Congressman Leonard Boswell made his first public speech Saturday night after a health scare that led to abdominal surgery in September and chemotherapy to deal with a non-cancerous growth. Boswell was the opening speaker at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner, and the 71-year-old was noticably leaner after losing 55 pounds.
Boswell’s wife was first to the microphone, and thanked the crowd for their well-wishes. “His recovery now is exponential, like a snowball,” Dodie Boswell said. “He’s still a little bit weak. I might be able to take him down, I don’t know.” Boswell said he had been comforted during his illness by the “full-support” of Iowa Democrats.
“Good evening fellow Democrats. Is it good to be together, or what?” Boswell said as he pounded the lectern for emphasis. “I join my wife in saying how much we appreciate to be among you tonight. The support you’ve given — the letters, the calls, all the cards — it’s been wonderful and it’s been very, very meaningful to us.” Boswell said he is “on the mend” and “making steps every day” although Boswell said he is not at 100 percent yet.
Boswell said he asked his doctors if he should continue in Congress. “I looked ’em in the eye and I said ‘Now I want to know with what we’re going through, — and don’t mess with me. Tell me straight — do you think I can continue to serve and run for re-election?’ And they said ‘Absolutely,'” Boswell said.
Boswell told the crowd he has never been more motivated to seek re-election because of what he termed Republican assaults on the country. “This country is worth fighting for. It always has been. It is now and will never stop as long as you’re out there…and I’m out there,” Boswell said. “We’re going to do this together.” For the past month, Boswell’s health had been a topic of conversation among Democrats who worried he might not be well enough to run for re-election.
On Saturday, the top two Democrats in Iowa politics made it clear they’re backing Boswell’s decision to seek re-election. Senator Tom Harkin said he never suggested to Boswell that he retire from politics. “He had a pretty good hit, but I liked his analogy about, you know, if someone’s in a car wreck well then you say, well, ‘I hope you get better soon’ and he’s coming back,” Harkin said. “I tracked him while he was in the hospital in Washington. I think he’s in great shape.”
Harkin said Boswell took a “pretty bad hit” but is “going to be in great shape in just a few weeks.” Harkin says Boswell’s got a clean bill of health, and Harkin described Boswell as tough. “Anyone that’s got two distinguished flying crosses…and all the stuff he got in Vietnam, hey, this guy’s tough. He’ll be back. He’ll be just fine,” Harkin said. “I have no worries about it whatsoever.”
Governor Tom Vilsack told the 1,000 Democratic activists in the audience it was mostly up to them to get Boswell re-elected. “With the help of every single person in this room, he will continue to serve us in congress,” Vilsack said. Lietenant Governor Sally Pederson, who is also chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Boswell was “no quitter” and a true hero. You can hear Boswell’s speech on-line at www.radioiowa.com.