There are only two congressional elections in the country where an incumbent is challenging… an incumbent! How is this possible? The strategic redrawing of district lines have put Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District election at the forefront of this election year. Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell currently represents Iowa’s 3rd district and is running in a ‘too-close-to-call’ race versus Republican Congressman Tom Latham who currently represents Iowa’s 4th district.
Due to gerrymandering, Latham now resides within the 3rd district and chose to run for Boswell’s seat. The fifth congressional district has been eliminated, leaving the very popular Republican Congressman Steve King* to run in the 4th district. Latham was then left with a choice: He could challenge a popular Congressman of the same party in the primary and hope to win the 4th district; or he could challenge a Democrat in the 3rd district and hope to not only win a seat in the House representing the 3rd district but win an additional republican seat in the House, furthering the victory seen by the GOP in 2010.
*in 2008 King and Latham won re-election in the 5th and 4th districts with 60.0% and 60. 6% of the vote respectively.
Why is this significant, and does Latham have a chance to win?
The 4th district compared to the 3rd is significantly more agriculturally based. According to Latham’s congressional website, “The 4th District can boast some of the world’s most fertile soil, strongest agricultural and small business productivity, and greatest opportunities in educational and research pursuits”
Republicans tend to hold a strong base amongst the more agricultural and rural parts of Iowa and the Midwest in general. During the Presidential election of 2008 and the mid-term congressional elections of 2010, the 4th and 5th districts, both heavily rooted in agriculture, elected the Republican nominee with over 60%. Conversely, the democrat nominee won in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts with 55-60% victory margins.
In 2008 the people of Iowa Elected President Obama with 54%, a 4.7% increase from 2004, four years earlier Bush lost Iowa in 2000. It is easy to conclude that Iowa is, even by simplest of definitions, a swing state.
The 3rd district is centered around Des Moines, the largest city, the state capital and the financial and commercial epicenter of the region. This district also home to Polk County, where Obama and Romney have campaigned vigerously. Demographically speaking, the Des Moines area, specifically Polk County, is over 87% white, 50.9% female, and has a median household income of $56,000. In terms of numbers this is the middle class American that Romney and Obama are counting on to win this election.
A tight congressional election will bring about issue awareness and ideally voter turnout. According to the US census, 328,049 people over the age of 18 resided in Polk County in 2008. In 2008, 119,569 people voted for Obama and 88,983 voted for McCain, leaving just under 120,000 votes uncast- more than those who vote for Obama, and more than enough to swing the country red.
With a heavily contested congressional election, an arguably tighter race among the Presidential candidates, and the demographics of the area itself, it would appear as if the election in Iowa’s 3rd district could be worth more than just the kernels of corn grown underneath it.