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Ex-MLB Pitcher Eldred May Try to Brush Back Loebsack

Iowa’s all-important presidential nominating caucuses may be hogging all the headlines, but serious jockeying for position on the Congressional campaign front nevertheless continues unabated in the key swing Plains state. [IMGCAP(1)]

Political operatives on both sides of the aisle say Iowa voters are loath to throw incumbent lawmakers out of office unless they’ve committed a serious faux pas, and as such they expect Sen. Tom Harkin (D) to survive next year, even if it is by his customary slim margin. Still, there are some Republicans eying Harkin’s seat.

GOP Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham are known to prize a spot in Washington, D.C.’s most famous millionaires’ club. Neither has ruled out a 2008 Senate bid, but it generally is known that either would be more likely to run for an open Senate seat than one held by an incumbent.

Other Republicans that might receive encouragement to run against Harkin — or in the event that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) retires in 2010 — include state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Jeff Lamberti, the former co-president of the Iowa Senate and 2006 3rd district GOP nominee.

Businessman Steve Rathje (R), though not considered a top-tier candidate, already has launched a campaign to challenge Harkin. Rathje has had discussions with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as have King and Latham.

“The NRSC is definitely looking to cause some trouble in [Iowa,]” a Republican operative said. “It’s a red state in a presidential election cycle.”

Additional potential future Senate candidates include former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D); his wife, Christie Vilsack (D); and Rep. Bruce Braley (D). Christie Vilsack also is thought of as a potential House candidate.

Iowa could lose one of its five House seats when redistricting commences after the 2010 Census, and that could create all kinds of interesting political scenarios. But in 2008, the battles are likely to be in the 3rd and 4th districts.

In the Des Moines-area 3rd district, Republicans will try once again to unseat Rep. Leonard Boswell (D). The seat is competitively drawn, and Lamberti performed admirably there in the previous cycle considering the overall poor political environment for the GOP.

Lamberti remains the first choice among Republicans to challenge Boswell, with other potential candidates waiting to hear what he plans to do before making any decisions of their own. Lamberti has yet to reveal his plans, but an aide to the former legislator said Monday that she does not expect him to run for Congress this cycle.

“I don’t think he’s going to run,” Lamberti aide Becky Beach said. “He would never say ‘never,’ but he’s not inclined to run, he’s busy with his law practice right now.”

If Lamberti does in fact forgo another run at Boswell in 2008, the list of preferred GOP candidates could include state Sen. Brad Zaun, described as young and energetic.

“Everyone likes this guy. He’s a hard charger and does good on the stump,” said one Republican insider based in Iowa. “He’s one of those guys that is the future of the party. He’s the present, too, for that matter.”

Boswell seems to be anticipating an aggressive challenge, having raised $245,000 in the first three months of 2007.

Whenever Boswell does choose to retire, look for a long list of Democrats to fill up the primary ballot in an attempt to succeed him. Possibly among them: former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson; state Rep. Geri Huser; 2006 lieutenant governor candidate Andy McGuire, who also is co-chairwoman of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) Iowa presidential campaign; Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie; state Rep. Wayne Ford; and state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad.

“I think there’d be a big primary,” said one Democratic operative based in Iowa.

In the 4th district, Democrats are preparing to target Latham, though where the race falls on their list of priorities remains unclear.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said Latham’s record makes the Republican eminently beatable, although he declined to address how much support the committee plans to provide to challenger Seldon Spencer (D), a medical doctor with a degree in neurology.

“Given corporate Tom’s allegiance to [President] Bush, whom he votes for 97 percent of the time, and the fact that he has been bought and paid for by the special interests, he’s opened the door to a Democratic pickup in 2008,” Rudominer said.

Should Latham ever pull the trigger on a Senate bid, or retire, look for Republicans to possibly try to lure Bill Salier into the race to replace the Congressman. Salier, now in his late 30s, is a farmer and a retired Marine who ran in the GOP Senate primary in 2002.

In the 1st district, the Democratic candidate is the incumbent for the first time in at least a generation, after years of Democrats trying to unseat former Rep. Jim Nussle (R), who vacated his seat last year for what turned out to be an unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

Now, it’s Braley’s turn to withstand the targeting, although it could be an easier go for him considering the eastern Iowa 1st district leans Democratic. High on Iowa Republicans’ list of potential Braley challengers is University of Dubuque President Jeff Bullock.

Meanwhile, should Braley decide to seek higher office in the future, as many Democrats suspect he will, there are at least four Democrats who are considered viable successors. Among them are local economic development official Rick Dickinson, who lost to Braley in last year’s primary; state Sen. Jeff Danielson; state Sen. Joe Seng; and state Speaker Pat Murphy.

In the Democratic-leaning 2nd district, Democrats also find themselves in the unfamiliar position of incumbency, after freshman Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) upset former Rep. Jim Leach (R) in November.

At least one Republican being eyed by party leaders to challenge Loebsack, who was a college professor until being elected to the House, is retired Major League Baseball pitcher Cal Eldred, who won 86 games over a 14-year career. Iowa Republicans are looking for an individual who is not a professional politician to challenge Loebsack, and Eldred fits that profile.

Still, the Iowa native has been active in Republican politics for some time and therefore is not a political novice, either.

Eldred, who played with the Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, is said to be interested in running for Congress at some point.

“It’s on his to-do list,” the Iowa Republican insider said. “He would be a stellar candidate.”

With several Democratic state legislators based in the 2nd district, there are a number of Democrats waiting in the wings to run for the seat in the event that Loebsack packs it in or is ousted by a Republican. State Rep. Tyler Olson is from a well-known Cedar Rapids family and would have to be considered a contender if he ran, as would Iowa City-based state Sen. Robert Dvorsky and state Sen. Tom Courtney, of Burlington.

In the overwhelmingly Republican 5th district, the well-liked King should be safe as long as he wants his job — and as long as his seat’s boundaries go unaltered.

Should King decide to run for Senate, or retire, look for a crowded primary to replace him. Such a race could include Jeff Ballenger, who finished fourth in a four-way primary in the 5th district in 2002.

Former state Rep. Ron Hubler, a retired minister and Navy veteran, has announced his 5th district candidacy for the Democrats.

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