upcoming battles for Iowa's new Congressional
fight is on for political control of Iowa's
four new Congressional districts in the 2012
fall election. While the Iowa caucus race is
garnering current political attention, the organizing,
fundraising and posturing for these critical
seats is in full gear.
Already, two of the five sitting incumbents
have moved to new districts, as has former Iowa
first lady, Christie Vilsack. The six chief
contenders have amassed more than $2.7 million
during the last reporting quarter — signaling
these campaigns will be hotly contested and
Iowa has experienced a steady decline in House
membership, from a high of 11 in 1933 to just
four beginning with the 2012 election. That
only intensifies the importance to the political
parties of winning and holding these seats.
Without any gubernatorial or U.S. Senate races
next year, the battle for Congress should dominate
statewide political attention in the summer
and fall. All four districts converge in the
central Iowa media market, making guaranteed
revenue winners of KCCI, WHO and WOI television,
along with local radio stations.
While the candidates who prevail will be in
strong positions to hold their seats for the
next decade, several are also auditioning for
anticipated opening in the United States Senate.
When the election is over, it will leave standing
a gang of four who may likely produce the next
two U.S. Senators from Iowa. Many expect longtime
Senators Harkin and Grassley to retire when
their respective terms end in 2014, when Harkin
will be 74, and 2016, when Grassley turns 83.
All of the races should feature strong elements
of the national political parties' divergent
view of the scope of the federal government.
Republicans will criticize the Democratic candidates
for support of Obama-care and work to tie them
to the government bailout and stimulus measure,
the federal deficit and debt, cap and trade
legislation, the high unemployment rate and
the assertion the President and Democrats are
unable to lead the country out of the recession.
Democrats will counter with Medi-scare tactics
and accuse the Republican hopefuls of wanting
to cut other entitlement programs like Social
Security, will call for tax increases for the
wealthy and corporations in an effort to deal
with the federal deficit and debt, and will
continue to place the blame for the economy
and the wars at the foot of George Bush.
A more divided nation we could not be.
While it is difficult to predict how voters
will perceive the economy next fall, the campaigns
which prevail will likely be the ones which
raise the most money, organize their base for
an effective turnout, make the strongest arguments
to independent voters and do the best job defining
their opponents in the most negative light.
Republicans are optimistic they are moving Iowa
back into the GOP fold. Gov. Branstad's relatively
easy victory last fall, the Republican takeover
of the Iowa House and near capture of the Iowa
Senate, along with the anticipated increased
turnout brought on by the GOP presidential caucus,
all leave Republicans with good reason to look
ahead with some measure of confidence.
Iowa Republicans have increased voter registration
numbers across the state every single month
Obama has been President. In November 2008,
Democrats held a 106,000 voter registration
advantage. Today, that number has been slashed
more than 70,000 with Democrats holding a much
slimmer 645,963 to 610,155 lead.
Here is a rundown of the new districts and announced
Attorney Bruce Braley was first elected in 2006,
defeating restaurateur and Harvard law school
graduate Mike Whalen 55 percent to 43 percent
in a spirited race. Braley was easily re-elected
with 65 percent of the vote in 2008 but in 2010,
survived a tea party scare from Independence
attorney Ben Lange.
An11th-hour campaign of outside money shoveled
$2 million into ads against Braley, and it almost
knocked him out. He survived by a mere 4,209
votes. Had the Republicans ran a more mainstream
candidate, like Whalen, they may have taken
out an early favorite for a future U.S. Senate
Despite the fact he is the most liberal member
of the Iowa delegation, Braley gets high marks
for his depth on policy matters and work representing
his district. He serves on the Veteran's Affairs
Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform
Committee. He is favored to be re-elected in
2012 and could be in an attractive position
to take over the Harkin or Grassley Senate seat.
Rapids businessman Steve Rathje is the only
announced candidate on the GOP side. He finished
third in a Republican primary to face Tom Harkin
in 2008 and lost another primary to face Dave
Loebsack in 2010. Rathje sports a shotgun on
his Facebook page and lists his "Likes
and Interests" as Rush Limbaugh.
