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Race Ratings: Competitive Races On Tap in Iowa

Iowa, the first state to complete redistricting and pass a new Congressional map, will see several competitive races in 2012. The Hawkeye State is losing a seat in Congress due to population decline, and two Members will square off in one of the new districts.

1st district
Incumbent: Bruce Braley (D)
3rd term (50 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

Braley now boasts the safest Democratic seat in the state following redistricting. Under the new map, he lost the GOP-heavy Scott County and gained Democratic-leaning Linn County in the process.

Not only is his district more friendly, but Republicans in the Hawkeye State also admit he’s the most politically talented Democrat in the state, compared with his colleagues. They say Braley is the Iowa politician who would be most difficult to unseat in 2012 under the new map.

Braley staved off his 2010 opponent, Ben Lange, by 2 points. Iowa sources say the Republican is looking at challenging him a second time. But if Lange could not beat Braley in a GOP-dominant year such as 2010, it’s hard to believe he could topple the Democrat in 2012 — especially in this new, more favorable Democratic district.

2nd district
Incumbent: Dave Loebsack (D)
3rd term (51 percent)
Rating: Likely Democratic

While Braley’s district improved following the new Congressional map, Loebsack’s district got a little worse.

Loebsack’s district swallowed up some of the GOP voters the 1st district shed, including Scott County, which is home to two of the Quad Cities — Bettendorf and Davenport.

Loebsack’s district is still one of the easier districts for Democrats in the state. He kept his stronghold of Johnson County, which includes the college town of Iowa City.

However, Republicans will try to capitalize on Loebsack’s new territory by fielding a candidate from either Bettendorf or Davenport. John Archer, an executive with John Deere from that area, has already indicated his interest in running.

While this might be a tougher race for Loebsack than in previous cycles, the Democratic Congressman still has the upper hand in his new district until a Republican candidate proves to be a tough competitor.

3rd district
Member vs. Member: Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R)
Rating: Tossup

Cycle after cycle, national Republicans have searched for a good candidate to challenge Boswell, whom they viewed as a weak campaigner but nonetheless strong enough to win re-election seven times in his marginally competitive district. But thanks to redistricting, the GOP has finally found an experienced, cash-flushed challenger: Latham.

As a result, Iowa insiders instantly declared the Latham versus Boswell match-up the most competitive 2012 race in the state.

Boswell has an advantage in that about half of the new 3rd district is part of his current district. The new district includes less than 20 percent of Latham’s current territory.

But Latham has a strong financial advantage with about $983,500 in the bank at the end of March — compared with just $173,815 for Boswell at the same time.

4th district
Incumbent: Steve King (R)
5th term (66 percent)
Rating: Leans Republican

King might be looking at the first tough general election challenge of his Congressional career. The former first lady of Iowa, Christie Vilsack (D), has announced she’ll run in the newly formed 4th district.

It’s clear that King has an upper hand,  given that almost half of the new district includes portions of the Republican’s current district — territory that has traditionally voted for GOP candidates.

Whether King has a difficult race will depend on how good of a candidate Vilsack turns out to be in the mostly rural northwestern district. Although she is well-known from her husband’s tenure as governor, Vilsack is almost completely untested as a candidate and has never run for office.

The new 4th district is a difficult climb for any Democrat, so Vilsack will have to run a nearly flawless campaign to defeat King.

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