IA-03: Will Democrats vote on the issues?

Welcome to the latest diary in my series on the Democratic primary campaign in Iowa's third Congressional district.

Today's topic: will progressive Democrats vote for the candidate who is closest to them on the issues, or will other concerns push them toward the incumbent?

Here are links to my previous diaries on this campaign:

the introductory diary, with biographical information on incumbent Leonard Boswell and progressive challenger Ed Fallon

this diary about the main arguments for and against each candidate

this piece about the candidates' activities in February and early March

I am covering the race more frequently and in more detail at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland.

The front page of Ed Fallon's website makes the central argument for his campaign:

In the 2006 election, Americans said we were tired of the Bush Administration's policies.  We wanted a new direction, so we elected a Democratic House and Senate.  Yet on most of the key issues, this new majority has let America down.  Simply stated, too many Congressional Democrats, including Congressman Leonard Boswell, vote too often with President Bush and against the priorities of the American people.

In January, Boswell had a lengthy poll in the field asking Democrats about the issues Fallon has raised in criticizing the incumbent. I don't have any inside information about that poll's findings, but I infer that it didn't find a majority of Democrats in the district siding with Boswell.

I make that assumption because here's the kind of message I don't hear from the Boswell campaign:

Vote for me because I share your values.

Vote for me because I kept America secure with the PATRIOT Act and continued funding for Iraq War.

Vote for me because I supported the 2005 energy bill and am open to building more coal-fired power plants.

Vote for me because I have supported free trade agreements that strengthened our economy.

Vote for me because I will represent your beliefs better than my challenger.

Boswell and his surrogates continue to emphasize other points, including:

The incumbent is a hard worker who delivers for the district.

Boswell's campaign sent a fundraising letter to Democrats in December, which listed some of the accomplishments of the 110th Congress as well as his own achievements on behalf of constituents. I don't have a link for this, but I've typed out a portion of the letter I received in the mail:

I am also proud to report that I was able to secure millions of dollars in federal assistance in the Water Resources Development Act that recently became law for projects in the Third District. The Des Moines River and Greenbelt project will receive roughly $10 million for ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction, and the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers will receive almost $7 million for flood damage reduction efforts.

More recently, Boswell sent out a glossy flier touting his work on economic issues, including his support for the economic stimulus package and for a new aircraft maintenance facility at the Des Moines Airport. Click the link to read the full text of that direct-mail piece.

This past week, Boswell's campaign issued a press release noting that the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy  recently gave Boswell a 90 percent "A" grade for his work on behalf of the middle class in 2007. The same release cited a Knowlegis report that named Boswell the most powerful U.S. representative from Iowa and the 135th most powerful person among the 435 members of the U.S. House. Click the link to read the full text of that release.

Side note: Bleeding Heartland user IowaVoter alerted me to the fact that Boswell hasn't always received such high marks from the Drum Major Institute. As you can see from this page on the institute's website, Boswell got "C" grades in 2003, 2004 and 2005. A "C" means that Boswell voted to support middle-class interests more than 50 percent but less than 80 percent of the time.

I agree with IowaVoter's take on this discrepancy:

Sure, it's easy to get a high grade when your party is in control and decides what comes up for a vote.

But what about all those C grades from 2006, 2005, and 2004?  When Republicans were setting the agenda, Boswell could not stand up to them.

Boswell has clout and seniority.

As I mentioned above, the Boswell campaign was eager to point out that Knowlegis ranked him the most powerful of Iowa's five U.S. representatives. The incumbent's supporters often raise this point as well:

A Bush Democrat?  Is there even such a thing?   How could those within our Party attack a man who has stood with us for years?  The honorable man who has rode through the tough times as our lone Democrat and now is the leader in our congressional delegation? The man who is one of the most powerful Members of Congress in Washington?

Now I am no fan of Washington politics, but the truth is you need influence to get the job done.  Congressman Boswell knows how to get the job done and will continue to get the job done.  Why should we even think about contesting an honorable Democrat like Leonard Boswell when right in our backyard, Rep. Steve King is, well, being Steve King.

Boswell supporters also claim that Fallon was ineffective in the Iowa legislature (Republicans controlled the Iowa House the whole time he served there).

Boswell can win the general election.

As I have written before, Boswell's staffers and supporters often make the case that Fallon is too liberal to win this swing district (with a partisan index of D+1).

This argument is winning over some Democrats who would lean toward Fallon on the issues. Daily Kos user Meng Bomin wrote this after attending the Poweshiek County convention on March 15:

I suspect that Fallon will have support among students, though not unanimous support.  Alec Schierenbeck, one of the leaders of the Grinnell Campus Dems and leader of the Iowa College Democrats, was wearing a Boswell button.  He said he was still open to the idea of supporting Fallon and agreed more with Fallon's policies, but thought that he would get killed in the general election.  I think that, among other things he said to some of the other student delegates, may end up dampening Fallon support at Grinnell.

