IA-04: Previewing a potential Latham-King GOP primary

When I saw the Legislative Services Agency’s proposed map of Iowa Congressional districts, my first thought was that the third district looks a lot like the fourth district during the 1990s, except less dominated by Polk County. That earlier configuration helped Republican Greg Ganske defeat 36-year incumbent Neal Smith in 1994. Ganske was re-elected to represent IA-04 three times before leaving the House to run against Senator Tom Harkin in 2002.

Representative Leonard Boswell is the only Congressional incumbent who lives in the proposed IA-03, and some people are spinning this map as great for Democrats because Boswell comes from and used to represent part of southwest Iowa. I disagree. Representative Tom Latham could easily move to Dallas or Polk County to challenge Boswell. Doing so would avoid a Republican primary in the new fourth district between Latham and Steve King. Latham seems like a stronger candidate than Ganske, while Boswell is weaker than Smith, who was a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee in 1994. Polk County has a Democratic voter registration edge and more than half the population of the proposed IA-03, but as a whole the district is politically balanced. George W. Bush carried the counties in the new IA-03 by 5 points in 2004; Barack Obama won the area in 2008, but by a smaller margin than his statewide edge over John McCain.

Not every Iowa politics watcher shares my view that Latham will move to IA-03 if the first redistricting proposal becomes law. After the jump I examine what could prompt Latham to stay put in Story County and what arguments would dominate a Latham-King contest.

Why would Latham stay in IA-04?

Unlike Representative Dave Loebsack, who made clear on March 31 that he would move to the new IA-02 under this redistricting plan, Latham hasn’t said where he would run if the proposed maps are accepted. Last week he issued a general statement praising the process, pledging to keep working “on behalf of the interest of all Iowans.”

A primary against the more conservative King would be risky for Latham. But on the plus side, the proposed IA-04 would be almost a sure thing for Latham in the general election. The district went for both George Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Latham represented northwest Iowa from 1995 through 2002 and has represented north-central Iowa for the last decade. In fact,

The proposed 4th District, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, covers 39 counties, including 18 in King’s current district and 17 in Latham’s.

But Latham also represented each of King’s 18 counties for eight years before the previous round of redistricting, giving Latham strong ties to the entire district.

Latham has represented only a few of the counties in the proposed IA-03. He would be unchallenged in a Republican primary but would have to work harder in a campaign against Boswell. If he got through a primary in IA-04, he could take it easy in the general, like he did in 2010.

The Republican case for Steve King

If forced to run against Latham in a primary, King would campaign as the outspoken, principled conservative. He’s not afraid to be in a small group voting against some big government or politically correct bill. King was the only House member to vote against putting up a marker in the Capitol acknowledging the role that slave labor played in constructing the building. He was out there calling the State Children’s Health Insurance Program “Socialized Clinton style Hillarycare for Illegals and their Parents.”  In contrast, Latham voted several times to expand the number of children eligible for SCHIP.

This year, Latham has voted twice for continuing resolutions to fund the federal government, while King voted no because the bills didn’t cut off funding for Planned Parenthood and “Obamacare.”

In December, Latham voted for the bill extending all the Bush tax cuts for two years. King voted no because he wanted the tax cuts extended for at least five years and opposed extending unemployment benefits as part of the deal. Also during the lame-duck session of Congress, Latham was one of just 17 House Republicans to vote for the child nutrition act.

King has served in Congress for only half as long as Latham, but he keeps a much higher profile. He shows up frequently for conservative rallies in Washington, even if that occasionally interferes with his committee schedule. He appears more often on right-wing talk radio in Iowa and nationwide. He’s a regular on cable news networks looking for sound bites from the right.

I don’t want to overstate the differences between the two Republicans, because Latham is no moderate. King’s lifetime progressive score on the Progressive Punch website is 1.96 percent (ranked 408th out of the current House members). Latham’s lifetime progressive score is 7.88 percent (ranked 264th among the current House members). The gap between King and Latham shrinks if you look at their lifetime scores on what Progressive Punch defines as “crucial votes”; here King’s rating is 1.72 percent, tied for 390th place, while Latham’s is 2.48 percent, tied for 344th. Most of the time, Latham and King vote the same way.

