February 6, 2016

Five Iowa congressmen, four available congressional seats

Iowa voters will decide tomorrow which four candidates will represent Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next two years.  Iowa currently has five congressmen. Two are facing off in one race, as Iowa lost a seat in congress because of the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census.

The race in Iowa’s first congressional district this year is a rematch from 2010.  Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, beat Republican challenger Ben Lange of Independence by less than two percent in 2010.

“In a way it’s a rematch with a twist, because they’re running in at least partially new territory,” says Bruce Nesmith, a political science professor at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, which is in the new first district.

The old first district covered 12 counties in northeast Iowa, but due to redrawn district lines after the 2010 Census, the new first congressional district covers 20 counties. It stretches from Dubuque to Waterloo and down to Marshalltown. There are 25,000 more Democrats than Republicans in the new district and Nesmith, the political scientist from Coe College, says that’s a challenge for the challenger, Ben Lange.

“He’s less of a fresh face and, having lost once before, there may be less inclination to think that the outcome will be different this time,” Nesmith says.

But the second time was the charm for one long-time Iowa officeholder, as Democrat Tom Harkin ran in 1974 and won a seat in congress after losing in the same western Iowa district in 1972. Lange argues Braley’s vulnerable in 2012 because congress has been “gutless” when it comes to fixing Social Security and Medicare and addressing fiscal problems like the national debt.

“Congress is inept, incompetant,” Lange said last week on Iowa Public Television.

Braley, who is seeking a fourth term, counters that he’s a “mature, hard-working” congressman who’s secured federal aid for flood-damaged cities in the district and saved mail processing facilities in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.

“We don’t need more name-calling in congress,” Braley said on IPTV.

A Republican attorney is challenging the Democratic incumbent in Iowa’s second congressional district this year.

Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, moved from Mount Vernon to Iowa City to run in the new second congressional district. It covers 24 southeast Iowa counties and includes the cities of Davenport and Fort Madison on the east and extends west to Ottumwa and Newton.

Republican challenger John Archer has taken a leave of absence from his job as corporate counsel for John Deere to run for the seat. Loebsack’s been running an ad that criticizes Archer for working as a lawyer for “the global division of a corporation” that outsourced jobs.

“I’ve been proud to work at John Deere for the past 12 years, one of Iowa’s largest employers,” Archer said during a recent debate on Iowa Public Television.

Loebsack insists the ad isn’t about John Deere.

“It’s about the NAFTA-style free trade agreements that John supports that I don’t support,” Loebsack said on IPTV in October.

University of Iowa professor Tim Hagle says of the four congressional districts in the state, the new second has the largest voter registration edge for Democrats.

“Even in a redrawn district, it gives Loebsack a bit of an advantage there,” Hagle says.

On November 1, there were over 32,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district. Hagle says the key in this race actually may be the presidential race.

“If Obama ends up taking in Iowa and does so in a fairly convincing fashion, then it should be to Loebsack’s favor in terms of some coattails,” Hagle says. “On the other hand if Mitt Romney manages to then all of sudden get a surge here in Iowa so that he wins, that would give Archer his beat shot at beating Loebsack in a district that’s pretty tough for him.”

Loebsack, a former political science professor at Cornell College, is seeking a fourth term. Archer has won an election before for a seat on the Pleasant Valley School Board.

The race in Iowa’s third congressional district is one of just two in the country that feature two incumbents battling to return for another term in the U.S. House. 

Republican Tom Latham was first elected to congress in 1994. Democrat Leonard Boswell first won his seat in congress back in 1996. Iowa has had five congressmen for the past decade, but after the 2010 Census, the district lines were redrawn — and divided into just four districts.

“Losing a congressional district sort of really re-rolled the dice,” says Creighton university political science professor Richard Witmer.

The two congressmen are running to represent Iowa’s new third district. It covers 16 southwest Iowa counties and includes the cities of Des Moines and Council Bluffs. Witmer says both men have had to use some of their campaign cash to build up their name I.D. in the district.

“Sort of stating that opening case and introducing themselves to new voters, which is not something you would expect an incumbent to do,” Witmer says.

The battle between these two congressmen has been characterized by attack ads as well as some intense verbal jousting during their six debates, like this exchange during a WHO Radio debate last month.

“Congressman Boswell, O. K. You voted for it,” Latham said. “You said…”

Boswell jumped in: “Oh, absolutely, absolutely…”

Latham continued: “You told a group…”

Boswell interjected with another: “Absolutely, but the, uh….”

Latham asked the moderator: “You know, can I be allowed to answer the question, if I may?”

Boswell said: “I don’t want to interrupt you. I don’t want to interrupt you. Go ahead.”

Latham replied: “Well, you have.”

Republicans hold a voter registration edge in the district of about 9,000. There are more than 150,000 independent or “no party” voters in the third district compared to nearly 158,000 Democrats and about 167,000 Republicans.

The 2012 contest in Iowa’s fourth congressional district pits a five-term Republican congressman against a former Iowa first lady. 

Repubican Congressman Steve King and his Democratic challenger, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, are running in what is geographically the largest of Iowa’s four congressional districts. The new fourth district has 39 counties, with Mason City and Ames along the east side and Denison and Sioux City to the west. The fourth district is also the most heavily-Republican area in the state, with 50,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. John Schmaltz, a political science professor at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, has been following this race.

“You really have two vastly different candidates here,” Schmaltz says. “You have somebody who is really pretty liberal in Christie Vilsack and you have a very conservative candidate in Steve King and this has been identified even nationally by various conservative and liberal groups as one of those races that they want to win.”

The intensity of the race has played out over the airwaves in a barrage of advertising from the candidates and from outside group and in the debates the two participated in this fall.

“He talks a lot, but I hear a lot of talk but no action and frankly..all that talk, some of it is actually offensive to people in Iowa,” Vilsack said in a September debate on WHO Radio.

King responded: “What makes me stay in office is that I’m driven to protect America from the hard-core movement of the left that is undermining the American dream.”

King has not debated a Democratic opponent since his first congressional campaign, in 2002. King and Vilsack met in seven debates this year. 

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