It's difficult to see how his candidacy will
succeed in raising the necessary funds or attract
independent support. The outside groups which
nearly toppled Braley in 2010 will likely move
their resources to more promising races in other
To set himself up for a successful U.S. Senate
race, Braley will need to raise larger sums
of campaign funds and spend heavily next year
in the Des Moines media market in order to introduce
himself to Iowans in anticipation of a statewide
Braley, Dave Loebsack was also elected in the
2006 class, upsetting long-time Congressman
Jim Leach in a district which had skewed away
from Leach in voter registration numbers. Loebsack's
thin 2 percent win over Leach was followed up
by two successive victories over Mariannette
Miller-Meeks, who was recently appointed to
run the Iowa Department of Health.
Loebsack has been given the golden snitch of
political districts with Democrats holding a
commanding 40,000 person voter registration
edge over Republicans, making it the most heavily
Democratic district in the state. His recent
move to Johnson County solidifies a strong new
base and makes him a more difficult target for
the Republicans to defeat.
While Loebsack is still far down on the Democratic
leadership chart while serving on the Armed
Services Committee and the Committee on Education
and Labor, if he prevails in 2012, he appears
to only have time to increase his stature and
effectiveness in Congress.
against Loebsack is John Archer, who works as
senior legal counsel in the corporate office
of John Deere. He also serves on the Pleasant
Valley School Board. He resides in Bettendorf,
which is in the largest county in the new district
and one which Loebsack has not previously represented.
announcing for the seat are Dan Dolan, a housing
developer from Blue Grass, and Keokuk machinist
and tea party organizer Richard Gates. Gates
helped create a local 912 Patriot Group. That
is Glen Beck's organization which pushes nine
principles and 12 values, one of which states,
"I believe in God and He is the Center
of my Life."
new district includes Scott County, where Republicans
continue to make strong in-roads in voter registration
and have been effective in electing local officials.
Scott accounts for 23 percent of the district's
voter registration totals.
Gov. Branstad won 20 of the 24 counties in this
new district and former Congressman Jim Nussle
easily won the majority of the district when
he served in Washington. Despite the Democratic
voter registration edge, Republicans believe
they can win this new district. Their chances
of success may largely depend on the economic
situation next fall and on whether they nominate
a strong candidate who appeals to independent
voters in the new district.
have a long history of under estimating Leonard
Boswell. The former Vietnam pilot, farmer, state
senator and nominee for Lt. Governor, Boswell
has put together an impressive string of eight
straight Congressional victories across two
different districts against fairly well-funded
GOP candidates. Boswell, who beat back a potential
Christie Vilsack primary challenge in his new
district, has the solid support of Sen. Tom
Harkin and is a friend of the Clintons, who
have helped him in the past and will likely
In some past races, Boswell has been endorsed
by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, a significant
accomplishment for a Democrat in Iowa. His work
on the House Agriculture and Transportation
and Infrastructure Committees has benefitted
farmers and brought home the bacon for his districts
over the years. Boswell is a member of the Blue
Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats
in the House.
opponent is Tom Latham, the senior Iowa member
of the House of Representatives. Originally
elected from his home in Alexander to the Fifth
Congressional District in 1994, Latham moved
to Ames in 2002 to run from the newly created
Fourth District and is now moving again into
the newly minted Third.
Democrats cannot figure out why they haven't
been able to put a glove on the calm and collected
Latham. The closest race they could muster was
his 55 percent - 43 percent victory over former
Gov. Vilsack's Chief of Staff, John Norris,
in 2002. Otherwise, Latham has racked up impressive
victories in the 60 percent range in nearly
all of his nine races.
He gets high marks from the business community,
the agriculture sector and from his recent representation
of Iowa State University. He ranks ninth of
23 Republicans on the powerful Appropriations
Committee and chairs the subcommittee on Transportation,
Housing, and Urban Development. His personal
friendship with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner
is well known.
Latham has thrown down the fundraising gauntlet,
bringing in more than a half-million dollars
in the last period to push his campaign account
to a whopping $1.5 million, more than five times
It has always been difficult to gauge Latham's
political ambitions. Some thought he would challenge
Harkin in 2008. Still others thought he would
be a candidate for governor in 2010. Until his
latest fundraising success, he has hardly looked
overly aggressive about anything political.
