What's the smart play for Latham?

Congressman Tom Latham is one of 34 Republicans who represent U.S. House districts carried by Barack Obama, according to analysis by CQ Politics.

Jonathan Singer was struck by the fact that Obama won nearly twice as many Republican-held districts as John Kerry did, even though far fewer Republicans won House elections in 2008 compared to 2004. Singer believes that as the next elections draw closer, these Republicans from Obama-districts will eventually feel pressure to support the president on some issues.

I don’t accept Singer’s premise that Obama will remain popular in all of the districts he carried in 2008. We don’t know what the economy will look like 18 months from now or whether Republicans will pay any political price for obstructing Obama’s agenda.

Still, Singer’s post got me thinking–is there any reason for Latham to cooperate with Obama?

After the jump I’ll try to answer this question.

So far Latham has rejected all of the key bills backed by the president, from equal pay for women to the economic stimulus to (most recently) the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act approved last Thursday.

Although some Republicans from Obama-districts may be vulnerable in 2010, I wouldn’t put Latham in that category given his 21-point margin of victory in IA-04 last November. (Latham didn’t make Swing State Project’s list of the 20 most vulnerable House Republicans either.) So at first glance, it seems that Latham has no incentive to go along with Obama’s agenda.

But thinking ahead to 2012, the calculations change. Many people expect the new Congressional map for Iowa to look much like what Nathaniel90 suggested here, which would throw Story County (where Latham lives) into the new third district, to be dominated by the greater Des Moines metropolitan area.

The national political environment could be quite different by 2012 as well. Remember that Ronald Reagan presided over a steep recession in 1981 and 1982, and his party lost seats in the midterm elections. However, the economy was growing strongly by 1984, helping Reagan win re-election in a landslide. Democrats may have a rough ride in 2010 if the economy does not improve, but if Obama manages to keep the country out of a second Great Depression, we are likely to be on an upswing by 2012.

I’m not Leonard Boswell’s biggest fan, and I’ve written before that I would worry about his chances in a potential 2012 matchup against Latham.

That said, if Latham spends the next four years consistently blocking Obama’s proposals, he’ll have to face voters in a substantially redrawn district during a presidential election year. Latham has never represented Polk County, by far the most populous county likely to be in the new third district. Obama’s campaign achieved tremendous turnout in Polk County in 2008, and we can expect a strong Obama organization in central Iowa in 2012.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? If you were Latham, would you seek to draw as clear a contrast as possible between yourself and the president, or would you tactically support Obama from time to time? Do you think Boswell or some other Democrat would have a better chance of defeating Latham in 2012 if Latham can be portrayed as an obstructionist?

I’m guessing Latham will vote consistently with the Republican leadership for the next two or three years. If Obama looks like Jimmy Carter going into the 2012 campaign, Latham can say he tried to stop him. But if Obama looks like a heavy favorite for re-election, Latham can reinvent himself as an independent-minded legislator who works toward bipartisan solutions on education and health care–just like he did last year.

P.S.- None of the 49 Democratic-held House districts that went for John McCain are in Iowa. Consequently, there is no political incentive for any of Iowa’s three Democrats in the House to vote against Obama’s proposals. So far, Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Boswell have voted for all of the bills backed by the president.

  • Prediction

    Well, from your map…I guess Latham wouldn’t be my Congressman in 2013 but as long as he continues to vote against these massive spending spree bailouts…I’ll probably vote for him again.

    No more damn bailouts!  None.  Zero.  STOP.

    I don’t really think any of our 5 congressman will get much of a race in 2010 – you run for office and two years down the road – you have no idea what your district will look like so I don’t expect much congressional action in 2010.

    I also don’t expect Grassley will get much of an opponent.

    The Governor’s race is going to be a burner – Culver is not particularly strong right now and I think really think the Democrats in the Statehouse are screwing up a lot – too much spending and too much labor focus.

    So, that being said…I think the federal races will be boring and the statehouse/Governor races will be exciting in 2010.

    My prediction.

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