DES MOINES, Iowa — Longtime Reps. Leonard Boswell and Tom Latham might have only one thing in common: They're running for the same House seat in 2012.
Otherwise, a Hawkeye State voter would be hard-pressed to find similarities between the two longest-tenured Iowa House Members.
The grandfatherly Boswell, a spry 77, rose through the ranks of Iowa politics for decades, and now the Democrat is one of the last members of the dwindling Blue Dog Coalition. Latham's colleagues know the 63-year-old as Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) closest confidant, but the soft-spoken Republican campaigns at home with the transactional practicality of the farm seed salesman he used to be before coming to Congress.
For the past 14 years, these men were colleagues, representing neighboring districts. But after Iowa lost a House seat in reapportionment and a nonpartisan redistricting commission redrew district lines, Boswell and Latham decided to face off in the reconfigured 3rd district in the southwestern corner of the state.
It was the first Member-vs.-Member race of the cycle to emerge and is one that will be among the most competitive campaigns in the country come next fall.
The election is 15 months away, but Boswell and Latham were in campaign mode during the August recess, working throngs of potential voters at the Iowa State Fair. Roll Call rates the new 3rd district a Tossup, and statistics show it exemplifies a true swing seat. The district backed President George W. Bush in 2004 and President Barack Obama in 2008, giving each man 52 percent of the vote.
"When you're from Iowa, there's no such thing as a guaranteed seat," Rep. Bruce Braley (D) told Roll Call outside the Iowa Pork Producers Association tent at the fair. "The way we do redistricting means that most of us have districts that are very balanced."
On a hot summer Tuesday, Latham asked fairgoers one question at the top of each conversation: Where do you live?
The annual fair attracts people from all over Iowa, but the fairgrounds are near downtown Des Moines in Polk County — the population center containing nearly 57 percent of the new 3rd Congressional district.
Lucky for Latham, Iowans' proud knowledge of presidential politics translates to Congressional redistricting. Almost all of the diners at the Pork Producers tent, the 4-H exhibition building and the Iowa Republican Party booth knew which redrawn House district that they lived in before Latham inquired.
"That's why we're first in the nation. Because we are aware, we keep up with it," said Roger Schonhorst, a server in the pork tent. He predicted the Boswell-Latham matchup would be "a good fight," adding, "I hope it comes to blows."
Schonhorst, a registered Republican, is from Polk County — and he said he loathes calling Boswell his Congressman.
"The good thing is you're going to be my Congressman now — the only person better would've been King," Schonhorst told Latham, referring to GOP Rep. Steve King, the conservative firebrand from western Iowa.
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