Nevertheless, King is undoubtedly the fiercer warrior. He spent months leading the charge to repeal and defund “Obamacare.” Latham voted for repeal and has introduced a health care reform bill to replace what Democrats passed in 2010, but he hasn’t put himself at the center of Republican efforts on the issue.

The Republican case for Tom Latham

Latham can’t claim to be more conservative as King, so he would have to campaign as the more effective representative. Do voters in IA-04 want to toss out a subcommittee chair on the House Appropriations Committee, who has brought more money to Iowa in 18 years than Steve King ever will? King’s a master at drawing attention to himself, but House Speaker John Boehner’s best buddy has a lot more clout.

King’s outbursts sometimes embarrass even fellow conservatives. That’s why he was passed over for a subcommittee chairmanship after Republicans gained the House majority. (King blamed Boehner for that.)

Latham could point out that on the big issues his voting record and King’s are virtually identical, but he’s a guy who can get the job done.

Latham would probably make an electability argument as well. The new IA-04 wouldn’t tilt as strongly to the GOP as King’s current district. There’s a chance King could lose to a strong Democratic candidate, especially in a presidential election year. In 2008, King outperformed John McCain in IA-05, but not by nearly as much as Latham did in IA-04. Latham was re-elected by more than 20 points even as Obama carried his district by 9.

Who would be favored?

As a general rule, I don’t bet against the more conservative candidate in a two-way GOP primary. Speaking to Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal,

Kelly O’Brien of Sanborn, the O’Brien County Republican Party Chairman, said he thinks King would have an advantage in a primary over Latham, but said it would certainly be competitive – and interesting to watch.

“People really like Steve King, Republicans do, we think the world of him,” O’Brien said. “I’m just guessing, but I think Steve would come out on top in that one.”

Latham ended the 2010 campaign with about $591,000 cash on hand, while King finished the year with about $181,000 in his campaign account. As a senior member on Appropriations, Latham will probably raise a lot more money than King in the next cycle too. On the other hand, the tea party favorite King may receive lots of small-dollar donations from across the country if he is perceived to be fighting for his life against a Republican favored by the establishment.

Unknown factors include whether the National Republican Congressional Committee would get involved in the race and how many independents and Democrats would cross over to vote in a GOP primary. I’m guessing a lot of people would jump at the chance to take out King.

Probably none of this will happen, because Latham will move into the new IA-03. Please add your own scenario spinning about the 2012 Iowa Congressional races in this thread.

P.S. No, I don’t think there is any chance Christie Vilsack would move into IA-04 to run against King.

  • This is very unfortunate for Vilsack

    This map will probably be approved, and she’ll be shut out of running this year.

    I predict that she won’t go this year and that Boswell will retire by losing to Latham in 2012.

    Then, in 2014 Vilsack can run against Latham, or try for the open seat if Latham runs for the Senate.

    • I wouldn't be surprised

      to see her run against Loebsack in IA-02.  

      • Would Vilsack

        really try and primary the most progressive member of the Iowa House delegation, and the only Iowa member of the CPC?

        Would she run to his left or to his right?  I just don’t see it in the cards.

        • technically

          Braley has a slightly more progressive voting record than Loebsack, although Loebsack’s the only Iowan in the Progressive Caucus. Both are outside the 100 most progressive House Democrats.

          If Vilsack ever plans to run for Congress, the only realistic path for her is through IA-02. She can’t afford to wait a decade for Loebsack to retire or for the next round of redistricting.

          I don’t think she would run to his left or right–it would be more like “time for Iowa to send a woman to Congress, finally.”

          • While I think you're right

            and IA-2 is the only place that she could go, I don’t think, “I’m a woman” is a really compelling argument…especially in a primary against a Congressman seen as effective by the Democratic Party and by the DCCC.

