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Blog Home Page --> House -- Iowa -- 03

Iowa Was Establishment's Field Of Dreams

By Kyle Trygstad

While antiestablishmentarianism may be running rampant in elections across the country, it skipped one state entirely on Tuesday night. Iowa Republicans flocked to the kind of "insiders" that voters elsewhere were bent on rejecting.

For governor, a GOP majority opted for former four-term Gov. Terry Branstad over Tea Party-backed businessman Bob Vander Plaats. It's hard to get more establishment than someone whose previous tenure in the same office spanned the Reagan-to-Clinton administrations. Likewise, in Iowa's 1st Congressional district, a former congressional aide (read: ties to Washington) easily defeated a Ron Paul activist. In the 2nd district, Mariannette Miller-Meeks was given her second try at unseating Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, who beat her last time by 57% to 38%.

In Iowa's 3rd Congressional district, state Sen. Brad Zaun -- the only candidate with any political experience at all -- easily met the 35% threshold to claim the GOP nomination outright. Few handicappers had expected any of the seven candidates to emerge as a clear winner. Mr. Zaun, a former town mayor and hardware store owner, will now take on eight-term Democrat Leonard Boswell in what should be a closely-watched race in the fall.

As the results poured in Tuesday night, the Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich video-blogged in evident surprise: "Political experience is trumping the sort of outside vibe or insurgency campaigns that we've seen a lot of here in Iowa."

To be sure, plenty of anti-establishment, anti-incumbent sentiment was evident around the country. But don't let anyone tell you Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas was the only veteran to defy the mood. Iowa loves a familiar political face too.

Boswell, McClintock Take Primaries

In two contested primary elections on Tuesday, both Democrats and Republicans got the stronger general election candidates in California and Iowa districts that have provided close vote totals in recent years. In Iowa, six-term Rep. Leonard Boswell won renomination, while in California, State Senator Tom McClintock bested two GOP rivals in the race to replace outgoing Rep. John Doolittle.

Iowa's Third District, centered around Des Moines, has proven increasingly competitive in recent cycles. After winning a narrow contest for an open seat in 1996 by a single point, Boswell faced tough Republican challengers in 2004 and 2006, winning last cycle by just six points.

This time, though, the challenge came from the left, as former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who placed third in the state's gubernatorial primary in 2006, urged Democratic voters to kick out the more centrist Boswell. Fallon, who endorsed Barack Obama in the state's January caucus, hoped to capitalize on the change message that gave the Illinois Senator a majority in the district. Boswell had backed Clinton in that race.

Boswell outraised and outspent his Democratic rival and ended up with a reasonably healthy 61%-39% win, and in time he turned Fallon's presidential endorsement argument around: Boswell made an issue of Fallon's 2000 endorsement of Ralph Nader over Al Gore, as the Des Moines Register reports today.

Boswell now heads to the general election against former congressional staffer and administrative law judge Kim Schmett. The Democrat has faced tougher competition in the past, and this year he looks like a safe bet for re-election.

In California's Fourth District, McClintock scored a 53%-39% victory over former Rep. Doug Ose, who spent nearly $3 million of his own money on the primary. McClintock, though, has become a conservative icon in California after narrowly losing the Lieutenant Governor's race in 2006. A third candidate won 2% of the vote.

McClintock will run against 2006 nominee Charlie Brown, a Democrat who came within three points of ousting the ethically troubled Doolittle that year. While Democrats were confident about their chances against the incumbent, running against McClintock will prove more troublesome. A recent poll for Brown showed him leading McClintock by two points, but both candidates scored only in the low 40s.

With a new nominee whose house has not been raided by federal agents, as Doolittle's was in 2007, Republicans have a much stronger chance of retaining what is ordinarily a heavily Republican seat. President Bush won the district, which encompasses the Sacramento suburbs, by wide margins in both his elections.

GOP Hopes Up In IA, CA

News hasn't been good for national Republicans this year, but primaries tomorrow offer some hope that 2008 will not be a complete loss. In California, the party shed a tainted incumbent member of Congress, giving two high-profile candidates a better chance in November, while in Iowa Democrats have a chance to boot a long-time incumbent in a swing district in favor of a much more liberal challenger.

