DES MOINES — In the end, Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell went back to being nice guys.
Boswell, a Democrat, called his longtime U.S. House colleague Tuesday night to concede the election. He offered congratulations after it became evident that despite a battle, Latham was going to come out on top in Iowa's 3rd Congressional District.
Minutes later, Latham, standing before a crowd of Republican supporters, thanked Boswell for his work in Congress on issues important to Iowa.
“Even though there's real differences, I will tell you we will join together as Iowans to move this country forward,” Latham said.
The election earned Latham a 10th House term. The newly drawn 3rd District includes Council Bluffs and southwest Iowa.
Gov. Terry Branstad called the race “tough” but said Latham “handled it with grace and dignity.”
The politeness and promises to stay friends on Tuesday were a far cry from the campaign between Latham and Boswell, two longtime members of Congress who were considered moderates in their respective parties.
It was unusual from the start and grew bitter as Election Day drew closer.
The contest was one of only two races in the country that pitted two U.S. House members against each other — a rare side effect of Iowa's system of redrawing political districts every 10 years without regard to where incumbents live.
Right up to the finish, some polls had the race virtually tied.
When Latham decided to move to Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, to run against Boswell — his other option would have been running against GOP colleague Steve King — he dreaded telling Boswell.
While the two didn't socialize in Washington, Latham and Boswell got along and worked on legislation important to Iowa, such as the farm bill.
“This is a conversation I wish we never had to have,” Latham told Boswell on the House floor. Both men agreed the situation was “awkward.”
Things went from awkward to downright nasty.
Latham and Boswell started attacking each other's record.
Latham tied Boswell — long considered a Blue Dog Democrat — to a liberal Obama agenda. For his part, Boswell publicly called out Latham for his friendship with House Speaker John Boehner, referring to them often as “cigarette-smoking buddies.”
But the TV ad war was perhaps the ugliest part of the race.
Latham, 64, ran ads that accused Boswell of giving huge bonuses to his staff. Boswell accused Latham of personally benefitting financially from TARP, the government bailout program of 2008.
Each campaign spent a fortune on the ads, and that didn't include the millions that PACs spent running ads of their own against the candidates.
Boswell, 78, had a longer history in the new district, as a southwest Iowa farmer who had moved to Des Moines in 2000, the last time boundaries were redrawn.
Latham's roots are in rural north-central Iowa, in Hampton. He lived in Ames before moving 40 minutes south, to Clive.
Right up to the end, Boswell was optimistic that he'd pull through.
“You never feel fully confident, but you just go out and do your thing,” Boswell said. “I'm a farmer. I'm an eternal optimist.”
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