            I really think that she’s out of luck.

      • I would

  • Latham and other thoughts

    I agree with everything you said and had all the same thoughts myself.  #1 I think this will be the map

    #2 There will be no primary between Latham and King

    #3 Latham will move to northern Polk or Dallas and take on Boswell (the only way I see C. Vilsack running here is if Leonard has a change of heart and retires seeing the more conservative nature of his district along with facing Latham)

    #4 I think too much has been played up and spun about Boswell having represented 70% of this district at one point or another.  He would be very hard pressed to win any county outside of Polk and I think Latham would keep his margin in Polk close.

    #5 Latham would be the strongest best funded candidate Boswell has ever faced and now in a district more conservative then his current one where half the district hasn’t had him on the ballot for 10 years if ever. ( now Latham also hasn’t been on the ballot in the vast majority of this district. But in the counties neither has run in and in the ones Leonard lost to redistricting in 2002 Republicans like King and Ganske carried handily.  

    p.s. There is NO way Vilsack runs in the  4th.  It was problematic for here to run in the 3rd with Leonard still in the game but this new district makes that even less appealing.  I think her only option this cycle is the 2nd.  It’s her home she could try and claim that it is an open seat so Loebsack moving in should have no more claim then het and it is the best seat in Iowa for a progressive woman candidate to win from.  Unfortunately her toting around with challenging Boswell and then running against another incumbent Loebsack would cause major schisms in the party and put her and her husband now part of the administration up against the DCCC so I just don’t know if she’d want to step on that many toes to try for a seat.

  • King and other thoughts

    I think King would crush Latham in a primary, I mean who would possibly go to bat for Latham except for maybe a few of Boehner’s closest crew which would make Latham look like a “Washington insider”

    You’ve got a lot of far right candidates running for President who are probably filling King’s coffers as we speak.  

    Gingrich may be likely to back Latham, but he’s made it clear in recent days, he’s not interested in having a thoughtful conversation, at least not while a camera is on him.

    Christie Vilsack has every right to run and I would support her in a bid against Dave Loebsack, but Loebsack and Boswell have never done anything to really upset either Vilsack that I am aware of, they were always seen as good team players.  Could she run to either person’s left on Afghanistan?  That could be her opening, but it always was a hard sell in my view.  

  • Districts and Latham

    Up at the state house its sounding like this proposed map is going to pass, which, in my opinion, is a good thing for democrats, both state legislatively and congressionally.

    Focusing on the congressional districts though this map locks in IA-01 and 02 for braley and lobesack, even in a bad year for democrats. IA-03, boswell’s district, is not completely horrible for Democrats. The district still has a slight Democratic lean (51 federal Democratic performance index) and puts latham in a very precarious position.

    The word from Republican insiders is that latham has already decided to move to dallas county and is already shopping around. The latham boswell race is going to be one hell of a match up. Latham will have a serious name ID problem in the district, even in polk county. This will provide boswell and the DCCC plenty of time to define latham before his new voters can get to know him. While Latham has a huge war chest, the DCCC has shown time and time again that it is willing to bet on Boswell and help fund his re-election campaigns. Finally Latham has not had a real challenger, including Becky Greenwald, in a very long time where as Boswell has proven time and time again that he can run in a hard race and win. Considering all of this and with Obama back on the ticket I will be betting on Boswell. (Side note: while I know some people aren’t boswell fans, I think its important to consider the question, do you really want Boehner’s tanning buddy as your congressman?)

    With regards to Christie Vilasck, she would have to be off her rocker to run with this map passing. There is no credible reason for her to primary Boswell and the only other option is running against Lobesack in IA-02. What is she going to do challenge him from the right?

  • Thoughts/Predictions

    1) The map passes, that has become fairly obvious.  (Incidentally I have studied the maps obsessively for several days now and I think it is an improvement for team blue on the state level)

    2) Latham is NOT going to run in a primary with King, both because he can’t win and because he’s non-controversial by nature.  He knows it would make them both look really bad in the end. He moves to Dallas County.  

