Politics

Ghost of Boehner Haunts Blum in Iowa

Vulnerable member looks for more from establishment GOP after slighting then-speaker in vote

Rod Blum will face Democrat Monica Vernon in November. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sitting in a district that President Barack Obama twice carried by double digits, Iowa Rep. Rod Blum may be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent this year.  

He's facing Democrat Monica Vernon, who won the Democratic primary in Iowa's 1st District Tuesday night . The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the seat Tilts Democratic .   

And yet, the National Republican Congressional Committee still hasn't added Blum to its Patriot Program , which assists the party's most vulnerable incumbents.   

Blum alienated the NRCC after voting against John A. Boehner for speaker. Blum's slight came after Boehner had campaigned for him in the 1st District in 2014.   

But Blum says he has a "good relationship" with the NRCC now that Boehner is gone.   

"We have a new beginning with the NRCC," Blum told Roll Call outside the House Chamber Wednesday. " I’m reasonably assured I’ll be in the Patriot Program, and we’re working together." Speaker Paul D. Ryan held a Washington reception for Blum in February, and Blum said Wednesday that Ryan will be continuing to help his campaign.   

But when it comes to repairing relations with the GOP establishment, the ball is still in Blum's court.  

Blum admitted last summer that his vote against Boehner had hurt his relationship with the NRCC, but he seemed to think he'd find support from other corners in the party.  

[ Blum Says Others Will Support Him If Republicans Don't ]   

In 2014, Blum benefited from having a competitive Senate race, with Republican Joni Ernst, topping the ticket.  

He could enjoy coattails this year from the state's senior senator, Charles E. Grassley, who faces a challenge from Democratic former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.   

[ Iowa Senate Race Becomes Headache for House Democrats ]   

Still, a Blum re-election victory likely will require Hawkeye voters to split their tickets between presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and the GOP congressman.   

That could be a difficult contortion for many voters to make.  

Even Republicans see the incongruity of a House Freedom Caucus member representing an Obama district.  

"His voting record is very conservative for this district," a GOP strategist said on Wednesday.   

Blum, who's been backed by Tea Party Express, still thinks his vote against Boehner is a net positive in the district, even if it initially lost him NRCC support.   

"I voted against the speaker, and I think eastern Iowans ... they appreciate that streak of independence, that I’m not only bought and paid for by the Republican Party." Democrats have pounced on some of his more provocative statements — like calling for a recession in Washington  — and they are eager to point out that he's out of step with Iowa's 1st District.  

Vernon's campaign will be playing up his tea party support and House Freedom Caucus membership to paint him as an instrument of obstructionism in Congress.  

But Blum disagrees that his views don't fit his district.  

"I don’t think it’s too conservative to want to balance the budget. Most of the people in my district want us to balance the budget," Blum said. " I don’t think it’s too conservative to want to stop deficit spending. Most of my district wants to stop deficit spending. I don’t think it’s too conservative to want to secure our southern border. Most folks in eastern Iowa want our borders secure," Blum said. The NRCC may not have put Blum on its incumbent protection program, but the campaign arm still stands by him as a incumbent.  

In a post-primary memo released Wednesday, the NRCC touted Blum's work to "cut across the partisan divide" and his "reform minded approach."  

In particular, it singled out an amendment he introduced that would have banned members from using taxpayer money to fly first class. The amendment never came up for a vote.   

And yet, the Des Moines Register and other local media have gone after Blum for spending more taxpayer funds on mailers than any other member of Congress in 2015 — and more than what Iowa's other three congressmen spent combined.   

The NRCC also points to Blum's cash on hand advantage against Vernon. He ended the pre-primary FEC filing period with $1.2 million . As a self-funder, Blum could write himself a check at any time. So far this cycle, he's loaned his campaign $500,000 so far.   

Vernon ended the pre-primary reporting period with $421,000 . She's loaned her campaign $126,000.   

Vernon spent close to $1 million in the primary against 2014 nominee Pat Murphy. But with Democrats making this seat a top target, she'll likely have the resources she needs to put this seat in play. House Majority PAC has already made early TV ad reservations in the Cedar Rapids market.   

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.