Retirements are not always welcome, but in Rep. John Doolittle's case, the GOP breathed a sigh of relief when he announced he wouldn't run again. Doolittle is the target of an ongoing federal investigation surrounding his relationship with several lobbyists, including Jack Abramoff; his Virginia home was raided by the FBI last year, and had he run again he likely would have been the underdog against repeat candidate Charlie Brown. Doolittle won his suburban Sacramento district with 49%, beating Brown by just 9,000 votes.

Running to replace the embattled incumbent, former Rep. Doug Ose and State Senator Tom McClintock have gotten feisty, but both would give Republicans a strong shot at retaining the seat. Ose represented the neighboring district in Congress, while McClintock, something of a conservative icon in the state, represents a Senate district several hundred miles south of Sacramento. Brown is on top of the DCCC's target list, but without Doolittle as an opponent his chances are slim.

In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell has faced several tough re-election battles, winning just 52% against a State Senator in 2006. Boswell's Des Moines-based district voted once for President Bush and once for John Kerry, though only a few hundred votes separated the winner and loser each time.

Still, once Barack Obama won the state in January, former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who ran as the most liberal candidate for governor in 2006, jumped in the race, arguing Boswell was too conservative for his Democratic electorate. Fallon, who finished third in the gubernatorial primary, would give Republicans a strong chance at picking up the seat in November.

But Fallon has raised and spent little money, and the only public poll shows Boswell with a huge lead before tomorrow's primary. If the incumbent keeps the Democratic nomination, his Republican opponent, former Congressional aide Kim Schmett, will be a serious underdog come November.

Two other races worth mentioning: In California's southern Fifty Second District, Iraq war veteran Duncan D. Hunter is running to replace his father, Duncan L. Hunter, in Congress. The younger Hunter's wife spent a significant time on the campaign trail in her husband's stead while he served in Iraq, and Hunter is likely to keep the seat in his family's possession. Santee City Councilman Brian Jones and San Diego County Board of Education President Bob Watkins are also running.

And in Iowa, while national Republicans had hinted that Democratic Senator Tom Harkin would be in trouble come November, the party failed to recruit any of its top-tier candidates, including Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham. Harkin has made a career out of beating GOP members of Congress, though this year he will face a far weaker opponent. Former State Rep. George Eichhorn and businessmen Steve Rathje and Chris Reed are running to face Harkin in the Fall.

How Far Does Change Extend?

Voters in Iowa's Third Congressional District gave Barack Obama a huge boost in his caucus campaign. The Illinois Senator won six of the Des Moines-based district's twelve counties, including Polk County, from which a majority of the votes came; Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, won none of the twelve counties. Obama's theme of "change," it seemed, was in the air.

But the incumbent Democrat, Rep. Leonard Boswell, had thrown his support to Clinton (The state's three Democratic members of Congress each endorsed different presidential candidates), and as has happened in other primary states, that angered at least a few members of the state Democratic Party's liberal wing. After the endorsement, former State Rep. Ed Fallon, who had finished third in the 2006 gubernatorial primary and who seemed to be building a solid base for himself, decided to give the generally more conservative Boswell a credible primary challenger.

A new poll, though, shows that Fallon has some serious work to do in advance of the state's June 3 primary. The survey, taken by Research 2000 for KCCI-TV and KCRG-TV between 4/21-23, surveyed 400 likely Democratic primary voters in the district, for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Boswell and Fallon were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Boswell 52 / 55 / 49
Fallon 28 / 26 / 30

Boswell has a long history of surviving competitive general elections, and his district is one of the most evenly-divided in the nation. He first won election with 49%, beating out a well-funded Republican opponent in an open seat contest. Even as Democrats swept to victory nationwide last year, Boswell managed just a six-point win over State Senator Jeff Lamberti, who at the time served as the co-president in a divided upper chamber.

Whether the more liberal Fallon could hold the district in a normal year, even as moderate Boswell has faced tough races, is an open question. President Bush won a 270-vote majority in the district in 2004, while Al Gore beat him by 1,500 votes in 2000. And Fallon, unlike Boswell, is not a proven fundraiser; Boswell has raised $982,000 through the First Quarter and kept $840,000 in the bank; Fallon managed to pull in just $171,000 and spent most of it, leaving him only $19,000 in reserve.

