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Boswell in the Cross Hairs

GOP Says New Challenger Is His Toughest Yet

Actually, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) is feeling fine, and more than ready for another election cycle in the Republican Party’s cross hairs, this time with state Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti (R) as the trigger man.

The National Republican Congressional Committee sees Iowa’s 3rd district as a top pickup opportunity next year, and is quite pleased with Lamberti. Boswell, despite recently undergoing abdominal surgery and his staff not knowing when he will return to work, is said to be primed for a fight.

“He is recovering faster than expected,” Boswell’s press secretary Eric Witte said Tuesday. “The Congressman has always had tough races — he has always been targeted, but won consistently with an increasing margin.”

The 71-year-old Congressman, who recently had a noncancerous tumor removed from his abdomen, was back in the hospital Saturday night after seeking antibiotics for an infection that formed around the incision, Witte confirmed.

Lamberti, who is giving up a chance to run for re-election to the state Senate, said in an interview that he doesn’t plan to make an issue of Boswell’s health. And he brushed aside suggestions by the Iowa Democratic Party that he is tainted because one of his political consultants, Terry Nelson, has ties to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

“When you don’t have ideas to bring to the table to address the issues people care about, you try to engage in personal attacks and deflect attention,” Lamberti said. “I don’t think people are buying that. They want ideas and solutions.”

The 3rd district leans Democratic, and Boswell beat his Republican challenger, attorney Stan Thompson, by 10 points in a rematch last year, capturing 55 percent of the vote.

However, President Bush garnered 50 percent of the vote in the 2004 presidential election, and in doing so edged out Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to win the district. As a result, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has placed Boswell in its “Frontline Candidate” category, an acknowledgement that he is potentially vulnerable.

Republicans call Lamberti dynamic and a good fundraiser, saying he is a better candidate than Thompson, a friend of Bush. Lamberti will need those fundraising skills to have a chance at unseating Boswell, as the Congressman spent $1.5 million and $1.3 million, respectively, in his past two victories.

Thompson raised about $860,000 in 2004 and almost $900,000 in 2002. Lamberti now trails Boswell in cash on hand, $511,000 to $172,000. Additionally, the Congressman outraised him in the third quarter, $148,000 to $94,000.

But Lamberti, calling his six-man finance committee the best in the state, including those working on the gubernatorial campaigns, said he knows he has to raise in the ballpark of what Boswell spent in the previous cycle, and fully intends to accomplish that.

“We’re not concerned with where we stand in relation to him now. He’s an incumbent and that gives him advantages in raising money early,” Lamberti said.

Iowa Democrats expect Lamberti to be well-funded, and say that could make the 2006 race much more competitive than Boswell’s two wins over Thompson.

Democrats claim that Lamberti will use money from his family’s fortune — Lamberti’s father founded and owns Casey’s General Store, an Iowa chain of convenience stores and gas stations — to self-fund his race.

But a Lamberti aide called that claim flatly untrue, saying the Senator — a business attorney until taking a leave of absence from his small firm to run for Congress — would not use his money to finance his campaign, adding that he doesn’t have access to his father’s fortune to begin with.

In an ironic twist, Democrats say Boswell is likely to play better in the rural parts of the district that tend to lean Republican, with Lamberti possibly finding more support in the Des Moines suburbs he hails from.

With Republicans targeting Boswell, one key will be ensuring that Democrats don’t expend all of their resources chasing Iowa’s 1st district, a Democratic-leaning seat left open due to Rep. Jim Nussle’s (R) run for governor, and the governorship itself, currently held by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack which is open because he pledged not to serve for more than two terms.

“It’s possible that Democrats will overlook the 3rd [district] because of the 1st district and gubernatorial [races],” said a Democratic official based in Iowa. “But this will be one of our focuses. We will be putting time and energy into this race, especially now that Lamberti has announced.”

Lamberti officially declared his candidacy on Monday.

Even though the electoral statistics give the appearance of a competitive district, it apparently is Lamberti’s decision to run that is giving Republicans hope, and Democrats concern, about Boswell’s political health.

David Roederer, chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Iowa, expects Lamberti to neutralize some of Thompson’s deficiencies, namely his poor showing in Polk County, which encompasses Des Moines.

Roederer also said Lamberti has superior name identification, as his Senate district— where he has been repeatedly elected — lies wholly within the 3rd Congressional district.

“He has a record to run on in that particular district,” Roederer said.