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Latham Targeted, But Still Favored to Win

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A few short weeks ago political strategists in both parties agreed that 2008 would be the quietest election Iowa had seen in years. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and the scope of Democratic Congressional pickup opportunities seemed to grow overnight.

Iowa’s 4th district is no exception as Democratic challenger Becky Greenwald has appeared to gain on Rep. Tom Latham (R) in the closing weeks of the campaign.

“I think people are so hungry for something different; they’re hungry for change — that was evident by our financial filings this quarter,” Greenwald spokeswoman Erin Seidler said. “We outraised a 14-year incumbent, and Becky is a relative unknown, first-time candidate.”

Federal Election Commission records show Greenwald raked in more than $308,000 in the third quarter, including $12,000 from her own pocket. Without that deposit, Latham would have claimed the fundraising lead as he raised more than $297,000 in the three-month period. And if you take away the financial support from employees of the Garst Seed Co., which is owned by Greenwald’s family, Latham spokesman James Carstensen argued it’s hard to see where there’s growing momentum behind her campaign.

“If you take a look at what she has put in and what the Garst family seed company has put in, it’s 33 percent of all the money she’s raised in the campaign,” Carstensen said. “There is no ground swell of support. It’s a campaign that has been paid for by her and her Garst family seed company connections. It looks like a ground swell. It’s just not there.”

Greenwald’s office counters this claim, contending family money accounts for only 1.8 percent of funds raised last quarter while 55 percent of Latham’s money came from political action committees, which are supported largely by donors who live outside the district.

“It is interesting for a 14-year incumbent who says they are confident in their re- election to pick apart their opponent’s financial filings,” Seidler said.“We must be doing something right.”

But for Greenwald to be successful against Latham, she has to tap into the independent vote. The victor will be decided by who can best appeal to voters in the middle — and Latham’s campaign is banking on their belief that a vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president will not necessarily translate into support downballot for Democratic contenders.

“They [independents] are saying that they are going to vote for Obama, and the majority of them are still saying [they will vote for] Latham,” Carstensen said. “We’ve had Democrats call our office asking for yard signs, and they said they want to put a Latham sign right next to their Obama sign. We’ve had independents come off the street saying, ‘How do I volunteer?’”

Carstensen said Iowans have a history of looking past party label and not voting a straight ticket.

“It’s a tradition. They look at the person,” he said.

In the strong Democratic year of 1974, in the wake of Watergate, voters narrowly elected Republican Chuck Grassley to Congress. He was later elected to the Senate in the GOP presidential wave of 1980.

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