or Russia — though he doesn't trust former FBI Director Comey. Instead, Roth is focused on gas prices, local industry and infrastructure.

"I need to be concerned about here," said Roth, who works as a sales manager in Dubuque. "And then I might have time to be concerned about overseas. There's a lot going on, but I can't control that. I'm more concerned about the people in Dubuque."

Trump had planned to speak directly to the people of the 1st congressional district in a rally in early June, but his campaign canceled the event citing a scheduling conflict. Demonstrators had stated their intent to protest president outside the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.

Congressman Blum has been met with similar demonstrations. First elected in 2014, he announced his reelection bid on June 1 to a constituency divided by his support of the president and his policies. During a series of town halls in early May that only residents of the district could attend, constituents welcomed Blum with a fair amount of booing and took him to task for his support of the House GOP health care plan that is estimated to raise costs and cause millions to lose coverage.

Russia meddling in the election and former FBI chief Comey, who had just been fired at the time also came up at the town halls, but Blum's opinions weren't particularly popular with his constituency who held up red pieces of paper to show their displeasure.

After Comey testified Thursday that the president had asked for his loyalty and then told "lies" to the American people about his firing, Blum called the Russia investigation "political theatrics."

Though it wasn't a main concern, some constituents shared a dim view of the president in light of the investigation and said they trust Comey.

"Comey has done some dumb stuff, but he's a good guy," said Dubuque retiree Gerald Wiederholt, 78. "He cares about the country, and I think he tells it the way it is and doesn't lie about it. I don't think he should have gotten fired."

"Trump's much too close to Putin," he added.

While fishing the Cedar River, Shaun Kelly, 42, told NBC News that he took down the American flag hanging outside his house when Trump won the election. Kelly said he is convinced that the president does not represent "little people who make the world go round," and colorfully referred to him as Russian President Vladimir Putin's lapdog.

"We all know he's in cahoots with them Russians," said Kelly, who works temp jobs around Cedar Rapids. "I feel like he's a traitor to the country. He's not about us — he's about money. He should never have been president."

Some Iowans said that it's not just the Russia investigation and Trump's perceived affinity for Putin that makes them feel uncomfortable.

"Everything he does bothers me," said Cindy Schemmel, 63, a recent retiree. "The Trump administration is stripping away very important programs and benefits."

Schemmel noted health care, school meals and after school programs as areas that she believes have taken a particular hit since Trump entered the White House.

Nevertheless, most residents of the area said they just don't have time to worry about the Russia investigation.

It's down on the list of importance for me," said Jeff Middleton, 27, a father of three who works as a millwright for Cargill. "The president's focus needs to be right here in America, helping the everyday working people who are out here trying to make a living. [Trump's] making that tougher."

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