IA-04: More speculation about Vilsack challenging King

Citing “several sources familiar with her thinking,” Alex Isenstadt reports at Politico today that former First Lady Christie Vilsack is leaning toward challenging five-term incumbent Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Isenstadt notes that Vilsack met with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel last week in Washington. Israel reportedly promised Vilsack that he would support her if she runs against King, but that he would “unequivocally” back Representative Dave Loebsack if she runs against him in the Democratic primary to represent the second Congressional district.

Isenstadt’s piece doesn’t clarify whether Israel promised the DCCC’s financial backing for Vilsack in an IA-04 race. The DCCC officially supports all Democratic nominees for the U.S. House, but usually only spends money on behalf of a few dozen candidates. The 39 counties in the new fourth district (map after the jump) are in five different media markets, although most of the population could be reached by advertising in just Des Moines, Sioux City and Mason City.

Last week the Des Moines rumor mill suggested Vilsack had been calling state legislators in the second district. According to Isenstadt, she has discussed a possible race against King with some Democrats in IA-04:

Jan Bauer, chairwoman of the Story County Democratic Party in Ames, said she spoke with the former first lady several weeks ago and that Vilsack raised the possibility of challenging the conservative congressman.

“I’d be surprised if she doesn’t do it,” Bauer said in an interview.

A campaign in IA-04 would be an uphill climb for any Democrat, although Vilsack would start the race with unparalleled name recognition and the capacity to raise significant funds. King has never been a major-league fundraiser; his latest FEC filing indicated that he had $142,610.38 in his campaign account as of March 31.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. I think a campaign in IA-02 would give Vilsack her best chance of winning a seat in Congress and holding that seat for more than two years. On the other hand, I would enjoy seeing a serious and well-funded challenge to Iowa’s most embarrassing politician of my lifetime.

Final note on IA-02: Loebsack’s latest FEC filing showed $121,874.47 cash on hand as of March 31. Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin headlined a fundraiser for Loebsack in Iowa City over the weekend. Next month, Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Senator Tom Harkin are hosting a fundraiser for Loebsack in Scott County, while Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) plans to hold a fundraiser for Loebsack in Jasper County.

UPDATE: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told Democratic state senators on Monday that if his wife runs for Congress, “it will be a holy war.” That suggests she is leaning toward challenging King, rather than forcing a Democratic primary in IA-02.

SECOND UPDATE: From Bret Hayworth’s blog on April 19:

This morning, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn was traveling through Northwest Iowa to talk politics, including making a stop to talk with me at the office. He was raring to talk about the possibility of a King-Vilsack matchup.

“She can try and take Steve King on, but I think that will be a great opportunity for Republicans to mobilize. A presidential year, having  a very highlighted race in Northwest Iowa, is a guarantee that we are going to be able to turn out every Republican and conservative vote that would benefit a presidential candidate, all the way down the ticket,” Strawn said.

“Not only does Mrs. Vilsack not have any natural connection whatsoever to Northwest and north central Iowa, but culturally is out of step. She’s someone that has an affiliation with some organizations that would certainly inflame a lot of the pro-life voters in this area… Congressman King has a national following as well, and he would have the ability to call in all sorts of resources to aid the fight.”

THIRD UPDATE: Matt Paul, a former staffer for Governor Tom Vilsack, told the Des Moines Register on April 19,

“I can confirm that Christie and Tom Vilsack have completed a transaction and are moving to Ames,” said Matt Paul, a Democratic strategist who was a staffer for Tom Vilsack when he was governor. […]

Paul declined to offer further details about Christie Vilsack’s political intentions, but said: “There will be an announcement very soon.”

FOURTH UPDATE: A rare moment of agreement between Governor Terry Branstad and me:

“Well, she’s never lived in northwest Iowa and it’s a heavily Republican area,” Branstad said this morning. […]

“I think in southeast Iowa she would be a pretty formidable candidate where she grew up,” Branstad said. “I think in northwest Iowa she’d be a fish out of water.”

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  • OK

    If she went IA-2, she would win the general election, but have a nasty primary, that she has a 20% chance of winning.

    If she went IA-3, she would have a 20% chance of winning a nasty primary, and a 20% chance of winning a nasty general.

    If she went IA-4, she would win the primary, but have a nasty general, that she has a 20% chance of winning.

    Either way, she probably has a 1 in 5 chance (or worse) of winning.  She must really REALLY like Washington D.C. if she wants to go against the odds and try for it.

    Obviously the DCCC will financially support Boswell in his run against Latham, which will be a close one (35% chance of winning for Boswell).

    2 questions:

    Would the DCCC pony up some dough for a less likely victory in IA-4?  Somehow, I doubt it, considering there is a lot more low-hanging fruit around the country due to the GOP landslide of 2010.  

    So, will the other three Congressmen eat up a lot of Democratic donations in Iowa in 2010?  I’m sure that CV can probably raise some good money, but it may not be enough.

    • someone is already

      raining before the parade even begins. I’m no where NEAR this dismal. In fact a quick call around of Dem’s and I’s from up North: the mood is Giddy!!! They are seething at the opportunity to support a real Dem who can beat or at least beat back at the King. Finally some competition! Blue voters & counties will finally come home & true I’s will run away from King in the end. He ain’t no Latham. This will be an EPIC battle and I’m all for it! You can’t say that this doesn’t give Dems in Iowa something to be excited about! Boost that turnout!

      • I hope there is some polling

        to support her appeal among no-party voters in the new IA-04, because King outperformed McCain in his district in 2008. I don’t think we can assume he would easily be beaten if Democrats are enthusiastic about their candidate.

    • I disagree

      I think she would have a good chance of winning an IA-02 primary.

      I agree that the DCCC won’t end up committing significant resources to an IA-04 race.

      • I agree

        being a bit late on this, but I think her appeal with women and some general feelings that Loebsack isn’t that good of a candidate might be enough.  

  • let us hope Christie comes in extra well prepared

     King will use every dirty tactic he has in his bag. No doubt he will avoid any joint appearance, let alone debate.

    I hope the folks in district 4 are gearing up already. Even though Vilsack has high name recognition, they need a reason to vote FOR her.

    King has given them plenty of reason to vote against him. Plus with his national stature, I expect there will be some national money come into the 4th district.

    Charlie, David – save little Steve!

    • Good point

      King is lots more valuable to the Koch brothers and the far right than Mrs Biotech would be to the Democrats.  Also, he will have both the home court advantage and more credibility on rural issues.

      She will have to use every extremist thing King ever said and hope she doesn’t pay a price for carpet-bagging negativism.

  • You don't say why...

    “I think a campaign in IA-02 would give Vilsack her best chance of winning a seat in Congress and holding that seat for more than two years.”

    You have not offered one serious claim backed up with facts.

    Do you know why or are you just running laps?

    • let's see

      The new IA-02 has a partisan voting index of about D+4, meaning that in the last two presidential elections, it voted about four points more Democratic than the national average. Democrats also have a substantial voter registration advantage in IA-02. Although Vilsack is well-known statewide, she is probably best-known on her “home turf” where she grew up and lived for many years as an adult. All of that suggests to me that Vilsack would have little trouble holding the district if she were elected to Congress.

      The new IA-04 has a partisan voting index of about R+4 and a Republican voter registration advantage. McCain carried this district, even though Obama won Iowa by 9 points. That to me suggests that even if a Democrat is able to win this seat in 2012, it would be a tough hold in 2014, 2016 etc.

  • Bingo!

    “The only issue here is that there’s a problem with more than one possible Dem candidate in IA-02.”

    • are you against primaries on principle?

      I supported Ed Fallon against Leonard Boswell in 2008. I knew it was an uphill battle but felt Democrats in IA-03 should be able to choose. I remember at that time a lot of people acted like it was the biggest crime ever to challenge a sitting member of Congress in a primary.  

      • Wasn't there a reasonable argument

        to be made AGAINST Boswell, the Blue Dog, at the time?

        • I thought so

          Others felt Boswell was “a good fit for the district” or at least “not that bad.” The Democratic primary voters decided, and most of them didn’t agree with me.

          Are you saying there is no reasonable argument for choosing someone other than Loebsack? He barely held a D+7 district in 2010–can he hold a D+4 district in which the largest county (Scott) swung to Republicans last year?

          • Living in the 2nd District

            Since I live in Loebsack’s district, and knowing that this is coming, I’ve been trying to think about who I would support.

            You have a good point about his election performance. It is a little lackluster (even if 2010 was a Republican wave year).

            What makes this difficult for me is that he’s been a good congressman. I support his positions on most things, he’s a good representative for the district, he’s always done a good job of including and listening to the concerns of southern Iowa as well as IC/CR.

            Voting against him in a primary seems like punishment to me–and he hasn’t done anything wrong. CV might be able to run up the votes, but I don’t know that she could do any better job representing me than Loebsack.

          • Not necessarily

            Of course there’s a reasonable argument to be made.  I would simply state that the argument for taking out Boswell in a primary is much better than the argument for taking out DL in a primary…quite a bit better, actually.

            And DL still won by a 51-46 margin.  If that’s barely holding, then Obama had a fairly close contest with McCain when he only won 53-46.

            The point is moot, however.  If the Vilsacks are really moving to Ames, Iowa, I think the decision has been made.  

            CV’s running against King.  

            However, I think she’s got a tough road ahead of her because King will win his former counties, and the incredibly popular Latham in North Central Iowa will mobilize his voters to support King (Recall, he received 61% in 2008…more than President Obama got in the D+0 4th district)

  • ED role

    It will be interesting to see how her role as ED of The Iowa Initiative will play out. Obviously, the whole abortion/contraception/pregnancy prevention piece will be at the forefront of the race. She traveled throughout the state talking about the issue so given the likelihood that King et.al. will try to vilify her with this association, I think she’ll have a good grasp on how to deal with them. She won’t have the votes of those folks anyways so it’s all about GOTV, IMHO…

    • The Iowa Initiative

      always struck me as a way for Vilsack to work on preventing unwanted pregnancies without dealing with any of Planned Parenthood’s baggage. The Iowa Initiative programs are solely focused on contraception (not abortion), and only for women ages 18-30 (not younger teens). Won’t matter–Republicans will paint her as an extreme abortion activist.

      • Exactly

        The “anti’s” will always equate contraception with abortion and they’ll just hear blah blah blah when she speaks about the work.  She can’t convert those folks but she may get all the Gen Xers (and many of the Millenials) in the area who could push her over the top.