But should Fallon pull out the upset in the primary, he would probably be the favorite heading into November. The likely GOP challenger, once a top aide to ex-Rep. Greg Ganske, jumped into the contest very late, and hadn't raised money of any significance through March. Then again, if national Republicans see the opportunity to steal a seat in central Iowa, likely to be a battleground state come November, they may pounce at the chance and make sure the Republican, Kim Schmett, is well-funded enough to become a credible challenger.

Obama's message of change may be compelling, and one Democrat -- nonprofit executive Donna Edwards, in Maryland -- has unseated an incumbent by closely mimicking Obama's style and substance. Longtime Rep. John Lewis, of Georgia, even avoided a primary challenge after switching his endorsement to Obama after initially backing Hillary Clinton. But the backlash against pro-Clinton super delegates does not appear to have reached fever pitch: At this point, though, Boswell remains a heavy favorite both in the primary and in the general election as he seeks his seventh term in Congress.

IA Dem Boswell Faces Primary Challenge

One might have thought that debate on the Democratic Presidential Primary in Iowa would be over. Yet a brewing Democratic primary in the state's Third District offers a look at how the Presidential race is percolating down to Congressional campaigns across the country. Incumbent Rep. Leonard Boswell, elected in 1996 and a backer of Senator Hillary Clinton, faces his first primary challenge from former state legislator and 2006 Gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon, who is touting his support of Barack Obama as one among several reasons for why he should be elected as the "change" candidate.

Iowa soil has proven fertile for Democrats. Two of the state's five House seats switched to Democratic control in 2006, Democrat Chet Culver easily won the Gubernatorial election as well, and the presidential caucuses on January 3 saw more than 225,000 Democrats attend. Iowa's Third, based around Des Moines, remains a swing district that Al Gore carried by just one point in 2000 and Bush carried in 2004 by just more than 250 votes. Boswell is again a member of the DCCC's Frontline program, one of just five non-freshmen to make the list.

During his race for governor, Fallon positioned himself left of Culver and of former Rep. Mike Blouin, finishing third. This year, ahead of the state's June 6 primary, Fallon, who won the Third in his failed bid for Governor in 2006, is speaking across the district with messages he says are similar to Obama's.

In an interview with Politics Nation, Fallon emphasized Boswell's support for Clinton, who came in third in Iowa and third in the district. "He's out of step with the district," Fallon said of the incumbent. Fallon is trying to use Obama's success with younger voters to his advantage, claiming the large increase in young voters during the caucuses will help him in a campaign he says also receives large youth support.

As an economic populist Fallon is hammering away at Boswell's acceptance of money from political action committees. "You can't bash PACs and then enlist their support in your campaign", said Fallon. His platform emphasizes the need for changing a government that he says does little about global warming the environment, health care, poverty, and campaign finance reform.

Fallon is playing up the theme of his energetic youth -- at 49 years old -- against the old, establishment politician. While Fallon has said he is not making Boswell's age, 74, an issue, the topic has come up from time to time. Boswell's campaign dismisses any discussion of age, pointing out he is still younger than the state's senior Senator, Republican Chuck Grassley.

Citing rumors that Boswell will retire in the near future, Fallon claims that the redistricting, which will likely strip Iowa of a Congressional seat, will require an established Democratic candidate to run against Republicans Reps. Steve King or Tom Latham in a newly formed district. Boswell's campaign has countered in saying that an independent panel sets district lines and there is no idea what lines will be drawn.

First elected to the House in 1996, Boswell sits on the Agriculture Committee, and has accumulated a moderate voting record. Fallon is attacking him for voting too often with President Bush on issues like the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act. Anticipating being outspent by the entrenched Boswell, Fallon has turned to the netroots for assistance in raising cash.

If Fallon is going to have any chance at all of defeating a long-time incumbent, he is going to need a liberal base to decide on kicking the incumbent out. Obama won Iowa by out-organizing his competition, and Fallon, who is hitching himself to Obama's coattails, could take a page from a successful playbook and follow suit.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy