It’s been a while since the Bleeding Heartland community discussed a possible 2012 primary between Representative Leonard Boswell and Christie Vilsack. Everywhere I go in Polk County, Democrats are talking about this race, so I thought it’s time for a new thread on the subject.
Last week Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reported that Vilsack “has been meeting with top state labor leaders, party strategists and donors as she gauges support and maps out a potential House campaign.” A bunch of Iowa insiders and Vilsack loyalists told Isenstadt about the former first lady’s strengths as a candidate. She’s good on the stump, has high name recognition and could raise a lot of money quickly. She refused to comment for his article, but Boswell told Isenstadt that he has informed Vilsack “that he had no plans to retire and that he would run again in his Polk County political base.”
Most Polk County Democrats I’ve spoken to expect Vilsack to run against Boswell in the new third Congressional district rather than in the redrawn second district, likely to contain Vilsack’s hometown Mount Pleasant. I would be surprised to see her run against Dave Loebsack in IA-02, but it could happen if the new IA-03 has a strong Republican tilt (say, containing lots of counties to the south and west of Polk but not Democratic-leaning Story, Marshall and Jasper counties). In that case, a primary against Loebsack could be more appealing than a general election against Tom Latham. I don’t have a good sense of the activist base’s commitment to Loebsack in IA-02, so I hope Bleeding Heartland readers who live in the area will weigh in. I believe many activists in IA-03 are ready for a change and would support a new candidate in a primary against Boswell.
Vilsack would be a much tougher opponent for Boswell than Ed Fallon was in 2008. The entire Democratic establishment and most allied groups like organized labor supported Boswell against Fallon. Some Democratic activists thought Fallon was unelectable or refused to consider supporting him because he had endorsed Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000. In addition, Fallon was unable to match the incumbent in fundraising.
Christie Vilsack has none of Fallon’s baggage and should have no trouble raising enough money to make the race competitive. She may even raise more than Boswell, who had just $65,276 in his campaign account at the end of 2010. (No word on how much Boswell raised at his big campaign fundraiser last month, featuring Senator Tom Harkin.) Although Boswell has a good record on women’s issues, many activists would be excited about making Vilsack the first Iowa woman to go to Congress.
During the 2008 primary, Boswell’s campaign kept Fallon on the defensive, questioning his ethics and slamming his record on ethanol and meth. The Nader trump card was played again and again. Boswell is good at “winning ugly,” as he showed last year against Brad Zaun. But I don’t see how he goes hard negative against Vilsack in a primary. My sense is that would backfire.
What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Who would have the edge in a Boswell-Vilsack primary? How bad would the IA-03 map have to be to send Vilsack running against Loebsack on more friendly Democratic turf?
UPDATE: On February 3 Boswell announced the hiring of Julie Stauch as his Iowa chief of staff, beginning in March. (Sally Bowzer recently retired from the position.) Stauch is a veteran Iowa political operative and managed Boswell’s 2002 re-election campaign. In 2004, she managed Lois Murphy’s unsuccessful challenge to a Republican Congressional incumbent in Pennsylvania. In 2006, she managed Mazie Hirono’s successful Congressional bid in Hawaii. Most recently, Stauch has been chief public affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
FEBRUARY 4 UPDATE: Senator Harkin seems to be trying to discourage Vilsack:
“I don’t see that happening,” Harkin says. […]
“Look, I have great respect for Christie Vilsack. I’ve known [her] a long time,” Harkin says. “Since I’m so heaviy into education, here’s someone who has been in education all her life, so I have a lot of respect for her and her abilities. She has a lot of talent and a lot of support in the state of Iowa, but I do not see a primary with her and Congressman Boswell.”