"I'm not just interested in re-electing Dave Loebsack, to the House of Representatives -- I'm interested in electing him to a Democratic majority" -- Steve Israel
Iowa is one of just two states where the battle for the White House and the battle for the House of Representatives coincide, said the Democratic congressman whose job it is to elect and re-elect other Democrats to the House.
New York's Steve Israel, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC in acronym format or "D-Trip" in DCspeak) visited the UI campus Saturday night for a "strategy session" with Dave Loebsack and local Democrats. His Iowa visit also included a Des Moines stop with Leonard Boswell.
"Our battle space is almost completely different," he said of the 2012 elections. House Democrats have their biggest opportunities to make gains in large states where redistricting has shuffled the desk: California and Illinois, which are safe on the presidential level, and Texas, which is much more difficult statewide but where Hispanic population growth has given Democrats the chance to gain two to four seats.
"There are two exceptions" where presidential battlegrounds are also congressional battlegrounds, said Isreal: Florida and Iowa. "I can't figure out how to get to 25 (seats gained to retake control of the House) and lose a seat in Iowa," he said.
The Iowa effort is mostly defensive. Loebsack's new district is slightly less Democratic than his previous seat, Bruce Braley had an unexpectedly close 2010 race, and Leonard Boswell is paired in redistricting with Republican Tom Latham.
The one chance to play offense is Christie Vilsack's challenge to Steve King. "We can go four for four," said Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky. "The four congressionals are our statewide race." With no senate or gubernatorial race, the congressional seats are next on the ballot after the presidency, and one of the party's goals is to make sure Democrats vote all the way down the ballot.
Professor Loebsack lectures the class on the new district lines. Take notes, this will be on the test.
"It's a more competitive district, no doubt about it," said Loebsack. "But I AM going to win." The biggest changes are losing Linn County, where Loebsack lived, and adding Scott County. Loebsack has relocated to Iowa City and says his new east Iowa City home is less than an hour from downtown Davenport.
Gaining the Iowa half of the Quad Cities, plus his position on the Armed Services committee, has led Loebsack to a focus on the Rock Island Arsenal. "We need our organic manufacturing base to back our troops, whatever we think of the specific mission," he said.
"I think we need to get our troops home from Afghanistan sooner rather than later," he added to applause from the crowd of 50 or so that was heavy on students.
Loebsack also serves on the Education And The Workforce committee (he used the Democratic name "Education and Labor" which the Republicans pointedly changed when they took over the House in January 2011) and noted that Republicans tried to cut Pell Grant funding in mid-academic year.
Israel said House Republicans are like "the Stepford Caucus" in their lock-step behavior. That was prompted by an audience question, which I'll paraphrase as: why should we give money to a national committee when you use it to support candidates who are weak on Democratic issues.
"We're a more diverse caucus," said Israel. "We have a Congressional Black Caucus, a Hispanic Caucus, a Jewish caucus... our caucus looks like America." He added that Democratic control means that the Republican Party's most damaging legislation won't get to the House floor, even if individual Democrats stray on specific issues.
Three Republicans are lined up for the June primary for the right to take on Loebsack: John Deere attorney John Archer and real estate developer Dan Dolan are the main chance contenders, and tea partier Richard Gates is also in the mix. Loebsack thinks the primary helps him.
"There will be a clear choice; Whoever that person is will be so far to the right, the district won't accept it."