District shifts will test hopefuls

Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) - Monday, July 11, 2011
Author: By MIKE GLOVER ; Associated Press
2012 could bring unusual Iowa congressional races. 

DES MOINES -- Iowa congressional races are typically low-key events, but next year's election is shaping up as anything but typical. 

Thanks to redistricting, all of Iowa's congressmen will be in new or reshaped districts, one will face a former Iowa first lady and in the 3rd District, two incumbents will vie to remain in the U.S. House. 

"New maps, new counties and new communities present new challenges for incumbents," said veteran Democratic strategist Ron Parker. 

Previous redistricting has played a role in losses by several sitting congressmen in the past 20 years. Redistricting is the once-a-decade process of redrawing boundaries to reflect national and local shifts in population, based off the U.S. Census. 

After the 1990 census, slow population growth resulted in Iowa's congressional delegation dropping from six to five districts. Republican Jim Nussle and Democrat Dave Nagle were tossed into the same northeast Iowa district, and Nussle won handily in the 1992 election. 

Redistricting was a factor in Democratic incumbent Neal Smith's loss to Republican Greg Ganske in 1994. Ganske's win came about after the district had been reshaped from primarily the Des Moines metropolitan area to include much of rural southwest Iowa, which turned out strongly for the Republican. 

The 2000 Census also led longtime Republican Rep. Jim Leach to move to Iowa City and into a Democratic-leaning district. He survived a couple of elections before being defeated by Dave Loebsack in 2006. 

This year, Iowa has again lost a congressional seat. That prompted Loebsack to move to a new district to avoid facing Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, and it led Republican Rep. Tom Latham to move to the 3rd District rather than face GOP Rep. Steve King. 

Latham will likely face Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell and King will go against Christie Vilsack, the wife of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, now the Agriculture secretary. Vilsack announced she would move to Ames to challenge King. 

Parker said all the incumbents face the difficulty of introducing themselves to new voters. To an extent, that means they've lost their big advantage of having greater name recognition than typically little-known challengers. 

"It is more difficult to balance the demands of taking care of business in Washington and reaching out to new constituents back home," Parker said. 

Veteran Democratic activist Rob Tully agreed, noting incumbents nearly always win re-election. Redistricting is one of the few times they can stumble. 

"Now they have to re-introduce themselves," Tully said. 

He noted that can be expensive, requiring more fundraising to pay for additional advertising. That's never easy but can be especially difficult at a time when the economy remains sluggish. 

"It's brutal raising money, whether you're doing it for nonprofits or for candidates," Tully said. 

Republican Party of Iowa spokesman Casey noted it's a bipartisan problem. 

"That is something that's a given with all of our incumbents," Mills said. 

While the Boswell-Latham race will probably be the most closely watched, no one is going to get a free ride in this election cycle. Loebsack already has Republican opposition, and Braley is certain to as well. 

Both Boswell and Latham have strong connections to their parties' House leadership, and the 3rd District race is likely to be expensive. 

Three of the four new congressional districts have more registered Democrats than Republicans, although the numbers in the new 3rd District are very close -- with the Democrats holding a roughly 3,000 vote edge. The 4th District, where King will likely face Christie Vilsack, has about 40,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. 

In all four districts, voters who registered without declaring a party either outnumber party members or come close to doing so.