    3)Christie runs in SE IA.  This is her only shot and redistricting coupled with Loebsack having to move will be enough cover for the public at large (it wasn’t an accident that he said he’d move THE DAY the map came out).  I also think she will beat him.  I don’t think she’ll run to his left or right, but simply as “I want to serve, I think I’d be good at it”.  I don’t think it’d get nasty.  People know that Loebsack is sort of an accident of history and a weak candidate.  Also, given his district, there is no reason it should have been that close, even in a bad year.  CV would lock it down for good, simply by flipping Henry County to blue and increasing margins in the surrounding counties.

    4)  LB v Latham Inc. will be epic.  I’m not a huge fan of Boswell either, but people forget that he does have a certain appeal to rural indy voters, he’d be gone by now if he didn’t.  He’s won counties he had no business winning over the years.  With a sort of quick and dirty analysis, I think if he can get a 15,000 vote margin out of Polk he could win… and that’s doable.  Latham will need to be nuked, and Boswell showed he’s not afraid of doing that with Zaun (much to my amusement).  In fact I think Boswell is the only Democrat (including CV) that could win the new third.  In a presidential year, if the winds from the conservative overreach shift to our back finally, he just might.

    This map is not ideal on the Congressional level, but there is really only one specific set up that would be significantly better for us (Polk, Story, Marshall, Jasper and no Dallas in the 3rd and an expanded current 5th for the 4th) and that would get shot down.

    Big winner:  Braley! (Adding Linn and dropping Scott, which he lost last time) King is a winner to an extent also, but I have to believe it would be possible to beat him in that new district, just for my own sanity 🙂

    • Braley's the only clear winner

      among the five incumbents, in my view. Not only does he swap out Scott for Linn, he gets Poweshiek, containing Grinnell and his home town of Brooklyn.

      I think King could be beaten with the right candidate in the right year, so he hasn’t improved his position, but he’s still favored to hold the district.

    • o Christie

       While I agree with your assesment of the Boswell Latham race, I think you are way of base with CV. I dont think she runs in any of these districts because she cant justify to the party, donors and voters the rationale for taking on an incumbent like Lobesack. He has represented that district well and has not done anything to anger democrats in that district. He is well liked, especially in johnson county, and doesn’t deserve to be primaried.

       If for some fluke reason she did decide to run I dont think she would win. While Lobesack is viewed as an accidental congressman, it seems odd he would be since his campaign strategy was very simple, get democrats in an overly democratic district to vote for democrats. The district he ran in against leech was overly democratic and it was only a matter of time till he lost. Also I wouldn’t underestimate his campaigning abilities, he has certainly learned a lot quickly.The last campaign where a lot of outside money was dropped against him in a tough democratic year proved he could run in a tough race. Also I wouldnt expect him to take it sitting down and would probably have no qualms against going negative against CV.There is plenty of dirt out there on her and the vilsacks overall. This on top of her likely low name id would make it very difficult for her to run and in. I think this holds true in any of the congressional districts for her.

  • My Thoughts Ditto

    1. I don’t think Vilsack will run this year. I think taking on Loebsack would be a big mistake. Even if she would win (which I think is no guarantee, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. She’d stir up bad feelings in her district (Loebsack seems especially well liked in the Iowa City area) and get a bad reputation for stabbing a fellow Dem in the back.

    While we’re on Vilsack, I don’t see why the perception is that this is her only shot at the big time. I could easily see her pulling a Hillary Clinton and running for her husbands old job. Plus, Grassley and Harkin won’t be around forever–and I think in an open, no-incumbent election, she would win easily.

    2. I also don’t think Latham will primary King. He’ll either move to Des Moines and challenge the Boz or see this as his chance to move up and either run for Gov. in 2014 (provided Branstad only serves one term) or challenge Harkin next time.  

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