COUNCIL BLUFFS — No clear front-runner has emerged in the race between two incumbent congressmen seeking re-election in southwest Iowa.
Democrat Leonard Boswell and Republican Tom Latham, colleagues in the House for more than 15 years, are battling in Iowa's newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, which includes Council Bluffs and most of southwest Iowa.
They found themselves squaring off this year after redistricting cost Iowa a congressional seat.
Neither candidate is considered particularly partisan in his respective party. Until now, they've have had a good working relationship in Washington, and they agree that the country needs a new farm bill.
The Boswell-Latham contest could have national significance, since it's in a presidential swing state during a year the GOP is trying to retain control of the House.
With the exception of Des Moines and Polk County, the 3rd District for the most part is Republican-leaning. However, polls, political scientists and the campaigns themselves say anything is possible.
A survey released by Roll Call last month said the race is a tossup. A separate poll released in September by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed the two candidates tied at 45 percent.
Latham has ties to party leadership — he is close friends with House Speaker John Boehner — and a cash advantage. By the end of June, Boswell had raised nearly $1.2 million; Latham, $2.6 million.
“Boswell will play pretty well on the conservative side, because he's not a left-wing liberal Democrat. He's a veteran and a farmer,” said Iowa State University political scientist Steffen Schmidt. “But Latham can easily sell himself to independent voters, which are key voters in any campaign.”
According to the National Journal's annual survey of 2011 votes, Boswell was the House's 166th most liberal member. He voted liberally on economic, social and foreign issues 61.8 percent of the time.
As for Latham, the nonpartisan publication ranked him the 164th most conservative member of the House. His votes on economic, social and foreign issues were conservative 66.3 percent of the time.
Boswell was elected to Congress in 1996; Latham in 1994.
Though they have worked together on issues important to Iowa — the farm bill, in particular — they've parted company on bills that have become divisive issues for Democrats and Republicans alike.
For instance, Boswell voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature and controversial health care legislation. Latham joined his GOP colleagues in voting against it.
In an interview with The World-Herald, Boswell said he still supports the health care law, though he said it might have to be tweaked in a few places as leaders learn more about what's working and not working.
“I was so appreciative that this president had the grit not to kick the can down the road,” Boswell said.
Latham wants the law repealed, saying it raises costs for families and health care providers.
He said a replacement law would have to include a provision to cover those with pre-existing conditions, as the current law does, as well as keep adult children on their parents' health insurance policies longer. The current law allows them to stay on their parents' plan until age 26.
“We really need to have a market-based, competitive-based health care system,” Latham said.
Boswell also voted in 2009 for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the president's stimulus plan to create jobs and boost the economy.
He wonders what would have happened to the economy had the plan not been enacted, speculating that things would have been worse.
“I didn't think it was perfect,” he said. “I would have had a lot more go into infrastructure. But when I think about what would have happened ... I think the damage would have been beyond a magnitude we could imagine.”
Latham voted against the stimulus.
“It has obviously failed,” he said. “What it does going forward is retard potential growth.”
Latham said a better solution is tax reform and an easing of government regulations so companies won't be afraid to hire new employees for fear of more costs down the road.
“They are trying to hang on to what they have during all of this uncertainty,” Latham said of businesses.
Such issues may divide Boswell and Latham, but they agree that Iowa needs a new farm bill sooner rather than later. Boehner has postponed consideration of the food and farm policy legislation until after the election.
The candidates — both have farming roots — said the House should take up the legislation now, even if it's not perfect.
“I'm as frustrated as anyone, being a farmer myself,” Latham said. “My position is, bring it to the floor.”
Said Boswell: “For those of us who are hands-on farmers, planting season has already taken place ... and we don't have a farm bill. I'm terribly frustrated.”
Schmidt, the ISU political scientist, said Latham's campaign has been stronger, his ads better. But Boswell can't be underestimated, he said.
“They have an equal chance of winning.”
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