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Where the Action Is

"Is this heaven?"

"No. It's Iowa"

So went one of the memorable exchanges between Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in the classic movie, Field of Dreams. They were talking about baseball, of course, but political junkies might well say the same thing about the Hawkeye state this year.

In addition to already being a well-traveled stop for the parade of 2008 White House wannabes from both parties, Iowa is home to two of the most competitive House races in the country, as well as one of the most-watched Gubernatorial contests. After the primary on Tuesday, those races have officially taken shape, and they promise to be every bit as exciting as advertised.

In the Governor's race, Democrats face a tough battle to defend the vacancy left by the retirement of the popular, two-term incumbent Tom Vilsack. Secretary of State Chet Culver won the Democratic primary on Tuesday, and he'll do battle with Republican Congressman Jim Nussle. A hypothetical match-up between the two from a poll taken at the end of April showed Mr. Culver with a 6-point lead over Mr. Nussle.

Democrats also face a competitive race in the 3rd Congressional District where incumbent Leonard Boswell is seeking a sixth term against Republican State Senator Jeff Lamberti. Boswell won with 55% of the vote in 2004 while President Bush carried the district by a meager 267 votes. Republicans tout Mr. Lamberti's fundraising prowess - he out raised Boswell two-to-one in the first quarter of this year and has more than half a million cash-on-hand - as yet another reason they hope this race stays competitive.

The open seat in Iowa's 1st Congressional District created by Jim Nussle's decision to run for Governor is considered by many to be the Democrats' top pick up opportunity in 2006. Businessman Mike Whalen bested two other Republicans to win on Tuesday, and trial lawyer Bruce Braley came out on top of a four-way primary battle to win the Democratic nomination. Even though Mr. Nussle won reelection eight times in this district, it tilts Democratic and voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry by seven points each over George W. Bush.

In addition to the increased competition created by open-seats, Iowa has exquisite balance at the state level: 30.4% registered Republicans vs. 30.6% registered Democrats, the state went to Gore by 1 point in 2000 and to Bush by 1 point four years later. Recent redistricting by the non-partisan Legislative Services Bureau has created more competition at the Congressional level as well. Put all these elements together and it's easy to see why Iowa will be where the action is this November.