DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa voters were choosing their congressional representatives Tuesday after competitive races in all four newly drawn districts.
In a bid to become the state's first female U.S. House member, former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack moved to Ames to try to unseat outspoken Republican Rep. Steve King in the reconfigured 4th District.
Nine-term Republican Rep. Tom Latham also relocated, settling in the Des Moines suburb of Clive to run against eight-term Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell — a bitter race that's likely to end one of their long-running political careers.
Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack moved 20 miles south to Iowa City to run in a new district that includes Davenport, where he faced an upset bid from corporate lawyer John Archer. And Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of Waterloo again tried to fight off Ben Lange, the same small-town lawyer who nearly defeated him in 2010.
"It's a perfect mix for upsets and close races," said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.
While Republicans were favorites to retain their House majority, Iowa's races were seen as a bellwether for Democrats' gains or losses.
The 4th District race in mostly rural northwestern Iowa looks to be one of the tightest races this year, pitting Vilsack, wife of U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, against the outspoken King.
Elected to Congress in 2002, King has endeared himself to conservatives for being quick to defend their causes on the House floor and national television. But in the process, he has made many remarks — on everything from President Barack Obama to illegal immigrants — that have been criticized as insensitive, inaccurate or outrageous.
King, 63, had never faced a serious challenge in the heavily Republican area, but the post-census addition of Ames made the district less conservative.
Vilsack, a 62-year-old former teacher and journalist from Mount Pleasant, moved to Ames last year and cast herself as a moderate who would focus on improving the economies of small towns. In one radio debate, she called King a bully and "an embarrassment to the people of Iowa."
King tried to use his bluntness to his advantage, painting himself as a "straight-talker." His campaign was boosted by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who recorded radio ads calling him "a unique and colorful public servant" and a leading opponent of Obama's health care law.
The intense King-Vilsack race didn't quite match the nastiness that surfaced between Latham and Boswell in the 3rd Congressional district, which stretches from Des Moines to southwest Iowa.
Boswell accused Latham of an "insider deal" because the Latham family's bank accepted a $2.4 million loan from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bank bailout that Latham voted against in 2008. Latham denied any involvement in the bank's decision, and noted that Boswell voted for the bailout.
Boswell, 78, went on the defensive after Des Moines liberal activist Ed Fallon claimed that Boswell, through intermediaries, offered him an $80,000 per-year job in his office if he wouldn't run in a 2008 Democratic primary. Boswell denied the allegation and sued Fallon, accusing him of defamation.
Latham, 64, said the personal attacks made the race "a different campaign than most that I've been a part of."
In the 2nd Congressional district that covers southeastern Iowa, an attack ad aired by three-term representative Loebsack, 59, shook up an otherwise predictable race. The ad accused Archer, a John Deere attorney, of being involved in the company's decision to ship jobs to Mexico in the 1990s — but that was before Archer worked there. Archer, 40, accused Loebsack of unfairly criticizing John Deere, one of the region's biggest employers.
In northeastern Iowa, Braley was trying to hold off challenger Lange, a 33-year-old Independence lawyer, who was just 4,200 votes short of upsetting Braley in 2010.
Braley, 55, promoted himself as a champion of veterans and the middle class who's working to improve the economy. Lange attacked Braley for voting for the health care law, which he claimed included a $716 billion cut to Medicare that is "endangering Iowa seniors."