Civic Skinny

July 28, 2011 |

Christie rakes in Des Moines money. Boswell doesn't.


Be careful what you wish for. Congressman Leonard Boswell hoped against hope that Christie Vilsack wouldn't decide to take him on in a Democratic primary in the new Third District next year. He held a fund-raiser for 2012 almost before he was done counting the votes in his 2010 re-election. He did everything he could to scare her away.

For whatever reason, she moved from Des Moines to Ames, and now she's running to unseat five-term Republican Steve King in the newly drawn Fourth District. She thinks she can win — of course — but to do it she needs lots of money. And one place she's looking, with much success, is to her wealthy friends in Des Moines, the same people who have been helping finance Boswell campaigns since 1997.

And it's working. In the most recent quarter, she picked up $5,000 checks from Jerry Crawford, Linda Crawford, Patty Cownie, Michelle Griswell, Barry Griswell, Greg Abel, Andrea Abel and Bob Josten. She added $2,500 checks from Pam Bookey, Fred Hubbell, his mother Helen Hubbell, Martha James, Michael Gartner, Doris Newlin, Owen Newlin, Suku Radia, Stan Seidler, Toni Urban, her brother-in-law Tom Urban, Fred Weitz, and Bill Wimmer. It's a pretty good bet those $2,500 givers will double up to the maximum $5,000 before Election Day. And the spouses who aren't on the lists yet will be writing checks as well.

Those folks never paid much attention to King's opponents in the past, figuring King was as unbeatable as he was unpalatable to them. Matt Campbell, King's most recent opponent, raised a scant $270,000 in 2010, barely a quarter of the $1,015,000 King raised in coasting to victory with 66 percent of the vote. King carried all 32 counties then in the district. Campbell picked up very little Des Moines money, and most Des Moines monied Democrats wouldn't be able to tell you who he is if you mentioned his name today.

But that crowd and their friends whose names will appear on the Vilsack list in September make up a lot of the core of Boswell's Des Moines-area support, and it turns out he needs them this year more than ever. With Iowa losing a Congressional seat, Republican nine-term incumbent Tom Latham is moving into the district to take on Boswell, who is in his eighth term in the House. Latham will have little trouble raising money. He is Iowa's longest-serving House member. He's a pal of Speaker John Boehner, and he's the chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development — a post that attracts PAC money that might normally go to Boswell.

So far this election cycle, Latham has raised a bit over $1 million, about three times the $342,000 Boswell has raised. In the latest quarter, Latham raised $590,000 while Boswell took in just $188,000. As of June 30, Latham had nearly $1.5 million cash in hand; Boswell had $285,000. And while those big-name Des Moines Democrats were ponying up for Vilsack in the latest quarter, few of them were writing checks for Boswell. He picked up just three $5,000 checks from Des Moines-area individual givers — from Bill Knapp, Knapp's nephew Bill Knapp II, and Barbara Crowley. (It's a safe bet that some Knapps will be on Vilsack's next report.) He got $2,500 checks from Fred Hubbell, Dave Hurd, Owen Newlin, Gerry Neugent, Kurt Rasmussen, Lynette Rasmussen and former Congressman Neal Smith.

Last election, Boswell raised $1.5 million in beating state senator Brad Zaun, who raised $682,761. (Zaun still owes $28,000, mainly to Steve Grubbs' consulting firm, from that campaign.) It was a Republican year, but Zaun's campaign hit a few bumps, and Boswell barely won with 50.74 percent of the vote. It was a fairly nasty campaign. The new district is a little tougher for a Democrat, and Latham will be a lot tougher as an opponent though he isn't as well known in the district as Boswell is. (And Boswell is even more well known following the headlines last week telling how he defended hearth and home against a young masked intruder.) What's worse for Boswell, now that Council Bluffs is in his district this time he's going to have to buy TV ads in the expensive Omaha market as well as in Des Moines. He's going to have to hope it's a big Democratic year; he's going to need more than $1.5 million, and he's going to need all those folks who are writing checks to Vilsack. The question: Will they max out with both candidates or lean toward Vilsack?

Steve King never has had to worry much about raising money. His district has always been heavily Republican, and while Democrats think he's a wacko his constituents love him. What's more, he's a nice guy, and his Washington office takes good care of requests from constituents — be they Republican or Democrat. But the district has been redrawn for 2012, and while it's still Republican it's less so. With that somewhat diluted district and a strong opponent, he'll have to raise a lot more than the $1 million he took in last year. "We've never had to do this (raise lots of money) before," an aide worriedly told a constituent a couple of weeks ago.

In the July quarter this year, King raised $169,000, and he has raised just $210,000 to date. That's not quite half the $424,000 that Vilsack took in the July quarter, her first reporting period. As of July 30, King had $230,000 cash on hand and Vilsack had $383,000. Vilsack is a poised and persistent fund-raiser, gaining great experience in giving warm chats and getting cold cash while helping her husband twice be elected governor. He's now Secretary of Agriculture and thus can't support her with the time and dedication she gave to him, but you can be sure he'll find reasons to pop up more than occasionally in the Fourth District in the next 15 months. It's probably more than a coincidence that Iowa politico and long-time Vilsack aide and family friend Matt Paul recently gave up his job with Jeff Link and moved to Washington to join Tom Vilsack's staff.

Oh, one other thing: Three Democrats told Skinny last week that they hear Chet Culver is thinking of running for governor in 2014. Skinny thinks they've been talking to each other — and nobody else. CV