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.