IA-03: Least inspiring campaign ever?

I planned to write several posts this fall about the third Congressional district race between Representatives Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell. Instead, every time I sat down to write about the campaign, I found myself turning to other topics. Central Iowa radio and television stations have been so over-saturated with cookie-cutter attack ads against both candidates. If a political junkie like me finds it off-putting, I can’t imagine how disengaged other people feel when they hear the beginning of yet another negative commercial.

Neither Latham nor Boswell has offered a compelling case for re-election, but after the jump I review the main messages from both campaigns and from various outside groups that have been advertising in Des Moines and Omaha.

Latham’s enormous fundraising advantage prompted some people to write off Boswell’s chances earlier this year. However, going into the last month of the campaign Boswell had enough money to compete in paid media, while Latham seemed to have more cash on hand than he knew what to do with. Internal polling on both sides is rumored to show a close race, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released partial results from one September poll to drive home that point. Roll Call rates IA-03 as a tossup. The National Journal and Rothenberg Political Report consider Latham slightly favored.

Whoever wins independents in IA-03 is likely to win the election. The latest voter registration numbers indicate that the 16 counties in IA-03 contain 157,904 Democrats, 166,759 Republicans, and 150,989 no-party voters.

The early voting numbers suggest that Boswell has small lead going into election day. As of November 3, county auditors in IA-03 had received 67,351 ballots from registered Democrats, 53,571 from Republicans, and 34,389 from no-party voters. I don’t understand why Latham didn’t spend more of his war chest on field organizers to turn out voters early across the district.

Latham’s message to voters

Latham has bought a ton of radio and television advertising time. In the spring and summer, he ran some positive commercials. For instance, “Iowa Common Sense.”


Male voice-over: How do you go from working in a family seed business in Iowa to fighting for Iowans at the highest levels?

Tom Latham grew up on an Iowa farm. He learned Iowa common sense and took it to Washington.

Tom’s working to help Iowa small businesses create jobs, and lower taxes for middle-class families. He’s fighting to stop the spending, voting against the wasteful stimulus and for a balanced budget. Tom Latham: one of us, fighting for us.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, and I approve this message.

In contrast, this fall I’ve seen mostly negative advertising from Latham’s campaign. In early October, this spot used a bunch of unidentified “ordinary people” to explain why they’re supporting the Republican.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, and I approve this message.

Footage of Boswell from the Iowa State Fair: Look at his record, look at my record, and you make your choice.

Older man: I’ve looked at Leonard’s record, and I’ve looked at Tom’s record, and I’m supporting Tom Latham.

Younger man: If you take a look at the voting record, Leonard Boswell has voted with Nancy Pelosi the majority of the time.

Younger woman, with children swinging on a play set in the background: If we continue the spending, we will not be able to pass that American dream on to our children.

Older woman: Based on his votes, I don’t think Congressman Boswell is interested in cutting spending.

Second older man: He doesn’t support Iowa, he supports Washington, DC.

Central Iowans have heard this big spending, “Nancy Pelosi” line against Boswell many times before. I suppose it’s new to people in southwest Iowa, who weren’t in IA-03 before.

Other Latham ads have focused on allegedly excessive bonuses paid to Boswell’s staff.


Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, and I approve this message.

Female voice-over: In the last four years, 11,000 Iowans have lost their homes. Thousands more have lost jobs.

But as Iowans played by the rules and struggled to get ahead, Congressman Leonard Boswell rewarded his government staff with more than a half-million dollars in bonuses. Bonuses as big as fourteen thousand dollars, paid for by Iowa taxpayers who didn’t have money to spare.

Iowans struggled, while Leonard Boswell spent our money on big bonuses, the Washington way.

This commercial is ridiculous. As Boswell pointed out during the candidates’ debate on Iowa Public Television, he pays his staff lower base salaries than Latham does.

Boswell: He’s leading by misrepresentation at this moment.  We all have to manage our own account.  We have about the same account and so reflect over that time he’s talking about and we have actually turned back more than he has.  I have a system where there’s reward for good work, there is incentive at the end of the year if you’ve met the criteria of incentives you’re going to get rewarded for it but overall he is paying an average of $500 a month for his people more which equates to $6000 a year.  So this is misrepresentation and it’s unfortunate to have to do that but that’s not true.

I don’t understand why a Republican would be against hiring people at lower pay, with a chance to earn bonuses for hard work. But Latham clearly thinks this is a winning issue, because his campaign put up a BoswellBonus.com website and launched a 60-second radio ad on the topic a couple of weeks ago.

Iowans are learning more about the Boswell bonuses. America was struggling through the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Thousands of Iowans lost jobs and homes, while middle-class incomes declined. Seniors on fixed incomes were denied cost of living adjustments.

But in Congressman Leonard Boswell’s office, the good times rolled. From 2008 to 2011, career politician Boswell awarded his own staff more than a half-million dollars in taxpayer-funded in bonuses, some for more than $14,000.

Boswell was so generous with taxpayer money, he gave $700 billion to Wall Street, voting for the 700 billion-dollar TARP bailout. Boswell voted for the wasteful stimulus, and to add trillions in new debt.

But maybe Boswell’s most galling use of your money happened inside his own office, with the spending Boswell personally controlled. Under Boswell, good times rolled, while Iowans suffered.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, candidate for Congress, and I approved this message.

During the candidates’ October 10 debate on KCCI-TV, Boswell came out for raising the gasoline tax in order to pay for road and bridge repairs. Latham seized on that comment for his closing tv ad, launched on October 30.


Footage of Boswell from the Iowa State Fair: Look at his record, look at my record, and you make your choice.

Female voice-over: Boswell’s record. Half a million dollars in taxpayer-funded bonuses for staff. Trillions in new debt. Now Boswell supports raising taxes on every Iowan.

Clip from Boswell at debate: Well, I think we’re gonna have to raise the gas tax.

Female voice-over: Tom Latham voted against the Wall Street bailout. He supports small businesses and cutting spending. The choice is clear: Tom Latham.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, I approve this message, and I’m asking for your vote.

In mid-October, Latham’s campaign produced this ad in response to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spot about Medicare.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, and I approve this message.

Female voice-over: Leonard Boswell’s allies are not telling the truth about Tom Latham’s record. Independent fact-checkers call the attacks, “The Lie of the Year.”

The truth? Boswell voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare.

Unidentified senior Iowa woman: Congressman Boswell robbed Medicare to pay for Obamacare.

Unidentified senior Iowa man, wearing veteran’s cap: Leonard Boswell’s vote to take $700 billion from Medicare hurts Iowa seniors.

Second unidentified senior Iowa man: He has to answer for that.

First senior man/veteran: Shame on you, Leonard Boswell!

By far the best Latham ad is this positive spot, which went on the air about three weeks before the election. I’m still seeing it on Des Moines stations.


Susan Jaenke of Iowa Falls: My daughter, Jamie Jaenke, was killed in Iraq.

Female voice-over: Susan cared for Jamie’s daughter Kayla. But outdated laws prevented Susan and Kayla from receiving the benefit they deserved.

Susan Jaenke: I was within a month of losing everything.

Female voice-over: Tom Latham fought to change the law, to help families like the Jaenkes.

Susan Jaenke: I was told by everybody that that would never happen. I had an admiral tell me that. I guess he was wrong. Tom got it done.

Latham’s voice: I’m Tom Latham, and I approve this message. [footage of Latham talking with Susan and Kayla]

Great work there by the Congressman. I can’t imagine the stress of losing your child in a war, and then having to fight the government for benefits to help care for her orphaned daughter.

Latham should have produced ten commercials like this, featuring constituents he’s helped, instead of a bunch of “Boswell bonus” garbage.

Boswell’s message to voters

As he did during the 2010 campaign, Boswell has relied on mostly negative television advertising. “Deal” went up around Labor Day.


Boswell’s voice: I’m Leonard Boswell, and I approve this message.

Male voice-over: An insider deal only Congressman Tom Latham could pull off. Four years ago, Tom Latham opposed the TARP bank rescue plan.

But documents show that the Latham family bank actually received 2.4 million dollars from the bailout.

No wonder Latham’s net worth increased nearly six times since coming to Congress.

It’s true–Latham and his family bank cashed in your tax dollars.

What’s worse: cashing in your tax dollars from the bailout, or Tom Latham’s hypocrisy?

This ad is a cheap shot. There’s no proof Latham influenced the board of directors’ decision at his family’s bank. I think it would be worse if his family bank had benefited after Latham voted for the bailout.

Anyway, in October 2008 Boswell voted for the scheme that allowed banks to cash in “your tax dollars.” Why did he do that, if he thinks Latham’s family bank did a terrible thing?

Boswell’s campaign ran second version of this commercial too, focusing on the fact that Latham’s family bank is one of just three in Iowa that haven’t fully repaid TARP funds to the federal government. I don’t have the exact script, because I can’t find that video online. Again, there’s no evidence Latham was involved in decisions about how much TARP money to take, or when to pay it back.

During the final ten days of the campaign, Boswell has been running one negative spot and one positive one. The attack ad is called “Shakedown.”


Male voice-over: With Tom Latham, look at who wins, and who loses. The winners: big corporations who got tax breaks from Latham to ship Iowa jobs overseas.

The Latham family bank, who got millions of your taxpayer dollars.

And Tom Latham himself. Millions in special-interest donations, and profits from the family bank.

No wonder Latham’s six times richer since he came to Congress.

And who loses? Iowa and you.

Boswell’s voice: I’m Leonard Boswell, and I approve this message.

I think Boswell’s positive ad, “Joshua,” is ten times more effective.

Male voice-over: After two tours of duty as an air assault helicopter pilot, Leonard Boswell understands: no one gets left behind.

So when a young Iowa veteran tragically took his own life, Boswell grieved with the family and went to work.

Leonard fought for and passed the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention law, to save the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD. Because Leonard Boswell knows that even when you take off the uniform, you never hang it up.

Boswell speaks directly to camera: I’m Leonard Boswell, and I approve this message.

This is a fantastic ad in my opinion. Boswell is rightly proud of pushing for the Joshua Omvig law. Veteran suicides reflect our shameful failure as a country to address the health needs of Americans returning from war zones.

All along, Boswell should have been running more commercials on what he has done to help veterans and other constituents. By this late stage of the campaign, I’m not sure how many viewers are open to learning something new about him.

Outside attacks on Boswell and Latham

Federal Election Commission documents show more than $5.6 million in independent expenditures in IA-03 during this election cycle. Click here to view the details. Latham has benefited from outside spending far more than Boswell.

The national PAC for credit unions has run pro-Latham radio ads, while the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund has paid for both direct mail and television commercials supporting Latham. But the bulk of outside spending in IA-03 has gone toward negative advertising.

The National Republican Congressional Committee stopped spending in IA-03 weeks ago. Perhaps they felt other groups had Boswell pretty well covered, or for some other reason they didn’t expect further spending here to move the needle. Anyway, here’s the ad they launched against Boswell in late September.

Male voice-over: In the twilight of a 25-year career, Leonard Boswell is ending in disgrace.

The Iowa press calls Boswell’s attack ads “cheap,” “personal,” “misleading,” and “not worthy of a candidate who has served his country.”

The truth is, Leonard Boswell’s own transactions raise questions.

Press reports say Boswell got paid rent from a telecom company, shortly after he cosponsored legislation that helped the telecom industry.

It’s time to bring him home.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Karl Rove’s group Crossroads GPS is running a version of a “Silly Spending” ad that’s airing in many Congressional districts.


Male voice-over: Congressman Leonard Boswell strongly supported President Obama’s failed trillion-dollar stimulus. Boswell’s vote sent nearly 2 million dollars to California to collect ants…in Africa. 25 million for snow-making in Vermont. Almost 300,000 to Texas to study weather…on Venus. While here in Iowa, over 32,000 have lost their jobs.

Boswell should have been helping Iowa. It’s time for Leonard Boswell to lose his job. Crossroads GPS is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Republican ads bashed Boswell for supporting the “failed stimulus” two years ago. Naturally, they don’t acknowledge that Iowa received tons of stimulus money for Medicaid, education, roads, and other programs, which helped our state get through the recession without devastating cuts to services. But that’s a topic for another day.

My guess is that anyone who would be motivated to vote against Boswell because of the stimulus was already supporting Latham.

The Congressional Leadership Fund super-PAC has run several ads against Boswell. “Out of Touch” focused on his gas tax comments.


Female voice-over: After 25 years as a professional politician, how out of touch is Leonard Boswell? This out of touch.

Clip of Boswell talking during the KCCI debate: Well, I think we’re gonna have to raise the gas tax. I think we must do that.

Female voice-over: You heard right. With gas near 4 dollars a gallon for Iowa families and farmers, Boswell wants to raise the gas tax.

Clip of Boswell talking during the KCCI debate: Well, I think we’re gonna have to raise the gas tax. I think we must do that. We’ve gotta do it.

Female voice-over: Leonard Boswell. He’s out of touch, and it’s time for him to go.

Congressional Leadership Fund is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Another Congressional Leadership Fund ad, “Too Much,” hits a lot of the GOP talking points we’ve heard many times.


Female voice-over: Too much, too long. That’s Leonard Boswell.

Boswell voted for the stimulus, both bailouts and a giant national energy tax.

Boswell voted for higher income taxes four times. Higher death taxes three times. And 300,000 dollars in taxpayer-funded bonuses for his own personal staff.

After 15 years in Washington, Leonard Boswell can’t stop spending. Too much, too long. It’s time for him to go.

Congressional Leadership Fund is responsible for the content of this advertising.

I realize I’m not the target audience, but to me this ad is boring and repetitive. People against the “death tax” and alleged “energy tax” weren’t ever considering voting for Boswell.

Only three organizations have spent a significant amount of money on advertising against Latham. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has had ordinary people rather than professional voice-overs deliver the messages in its commercials this fall. Lynne Carter of Winterset, who worked in human resources for 12 years, narrated “Devastating,” which went on the air in late September.


When our jobs were shipped overseas, some people were literally left out in the cold. No retirement, no health benefits to go forward. And I was even forced to train our replacements from India — it was devastating.

I’ll never understand why Congressman Latham voted to keep giving government contracts to companies that outsource our jobs. Or why he takes contributions from them. Congressman Latham has no idea what we’re going through.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Randy Parcell of Winterset starred in the DCCC ad “Burns,” which went on the air three weeks ago.

I worked there for over twenty years. I made American made parts — very proud of that. Paid into Medicare out of every paycheck.

But when I learned that Congressman Latham wanted to gut Medicare — basically do away with it … Burns me.

Without Medicare, I’ll have to work till the day I die. While Latham voted himself taxpayer-funded healthcare, for life. The guy just looks out for himself.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Voters have seen so many ads about Medicare this year. You either believe that Republicans would essentially end Medicare, or you don’t. I can’t imagine that many votes are going to change because of this ad.

Incidentally, it was entertaining to watch Latham’s campaign make fools of themselves claiming the the DCCC had used “actors pretending to be Iowans.” The charge was based on a misleading report on KCCI-TV. KCCI’s reporter should have done her homework before suggesting that Randy Parcell “didn’t exist” in Winterset. Only hours after Latham’s people and the Iowa Republican blog crowed that the star of the DCCC ad “didn’t exist,” a Des Moines Register report confirmed that Parcell does live in Winterset.

The House Majority PAC ran some commercials against Latham last winter, prompting a rapid response from Latham. The Democratic super-PAC recently returned to IA-03 with this ad. It has launched similar commercials against several House Republicans.


Young man: Next summer I’m going on a camping trip with my friends. On the way home I’ll be in a car accident, and I’ll be paralyzed for the rest of my life.

Woman: In 20 years I’ll have Alzheimer’s. I won’t recognize my husband or my kids.

Little girl: Next week my mommy and daddy are gonna find out I have diabetes.

Woman: This is Representative Tom Latham.

Girl: He’s running for Congress.

Young man: He voted against embryonic stem-cell research.

Woman: Is he a doctor?

Young man: Is he a scientist?

Woman: Why did Mr. Latham bet my life that he knows best?

Young man: Help me.

Girl: Help me.

Woman: Who knows? Maybe I’m your mother.

Young man: Maybe I’m your grandson.

Girl: Maybe I’m your little girl.

Woman: How do you know I’m not you?

Young man: Embryonic stem cell research could save lives. Maybe yours, or your family’s, someone you love. Only Congressman Latham said no.

Girl: How come he gets to decide who lives and who dies. Who’s he?

Male voice-over: House Majority PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.

As someone who strongly disagrees with Latham’s stand on stem-cell research, I have to say, that’s a pretty manipulative commercial.

Any comments about the Boswell-Latham race are welcome in this thread.  

  • IA 4

    I’m looking forward to your analysis of the 4th District!

  • Yeah, it was bad....

    That KCCI debate was the only one I saw….tried to watch, dozed off at the end.. Christie, and Braley to a lesser extent, picked Leonard’s pocket in IA-03..Latham 54-46.

    Anybody else notice Loebsack didn’t get a shout out from BHO last night with the rest of the Congressional candidates? Mebbe I missed it.  Saw Frank Cownie front and center with the Prez….IA-03 Democratic primary contender in 2014?

    • Cownie?

      I can’t see Cownie as even remotely viable…he would be pounded with ads reviewing over and over again his failed leadership of Project Destiny (He was the one heading the public meetings and leading the charge), his promoting the utility tax theft from ratepayers, the support of diversion of parking ramp revenues, and the incredibly high property tax rates of Des Moines compared to his neighbors.  (That is JUST the start).

      He may run as we have seen plenty of trial balloons from his camp, but it will not be pretty.

      • I also don't see

        Cownie as a strong candidate for this district. I disagreed with Project Destiny, but overall Cownie is a good mayor.

      • Cownie

        I didn’t say he would win, only that he might run.  I agree 100% – a TON of baggage…..start with just being from Des Moines, considering the geography of 3….

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