I disagree that Fallon would lose the general election. His past work on land-use issues gives him some crossover appeal with independents and Republicans. Democrats have made big gains in voter registration. A Republican filed for this seat last week, but he has little name recognition compared to Fallon.

Fallon will have to combat this argument effectively so that people like Alec Schierenbeck feel it is safe to vote for the candidate with the better policy positions.

Boswell is a loyal Democrat, and by the way, Fallon supported Nader in the 2000 presidential race.

I wrote last week that citing Nader is Boswell's strongest card to play in this primary. I noticed recently that Fallon has a section about Nader on the issues page of his website. It includes this statement:

We all make mistakes, and endorsing Ralph Nader for president in 2000 - in frustration over Al Gore choosing Joe Lieberman as his running mate - was perhaps the biggest political mistake I've ever made, though, of course, it didn't affect the outcome - Al Gore carried Iowa. Our frustration over Lieberman has since been confirmed - he has since left the Democratic Party and endorsed Republican John McCain for president.

When Nader announced for president again in 2004, I was disappointed and wrote him a letter encouraging him to withdraw from the race (printed below). It is a huge mistake for him to launch another candidacy, though I don't believe it will affect the outcome. The only chance for real change in this year's presidential election is Barack Obama.

As I predicted, Boswell continues to remind Democrats of Fallon's past support for Nader. Meng Bomin saw both candidates speak at the Poweshiek County convention:

There were quite a few people at the convention (2+ / 0-)

with Fallon literature and bumper stickers.  However, I think it will be a bit of an uphill battle for him.  One of the first things Boswell did was greet the presiding officers by name and talk about Don Smith (the convention chair) for a while.

Their talks were a bit different too.  Fallon was more wonkish and criticized Boswell for his campaign practices, while Boswell basically said "we're doing good stuff in Congress", largely ignored the fact that Fallon was in the race, and then made some comments about Nader and "What if Gore had been President?" (a veiled reference to Fallon's support of Nader in 2000).

Bleeding Heartland user howiekent attended the Polk County convention on March 15 and said Boswell also referred to Nader in his speech to that gathering of more than 1,000 Democrats. Fallon spoke to the Polk County delegates after Boswell. According to howiekent, Fallon apologized for supporting Nader in 2000, then demanded that Boswell apologize for his votes such as those supporting the war, the PATRIOT Act and No Child Left Behind.

Fallon has a strong grassroots base in this district. If he can convince Democrats to vote for the candidate closest to them on the issues, he will win the primary.

Boswell is going to try to keep voters focused on other concerns: maintaining clout and seniority, winning the general election, and holding a grudge over Nader.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have about the district or this primary.

Tags: 2008 elections, Congress, Ed Fallon, IA-03, Iowa, Leonard Boswell, U.S. House of Representatives (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

Re: IA-03: Will Democrats vote on the issues?

I find it really funny that a guy would argue that you have to re-elect him since he's the 135th most powerful member of the House!  I mean, yeah, you don't get that kind of clout from just anyone.

by Steve M 2008-03-18 10:23AM | 0 recs
I haven't gone through the list

of members of Congress, but I would curious to know how many Democrats are ranked as more powerful than Boswell despite having served fewer terms (Boswell was first elected in 1996). Off the top of my head I can think of Rahm Emanuel and Chris Van Hollen.

It's also funny that Boswell brags about being the most powerful representative from Iowa. Two of them are Republicans, and you wouldn't expect them to have a lot of clout with Dems running the chamber. The other two are freshman Democrats.

by desmoinesdem 2008-03-18 12:02PM | 0 recs
Re: IA-03: Will Democrats vote on the issues?

LOL, Steve.   Like the winners of the NIT chanting "We're #66!"

Nice diary, DMD.  It gives a bit of meat and clarity about a Congressional race, which rarely happens outside our own.  

As a thought experiment, I'm still not sure where I'd be on this one.   I was nominally for Pera over Lipinsky and Donna Edwards over Wynn but was for Harman over Winograd, whose campaign frankly I thought was an idiotic waste of resources.  I say "nominally" because I couldn't vote in any of the three and thus the exercise was rhetorical.

by InigoMontoya 2008-03-18 11:03AM | 0 recs
Winograd's run served a purpose

My understanding is that it improved Harman's voting behavior.

Just the rumor of a primary challenge improved Ellen Tauscher's voting record somewhat.

Win or lose, Fallon's run has improved Boswell's behavior as well (it probably was the reason Boswell flipped on telecom immunity in the FISA bill). So I think even some people who end up voting for Boswell will acknowledge that it was a good thing for Fallon to challenge him.

by desmoinesdem 2008-03-18 12:08PM | 0 recs

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