At the same time, he has made no political missteps
and has enjoyed a carefully groomed political
Republicans are wasting little time going after
Boswell. American Crossroads, a national conservative
organization which includes Karl Rove as an
advisor, recently announced a two-week media
buy for advertisements attacking Boswell and
nine other targeted Democrats. The group spent
$70 million supporting Republicans in 2010 with
the current advertising against Boswell estimated
Both Boswell and Latham have had success when
switching districts. When Boswell faced his
first re-districting in 2002, only 7 of the
new 27 counties had been in his prior district.
Despite that, he still went on to a comfortable
10 percent victory. Latham also switched districts
in 2002, having previously represented half
the counties of his new district. All he did
was sweep all 28 counties on his way to an easy
12 percent win.
While the registration numbers in this district
are nearly dead even, Gov. Branstad won every
county in the district last year. The party
which wins the White House next year may likely
be the same party which wins this district.
much as Republicans underestimate Leonard Boswell,
Democrats are guilty of the same when it comes
to colorful Congressman Steve King. Democrats
simply loathe the fact that King continues to
win re-election. But they have been unable to
do much about it. His margins of victory in
his five races have been 62 percent to 38 percent,
63 percent to 37 percent, 57 percent to 35 percent,
60 percent to 37 percent, and 66 percent to
Democrats point out that he has never had such
a strong challenger as Christie Vilsack promises
to be and many Democratic activists are giddy
about the prospect of ousting King. But Democratic
enthusiasm should be strongly tempered by King's
previous electoral success and the overwhelming
Republican Party registration advantage in the
Republicans hold a commanding 40,000 voter edge
in registrations over the Democrats in the district.
The new Fourth District will be 36 percent registered
Republicans, 27.6 percent registered Democrats,
with the remaining 36.3 percent independent
voters. If the Republican base turns out for
King, he only needs a relatively small portion
of independents to get over the 50 percent mark.
should be favored in the urban areas, but the
four largest cities in the district — Sioux
City, Ames, Mason City, and Fort Dodge — are
in counties which account for just one-third
of the vote with Democrats holding a paltry
6,400 voter registration advantage. And, of
the 39 counties in the new district, Gov. Branstad
won all but Story and Floyd in 2010.
King has moved up the ladder in Congress, holding
moderately powerful positions on the House Agriculture,
Small Business, and Judiciary Committees. But
he was thwarted by Speaker Boehner in his efforts
to lead the subcommittee on Immigration Policy
and Enforcement, instead receiving the vice-chairmanship.
The National Review once labeled King, "The
Great Right Hope," and it is his comments
on immigration, race and social issues which
have garnered him national attention and airtime
on Fox News.
At a closed door meeting at the Iowa Statehouse,
Tom Vilsack indicated his wife's campaign against
King would be a "Holy War." Vilsack's
remark conjured up images of the Crusades. While
his wife quickly moved to quiet those comments,
it seems clear this race could become nothing
short of a 13th-Century blood bath.
A Holy War implies that social issues could
be a focus of the campaign. But Democrats may
not want to push the social card, as it's difficult
to see how her liberal social views — abortion
rights, gay rights, and immigration — will play
in the predominately conservative district.
Meandering off of economic issues may only make
the hill harder to climb for Vilsack.
Democrats can point to a whole slew of "King-isms"
in their assertion that his comments will drive
the thinking voter into their corner. There
certainly is a long list, such as his sponsorship
of the God and Country bill which would have
required Iowa schools to recognize the U.S.
"has derived its strength from biblical
values," or that if Obama was elected,
"then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida,
the radical Islamists and their supporters,
will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers
than they did on Sept. 11 because they will
declare victory in this War on Terror."
But King can push back on some of these issues
if need be. His sponsorship of Iowa's "English
Only" bill was signed into law by Gov.
Vilsack (who later called it a mistake which
almost made him not seek re-election), and King
won a court battle to remove bilingual voting
forms from the Iowa Secretary of State's website.
King is comfortable in his ultra-conservative
skin, and voters in his district don't seem
to mind what Democrats view as embarrassing
rants. Some Democrats think they can beat King
by airing compilation commercials showing his
various comments, but they might think again
with voters in this largely rural, conservative
Vilsack will raise the Democratic sword in the
latest battle against King, and it will be a
weighty and expensive sword indeed. Vilsack,
who wanted to run from Polk County, was stymied
by Boswell's firm instance that he would seek
re-election and intended to take no primary
prisoners. Vilsack was turned away from the
Third like an intruder in the Boswell home.
