Campaigns against incumbents are never easy, but Iowa’s fourth Congressional district is very winnable for Becky Greenwald.
When you run for office, certain things are out of your control, like the nationwide political climate or the partisan makeup of the electorate.
Greenwald is fortunate to be challenging Representative Tom Latham this year, when Democrats have their first registration edge in the fourth district since it was redrawn. According to the June 2008 numbers released by the Secretary of State’s office, the fourth district has 128,482 registered Democrats, 120,694 registered Republicans, and 145,223 voters registered with no party affiliation. Also, the national political climate is favorable to Democrats. IA-04 has a partisan index of D+0, meaning that its vote in 2004 closely matched the nationwide partisan split.
Latham told Iowa Independent that Republicans can win this year’s elections by focusing on high gas prices and the Iraq War. However, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which exists to elect Republicans to the U.S. House, has given GOP incumbents very different advice: run on personal and local issues. An NRCC strategy document notes that Republican candidates who lost special Congressional elections this year did not establish “themselves and their local brand in contrast to the negative perception of the national GOP.”
If fourth district residents let national issues guide their votes down-ticket, Greenwald will do well to keep tying Latham to the Iraq War and leadership of the Republican Party.
So what’s standing in her way? The biggest advantage of incumbency is often money, and this race is no exception.
Charlotte Eby, a commentator for the Mason City Globe-Gazette, assessed this race in a recent column:
After the record-breaking turnout at the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic Party has amassed a voter registration advantage that has grown to more than 90,000 in Iowa.
Democrats also will have presidential candidate Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin at the top of the ticket to help drive turnout. […]
Latham’s had strong Democratic challengers in the past that he’s been able to fend off. But his district, which includes Mason City, Ames and suburban counties surrounding Des Moines, has become more of a swing district as Democratic registration has swelled. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the district for the first time ever.
Watch for Greenwald’s campaign to paint Latham as a Republican in lockstep with Bush administration policies, a record that might not be popular with the changing electorate.
First though, Greenwald will have to raise enough money to compete with Latham’s war chest, which sat at more than $700,000 as of the last filing period.
If Greenwald is competitive in raising money, the 4th District race could be the race to watch this fall.
David Yepsen’s latest column in the Des Moines Register reaches the same conclusion:
The key for Democrat Greenwald, a 55-year-old former Garst and Pioneer marketing executive from Perry, is money. Will national Democratic money sources – especially Emily’s List – pour dollars into her contest with Latham?
To get them to make that investment, Greenwald must first convince them she’s viable and has got a credible financial base of her own.
So far, it’s been an uphill task. According to the latest campaign-finance disclosure reports, Greenwald had only $81,800 in the bank on June 30. Latham had 10 times that amount: $832,388. Greenwald had to get through a four-way primary in June, then had to suspend fundraising in Iowa during the floods. Donors in the Democratic money centers of Des Moines, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids were preoccupied.
Raising money isn’t the easiest task in the world, but candidates have more control over fundraising than they do over massive shifts toward the other party on various issues and among many different demographic groups.
Rarely can a challenger raise enough cash to match the incumbent’s spending dollar for dollar. But when the wind is at your back, that often isn’t necessary.
Upsets happen in big landslide years. Just look at what happened to Neal Smith, who had represented Iowa’s fourth district since 1958 until Greg Ganske brought him down in the 1994 Republican landslide. Smith had more seniority and clout in 1994 than Latham has now. I couldn’t find information about the candidates’ spending in that race, because the Open Secrets database doesn’t go back that far. But I’ll bet that Ganske did not win by raising more money than Smith. Ganske was boosted by a national Republican wave and partisan shifts following the 1990 census and redistricting.
Greenwald has a big cash-on-hand disadvantage now, but her campaign has been working hard to raise money in July. I’ve received e-mails from personal friends asking me to donate, as well as two letters from the campaign (one signed by Tom Harkin, Leonard Boswell and Bruce Braley, the other signed by Tom and Christie Vilsack).
I’ve already given to her campaign, but my husband and I are digging deeper to donate again this month.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not reserved any air time in Iowa yet, but they are watching this race, as is EMILY’s list, which seeks to elect pro-choice, Democratic women at all levels of government.
I expect one or both of those groups to get involved in the IA-04 race, assuming Greenwald produces strong numbers this month. The Des Moines and Mason City media markets are not that expensive, compared to districts where many other challengers need to purchase paid media.
The infrastructure will be there to support heavy Democratic turnout in this district. Barack Obama’s campaign has already opened four field offices in IA-04, with a fifth office planned.
Also, the fourth district has been receptive to strong Democratic candidates in recent years. Speaking to Iowa Independent two weeks ago, Greenwald made this point:
“This is not a campaign that was launched on a whim,” she said. “This is not just a campaign that’s based on hope that I’ll do well. Sen. Harkin won 28 of the 28 counties in the 4th District in 2002. The 4th District is the only district in Iowa in which he carried every single county. Gov. Culver, when he ran in 2006, carried 22 of the 28 counties in the 4th District.”
Please donate to Greenwald’s campaign before the end of July.
UPDATE: I didn’t realize Karl Rove was coming to Des Moines today to raise money for Latham. A press release from Greenwald’s campaign is after the jump. Also, you can view this YouTube she taped in response to Rove’s visit:
I love how Greenwald referred to Rove in this clip: “Today, Karl Rove, the man who is too busy to even testify before Congress, is going to be in Iowa raising money for Tom Latham.”
For Immediate Release Contact: Erin Seidler
July 25, 2008 515-537-4465
Karl Rove Raises Money for Latham, Republican Party
Latham Can’t Separate Bush Ties With Today’s Fundraiser
Waukee, IA – Today the architect of the Bush Presidency, Karl Rove, will be in Des Moines at an exclusive country club to raise money for the Republican Party of Iowa. Because of the grassroots strength of Becky Greenwald’s race against him, the money raised at the event will go directly to help Tom Latham’s campaign.
“When Tom Latham is in the district, he blames partisan bickering for the problems in Washington. But the next thing we know, he brings ‘Mr. Republican Party’ himself, Karl Rove, in for a fundraiser,” said Greenwald Communications Director Erin Seidler. “Plus, Latham has voted with the Republican Party 92% of the time. It will be hard for Latham to run from his loyalties to the Bush administration and Republican Party.”
At several events in the district, Tom Latham has blamed partisan bickering for inaction in Congress.
“…Latham said a high degree of ‘bipartisan bickering’ has made it somewhat difficult to accomplish Congressional objectives.” (Boone News Republican, 7/2/08)
“‘About all we’re seeing is a bunch of bickering and partisan posturing,’ Latham said.” (Fort Dodge Messenger, 7/1/08)
However, Latham is nothing but partisan in Washington. According to the Washington Post’s Votes Database, Latham voted with the Republican Party this last Congressional session 92% of the time. (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/l000111/)
“Given President Bush’s unpopularity, Latham and the Republican Party are brave to bring in Karl Rove. They must be seeing what we are seeing: Becky’s campaign to make a difference is catching on with people across the 4th District,” Seidler continued.