Rep. Tom Latham (R)
Iowa 4th District
Central Iowa is where the Great Plains begins—a land of farm fields marked off by straight roads and punctuated by occasional crossroads towns and grain elevators; the landscape rolls slightly upward to the west, topped by a sky that seems to fill the eyes. Pioneers coming here in the 1840s and 1850s found prairie grass with roots two feet thick, and girded trees with grubbing machines to cut off their roots belowground. Central Iowa has some of the world’s most productive soil, and also some of its most creative agricultural scientists and farmers. A monument to one of them is the 12-foot statue of Norman Borlaug, a scientist who worked on increasing crop yield and ending hunger, in Borlaug’s hometown of Cresco, in Howard County near the Minnesota border. This is long-settled land now, and Iowans’ productivity means that there are fewer people living on farms than there were a century ago. But its towns and small cities remain centers of creativity. One is Ames, in Story County, home of Iowa State University and the host of the Iowa Republican straw poll, which has launched several GOP nomination contests. Ames is part of the growth zone around Des Moines, which is 30 miles to the south. Directly west of the city and its most affluent suburbs is fast-growing Dallas County. To the south is Madison County, famous for the wooden covered bridges that gave their name to a best-selling novel and movie; in 2002, one of the bridges caught fire and burned, so now there are just five left. To the north is Mason City, the boyhood home of The Music Man author Meredith Wilson. In Winnebago County is Winnebago Industries, which manufactures motor homes and recreation vehicles on computer-controlled assembly lines with robotic equipment; the main factory in Forest City employs 3,200, though increased gas prices and the recession have hit hard at sales. The first tractors were manufactured in Charles City, which calls itself “America’s Hometown.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District includes all these parts of central and northern Iowa, and covers 28 counties. It does not include Des Moines, but counties around Des Moines cast more than one-third of its votes. Like Iowa, the 4th District is closely divided politically: George W. Bush carried the district 49%-48% in 2000 and 51%-48% in 2004; Barack Obama won it in 2008, 53%-45%.
Rep. Tom Latham (R)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: July 14, 1948, Hampton .
Education: Wartburg Col., 1966-67, IA St. U., 1967-70.
Family: Married (Kathy); 3 children.
Professional Career: Farmer; Bank teller/bookkeeper, 1970–72; Independent Insurance agent, 1972–74; Hartford Insurance mktg. rep., 1974–76; Co–owner, Latham Seed Co., 1976–present.
The congressman from the 4th District is Tom Latham, a Republican elected in 1994. Latham grew up on a farm in Franklin County, near Alexander (pop. 162), where his family has owned a seed company since 1947. For years, Latham was active in Republican politics, attending the national convention and serving as a farm adviser to GOP Rep. Fred Grandy. In 1994, Grandy challenged Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and lost a close primary, while Latham ran for the House. His Democratic opponent, Sheila McGuire, had been one of 47 health care professionals on an advisory panel for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s unpopular health care plan; Latham opposed it. He won 61%-39%.
|Tom Latham (R)||185,458||(61%)||($1,627,654)|
|Becky Greenwald (D)||120,746||(39%)||($634,014)|
|Tom Latham (R)||13,144||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%), 2004 (61%), 2002 (55%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (65%), 1994 (61%)
In the House, Latham has a moderately conservative record and has usually been a quiet but diligent member who avoids the national spotlight. However, he has been a close ally and confidant of Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, whom Latham backed in a bitterly fought intraparty contest for majority leader in 2006. Latham has pursued local interests on the Appropriations Committee and its agriculture subcommittee, and helped to bring home money for causes ranging from disaster aid to farm research. He has been enthusiastic in securing federal funds for the National Animal Disease Center, a research center in Ames. He criticized the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin is a senior Democrat, for reducing funds needed to complete the center, which he described as essential to “agro-terrorism” prevention. In 2006, he enacted a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to Cresco scientist Borlaug.
In 2007, after a local Navy officer died in Iraq, Latham pushed to passage a law to permit grandparents and other family members to get the military death benefit if they assume custody of a dead soldier’s children. Earlier, he worked with Senate Republicans to give reserve and National Guard soldiers the same health benefits as regular military personnel. He called for faster troop withdrawals from Iraq, but he opposed a deadline.
In 2002, redistricting made the district more competitive, and Latham faced the most vigorous campaign since he was elected. He had not been a robust fundraiser, and Democrats targeted the seat. Their nominee was John Norris, former chief of staff to Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack and, in 2003 and 2004, presidential contender John Kerry’s Iowa manager in the precinct caucuses. Norris attacked Latham for supporting Republican positions on taxes and health care, was an aggressive campaigner, and raised more than $1 million. But Latham won by a relatively comfortable 55%-43%, winning all 28 counties, though only by 9 votes in Ames’s Story County, which cast the most votes.
In 2006, Latham’s opponent was Selden Spencer, an Ames neurologist who spent two weeks in Afghanistan treating patients and training doctors shortly before the election. Spencer called for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Latham commended Spencer for his medical contributions in the region, but said he disagreed with him on the war. Latham won, 57%-43%, carrying every county except Story County, which gave 52% to Spencer. Latham decided not to challenge Harkin in 2008. He again had a serious contest for re-election that year, against Democrat Becky Greenwald, a former marketing executive. He raised eyebrows by saying he did not want President Bush, by then unpopular with the public, to campaign for him. He won easily, 61%-39%.