Rep. Leonard Boswell (D)
Iowa 3rd District
Iowa, which today seems very much in the middle of the country, was once part of the West. It was not only the home of sober farmers and pious burghers, but also the eastern terminus of the first transcontinental railroad, a way station for people in a hurry to get across the Great Plains to the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest. Those who stayed behind used the wealth accumulated by methodical husbandry of their fertile farmlands to implant firmly the glories of Western civilization. One can feel that impulse today in Des Moines, looking across the river from downtown to the Victorian capitol, its gold dome above a Corinthian pediment. Terrace Hill, the beautifully restored governor’s mansion, sits atop a hill overlooking the Raccoon River. Nearby Living History Farms, which recreates Indian villages, frontier towns, and turn-of-the-century farms, shows off the efforts of the early settlers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District covers 12 counties in central Iowa, including Des Moines’s Polk County, and it extends mostly to the east. It is the most urbanized district in Iowa and the only one that does not border another state or a major river on the east or west. Some 65% of its votes are cast in Polk County. However, it does not include rapidly growing Dallas or Warren counties in the Des Moines metropolitan area. The city itself remains classically Middle America, even as it gains a more lively downtown and spreads into the countryside while farm counties’ population continues to decline. The area has become a sanctuary for people from outside of Iowa looking for a family-friendly urban lifestyle. More than 12,000 Bosnians have settled in Des Moines, where the climate reminds them of home. Insurance, agricultural supply, and printing and service businesses are expanding in office centers downtown and at freeway interchanges.
The remainder of the district is largely rural, with no city larger than 30,000. But these towns house some giant manufacturing plants. Pella (pop. 9,800) is home to the Pella window and door maker, which employs 3,000. Pella also was the site of the planned Earthpark—a combination rain forest, aquarium, and education center that was nixed by Congress after Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona portrayed the $48 million federal grant as a wasteful use of public money. The famed Amana colonies, with seven quaint villages, were founded in 1855 by the Community of True Inspiration, German pietists who have retained many of their old customs. Newton (pop. 15,579) was the home of the Amana appliance business, acquired by Iowa-based Maytag in 2001, which in turn was purchased and then closed by Michigan-based Whirlpool in 2007. A year later, Newton became the site of 500 planned “green” jobs at a fiberglass wind turbine plant. Polk County has historically voted Democratic but has become more Republican as white-collar businesses overtake blue-collar ones. The district’s other rural counties have mostly been Republican in the past. The result is a district split down the middle, about as evenly divided as any in the nation: It went 49%-48% for Al Gore in 2000 and 49.7%-49.6% for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2008, though, it favored Barack Obama 54%-44%.
Rep. Leonard Boswell (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Jan. 10, 1934, Harrison Cnty., MO .
Home: Davis City.
Education: Graceland Col., B.A. 1969.
Religion: Community of Christ.
Family: Married (Dody); 3 children.
Military career: Army, 1956–76 (Vietnam).
Elected office: IA Senate, 1984–96, Pres., 1992–96.
Professional Career: Farmer.
The congressman from the 3rd Congressional District is Leonard Boswell, a Democrat first elected in 1996. Boswell grew up on farms in Ringgold and Decatur counties, near the Missouri border. He was drafted in 1956, at age 22, and was a private in the Army. He re-enlisted as an officer, graduated first in his class in both fixed-wing and helicopter flying school, served two years in Vietnam, and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1976. He then taught at the Army command college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Boswell settled down on his Decatur County farm and became head of the local farmers’ co-op, which he managed to keep out of bankruptcy during the farm depression of the 1980s. In 1984, he was elected state senator from a six-county Republican district, served as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and, after 1992, Senate president. Boswell was also the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994. In 1996, he ran for an open seat in the old 3rd District, which was largely rural and extended across the state’s southern tier. Boswell flew his four-seater Piper Comanche 250 across the district, campaigning for a balanced federal budget, higher education spending, and fewer Medicare reductions, all to be financed with Pentagon cuts and elimination of waste in the Medicare medical program for the elderly. Poweshiek County attorney Mike Mahaffey ran as a moderate Republican. Boswell was endorsed by the Farm Bureau, which usually backs Republicans. He raised more money than Mahaffey and, like other Democrats, ran ads attacking GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and cuts in Medicare. The result was a 49%-48% victory for Boswell.