Vilsack could have opted to run from her Mount
Pleasant base in the new Second District, which
looked to provide the easiest opportunity for
victory. Many Democrats were puzzled that she
chose not to stake her ground on her home turf
in Henry County.
Loebsack was not an incumbent to the new district.
Vilsack could have claimed the district was
fair game. Her decision to, instead, take on
a multi-term incumbent in a heavily Republican
district has many scratching their heads.
Some leading Republicans have dismissed Vilsack
chances in the district. They too should be
wary of overconfidence. Christie Vilsack is
a known quantity across the state and in the
nation's Capitol. She is extremely personable,
bright, and straightforward in her interactions
with Iowans. She is energetic, a tireless campaigner
and she may have a tremendous fundraising advantage,
garnering the help of not only President Obama
and the Obama network, but also former President
Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Vilsack's first foray into fundraising yielded
impressive results and she has already surpassed
King's total. The Congressman has never raised
large sums of campaign funds although he had
a recent event with New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie, is close friends with Michelle Bachmann,
and could tap into the vast financial network
created by his former chief of staff, Brenna
Findley, in her recent race for state attorney
Most pundits thought Tom Vilsack couldn't win
his first gubernatorial race in 1998, but he
prevailed in the same manner with which Christie
intends to run — raise enough money, work extremely
hard, stay on message and finish like a thoroughbred
that gallops from the back of the pack to the
lead just at the finish line. They have done
it before, and they may well do it again.
Vilsack's announcement focused on civility,
responsibility and respect to solve the nation's
problems. She said Iowans need to "lower
our voices and lift our sights." But she
also said "I'll do what it takes to win."
The race promises to be the loudest, most vicious
and most unendurable of all four. Iowans may
be willing to watch just about any reality show
after the months of malicious commercials this
race promises to unleash. Voters may want to
check back on the civility thing, as it may
give way to unbridled hostility.
This race has already garnered national attention
(Politico, the DC-based newspaper, listed this
as one of seven 2012 dream races) and has all
the trappings of a donnybrook.
There is no early polling yet for any of the
races, although Public Policy Polling conducted
an April survey. The results measured favorable
versus unfavorable ratings. Braley was +2 percent,
Loebsack +5 percent, Boswell -2 percent, Latham
+9 percent, King -7 percewnt, and Vilsack +15
The 2012 Congressional races have the real potential
to further divide Iowa into urban versus rural
and east versus west. Democrats are favored
to capture the eastern Iowa First and Second
districts. If Republicans can win the western
Iowa Third and Fourth districts, Interstate
35 could essentially become the Berlin Wall
of Iowa politics.
Just which side of the Interstate Iron Curtain
is occupied by the Russians and which side the
Americans is open for debate. CV
Strohman lives in Ames and writes about Iowa
government and politics.
First Congressional District
Bruce Braley, 53, Waterloo
Steve Rathje, 55, Cedar Rapids
of Counties: 20
No Party: 186,961
has previously represented nine counties which
account for 47.5 percent of the vote
National Journal ranking: 74th most liberal
House member, 353rd most conservative House
Dave Loebsack, 58, Iowa City
John Archer, 39, Bettendorf
Dan Dolan, 51, Blue Grass
Richard Gates, 52, Keokuk
of Counties: 24
has previously represented 14 counties which
account for 53.1 percent of the vote
National Journal ranking: 104th most liberal
House member, 324th most conservative House
Leonard Boswell, 77, Des Moines
Tom Latham, 63, likely Dallas County
of Counties: 16
has previously represented 7 counties which
account for 67.3 percent of the vote
has previously represented 3 counties which
account for 17.8 percent of the vote
National Journal ranking: 153rd most liberal
House member, 274th most conservative House
National Journal ranking: 295th most liberal
House member, 133rd most conservative House
Steve King, 62, Kiron
Christie Vilsack, 61, Ames
of Counties: 39
has previously represented 18 counties which
account for 45.8 percent of the vote
National Journal ranking: 392nd most liberal
House member, 35th most conservative House member