Races of the WeekThompson vs. Boswell

Two years ago, a non-partisan commission overseeing congressional redistricting in Iowa in essence eliminated the old 3rd District, which consisted of 27 counties in southern Iowa from the Mississippi River border with Illinois almost to the Missouri River border with Nebraska. Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell found his home in the new (and heavily Republican) 5th District. Faced with almost certain defeat there, Boswell pondered a race in the adjoining 2nd District, where he would have faced veteran Republican Rep. Jim Leach.

Finally, Boswell opted to run in the lone open district in the Hawkeye State: the Des Moines-based 3rd District, which Republican Rep. Greg Ganske was stepping down after eight years to run for the Senate. Area GOPers had settled on their Polk County (Des Moines) party chairman, Stan Thompson, as the nominee. Attorney Thompson was a fixture in the community; while Boswell was a new addition to the district, whose sole motivation for moving there was sheer political survival. The self-serving nature of Boswell’s move to the 3rd was underscored by his support from national Democratic leaders led by then-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.) over State Sen. Matt McCoy, who had been seeking the Democratic U.S. House nomination for months. Under pressure from Gephardt &Co., local boy McCoy deferred to newcomer Boswell.

In November, Boswell emerged triumphant in his newfound home and won the 3rd over Thompson by 53% to 45%. As to how the Des Moines-area district could embrace a congressman who could only be characterized as “carpetbagger” and “interloper,” Thompson and his supporters note that Gov. Tom Vilsak and Sen. Tom Harkin were leading the Democratic ticket and winning comfortably districtwide. The Thompson-Boswell bout was about 5,000 votes closer than the governor’s race and 4,500 closer than the Senate race. In addition, Boswell had a tremendous spending advantage and wound up raising more than $1.3 million to about $800,000 for his conservative Republican opponent.

This year, the 44-year-old Thompson is again carrying the Republican standard against Boswell (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 32%). This time, having at the top of the ticket George W. Bush (who only narrowly missed carrying Iowa in ’00) and the revered Sen. Chuck Grassley favors him.

Thompson has so far raised more than he did in the entire ’02 campaign. “We have about $675,000 from individuals and $275,000 from political action committees,” says Thompson, contrasting his broad local support with the massive checks to Boswell from the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education, the United Auto Workers, and the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Like Bill Clinton, Boswell styles himself “a different kind of Democrat.” He opposes abortion, supported U.S. action in Iraq, and signed the U.S. Term Limit pledge. Retorts Thompson: “Yes, and he has since violated that pledge to limit his tenure. And, as for supporting Iraqi Freedom, sure, he voted for it, but then voted against funding to give our troops the resources they need. He’s a veteran–how would he like going into combat and not having the weapons and material needed to win?” As in ’02, the conservative hopeful also vividly contrasts his support for the President’s tax cuts and for making them permanent with Boswell’s uninterrupted opposition.

Two years ago, unusual political circumstances combined to give Leonard Boswell a term in Congress from a district with which he had only minimal ties. Now, with the right support from his fellow conservatives, the district can elect a genuine son–Stan Thompson.