|Leonard Boswell (D)||176,904||(56%)||($1,547,567)|
|Kim Schmett (R)||132,136||(42%)||($155,895)|
|Leonard Boswell (D)||20,401||(61%)|
|Ed Fallon (D)||13,035||(39%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (52%), 2004 (55%), 2002 (53%), 2000 (63%), 1998 (57%), 1996 (49%)
Boswell got a seat on Agriculture, where he has supported normal trade relations with China, the world’s biggest market for pork, a major Iowa commodity. A member of the Blue Dog Coalition, he has a voting record that has consistently placed him in the most conservative quadrant of House Democrats. On the Intelligence Committee, his extensive military background and his security clearance left him well positioned to investigate the nation’s response to terrorism. He voted to authorize military action in Iraq, but later criticized the Bush administration for not spending enough money on counter-terrorism. In May 2006, when The Washington Post reported that he was absent from a closed committee meeting, he said that he was “appalled” that Republicans leaked the information. His attendance was a sensitive issue because Boswell had been absent from the House for three months in 2005, following removal of a noncancerous tumor from his abdomen and subsequent chemotherapy. Boswell lost 70 pounds but recovered. In November 2007, he won enactment of a bill for a suicide prevention program for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After Democrats won a House majority in 2006, Boswell initially took a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, but changed his mind when the 110th Congress convened in 2007 and kept his previous committee assignments. That positioned him to help write the new farm bill. As chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, he added provisions to the House bill that gave pricing benefits to food processors, and changed the dairy price support so that it was based on all dairy products, not just milk.
The nonpartisan June 2001 redistricting plan left Boswell with a dilemma and several tough subsequent re-elections. Only seven of the 27 counties and 24% of the population in his former district were moved to the new 3rd District. Decatur County, where he continued to operate his family farm, was one of eight counties moved to western Iowa’s new, heavily Republican 5th District. His only other option was to move to the new 2nd District, which leans Democratic but where he would have faced a tough contest against incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Leach. Boswell decided to move to Des Moines and run in the newly redrawn 3rd. But Democratic state Sen. Matt McCoy had already said he would run in the Polk County-based district. Support for Boswell from national Democrats, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, eventually convinced McCoy to defer.
In the general election, Republican challenger Stan Thompson was less accommodating. A Des Moines lawyer who worked for George W. Bush in the 2000 Iowa caucuses, Thompson argued that Boswell was out of step with the new district’s geography and philosophy. Thompson ran a credible campaign and won several endorsements, including a joint designation with Boswell from the Iowa Farm Bureau. Boswell won, 53%-45%. In a 2004 rematch, Thompson won endorsements from the farm bureau and from the Des Moines Register, which praised his energy and job-creating proposals, and said that Boswell had become “almost so low-key he is no longer heard.” This time, Boswell won 55%-45%, and carried Polk County 57%-43%. Nonetheless, in 2006, he faced another tough challenge—from state Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, scion of a family-owned chain of convenience stores and gas stations. Lamberti got help from national Republicans and highlighted his differences with Boswell on taxes, spending, and border control. In a strongly Democratic year, Boswell won by only 52%-46%. His 13,269-vote lead in Polk County accounted for more than his district-wide margin. Lamberti’s showing was all the more impressive given the poor Republican performance elsewhere in Iowa.
In 2008, Boswell spent more than $1 million to defeat a primary challenge from Ed Fallon, a former state legislator, 61%-39%. Fallon, who suggested that Boswell might soon retire, was backed by the Register, which called Boswell “out of touch” in an editorial and criticized him for a relatively light record of accomplishments in Congress. In the general election, he attracted a politically savvy but little-known GOP challenger, lawyer Kim Schmett, and prevailed with 56% of the vote.