IA-03: Former college wrestling coach will challenge Boswell (2nd update: Zaun is also in)

Most election forecasters put Iowa’s third Congressional district in the “safe Democratic” or “likely Democratic” category, but Republicans in this state have vowed to run hard against seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell.

The mystery “top-rate” Republican recruit for this race emerged today.  

According to The Iowa Republican blog, former Iowa State University wrestling coach Jim Gibbons will file papers with the Federal Election Commission today to run in IA-03.

At Ames High School, he won three state titles. At Iowa State University, he was a three-time All-American and won a national championship during his junior year.

When his collegiate wrestling career was over, then-ISU coach Dr. Harold Nichols, offered Gibbons a job as an assistant coach. When Nichols retired in 1986, Gibbons was named head coach. He coached seven individual NCAA champions while compiling a 96-32-1 career coaching mark. After winning the NCAA Championships in 1987, Gibbons was named national coach of the year. He was named Big Eight Coach of the Year in 1991 and retired from coaching after the 1992 season.

Since leaving coaching, Gibbons has been a financial advisor, most recently with Wells Fargo Advisors in West Des Moines. He also serves as a television commentator, providing color commentary for ESPN, The Big Ten Network, and Iowa Public Television. In 2003, he was named broadcaster of the year by the National Wrestling Media Association.

Gibbons says he is retiring from Wells Fargo to run for Congress full-time. He opposed the federal stimulus package and Democratic bills on health care reform and climate change.

I’m guessing that this means State Senator Brad Zaun and former Iowa GOP chairman Mike Mahaffey will not seek the Republican nomination to challenge Boswell. Gibbons can probably raise a decent amount of money and may even be able to self-fund his campaign. The National Republican Congressional Committee is unlikely to invest a lot of money in this district in my opinion.

College wrestling is a popular sport in Iowa, but I still don’t see Boswell as a likely casualty next year. If unemployment keeps rising, though, who knows? Any comments about this or other House races are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user mirage, who is a Republican, doesn’t think much of Gibbons and believes Zaun would be a much stronger candidate. Zaun was mayor of Urbandale, a heavily Republican suburb of Des Moines, before winning a seat in the Iowa Senate in 2004.

SECOND UPDATE: I was wrong about Zaun, who told CQ Politics today that he plans to run against Boswell. Zaun said he will formally announce his candidacy sometime after December 1.

Zaun was just re-elected to the Iowa Senate in 2008, so he won’t have to give up his seat in the upper chamber if he loses the GOP primary or the general election.

CQ Politics suggested that with Gibbons and Zaun in the race, it may change its rating on this district from “safe Democratic.” I tend to agree with the statement that Gabby Adler of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent to CQ Politics:

“Each year Republicans claim they have Congressman Boswell in their sights, and each year they never live up to their own hype – there is no reason to believe this time will be any different,” Adler said.

What puzzles me is why so many Republicans are seeking this position. Even if a Republican beats Boswell, he is likely to be thrown into a 2012 primary against Tom Latham in a redrawn IA-03. Few people would choose a freshman over a nine-term incumbent with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

THIRD UPDATE: CQ Politics changed its rating on IA-03 from “Safe Democratic” to “Democrat favored” because Gibbons and Zaun are joining this race.

NOVEMBER 25 UPDATE: Zaun has filed FEC paperwork for this race and revamped his website.

SSP Daily Digest: 10/29

FL-Sen: Everything’s coming up Milhouse for Rep. Kendrick Meek these days: Rep. Corrine Brown decided not to challenge him in the primary, he’s watching Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio go hammer and tongs at each other on the GOP side, and now he has the endorsement of Florida’s currently most successful Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson.

NH-Sen: Oh please oh please… the geniuses at the Club for Growth are considering getting involved in the New Hampshire Senate race, where the position-less campaign of Kelly Ayotte doesn’t seem to be capturing their fancy. (This is buried at the end of an article on how they’re still weighing involvement in FL-Sen.)

NY-Gov: David Paterson is playing a different tune than before, sounding less defiant and ready to “reassess” if his numbers stay in the tank on into early 2010. Meanwhile, this may be a tea leaf that Rudy Giuliani isn’t planning to run — or simply one Suffolk County resident doing a favor for another one — but Suffolk County (on Lon Gisland) GOP leader John Jay LaValle endorsed Rick Lazio last week, and now Orange County (in the Hudson Valley) GOP leader Bill DeProspo is also endorsing Lazio. (And with Lazio poised to get demolished in a Rudy primary, you wouldn’t likely make that endorsement and risk the Rudy’s wrath unless you had a sense that he wasn’t running.) Finally, Erie County Exec Chris Collins had been considered a post-Rudy Plan B for the GOP, but he seems to have taken himself out of the running with bizarre remarks last weekend comparing Democratic Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver to both Hitler and the anti-Christ.

VA-Gov: Two more Virginia polls to add to the pile today: Roanoke College (in its first and apparently only poll) finds Bob McDonnell with a 53-36 lead over Creigh Deeds. In another bit of bad news, Republicans lead Democrats 43-33 on a generic ballot question concerning the House of Delegates. Research 2000 also looks at the race, finding a 54-44 lead for McDonnell — one of Deeds’ best performances recently, although that’s not saying much.

IA-03: Republican state Sen. (and former mayor of the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale) Brad Zaun says he’s seriously considering a run against Rep. Leonard Boswell in the 3rd next year. Mike Mahaffey, former state GOP chair, is set to decide by next week whether or not he’ll run too.

IL-18: Democrat D.K. Hirner will run for the nomination to face off against Rep. Aaron Schock in the Peoria-area 18th (who benefited from Democratic recruitment problems in his initial run in 2008). Hirner is the executive director of the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group.

MN-03: Democratic psychiatrist Maureen Hackett filed campaign papers to run in the 3rd against freshman Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen (who won with only 49% of the vote in 2008). Minnesota PTA president Jim Meffert-Nelson is also planning to announce his bid soon, while state Sen. Teri Bonoff, the district’s heavyweight Dem, is still weighing the race.

NH-02: EMILY’s List has one more endorsee: attorney Ann McLane Kuster, in the open seat race in the 2nd. You may be wondering “Wait, isn’t Katrina Swett going to run there?” While Kuster is officially in the race and has been fundraising well, Swett hasn’t committed to a bid yet, though… and more importantly, supports parental notification for abortion, making an endorsement unlikely.

OH-15: Here’s a positive development at both the micro and macro levels: little-known anti-abortion Ron Paul-supporter David Ryon dropped out of the Republican primary field against state Sen. Steve Stivers (who’s seeking a rematch against freshman Democratic Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy), and he’s going to go the third party route. This is good at a micro level because it’s similar to what happened in 2008, when two minor right-wing candidates siphoned off 9% of the vote, allowing Kilroy to get past the pro-choice Stivers despite an underwhelming performance (and without Obama on the ballot driving turnout in a university-dominated district, Kilroy is poised to underwhelm again in 2010). And at a macro level, it may be an indication that various wingnuts are taking stock of the Doug Hoffman situation and saying “Hey, that could be me!” (Thus further exacerabting the rifts in the GOP.)

OH-16: Buried at the end of an article that’s mostly profiling alleged GOP frontrunner Jim Renacci, there’s news that conservative former Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller is planning a third run in the primary in the 16th. Miller, if you’ll recall, got 42% in the 2006 primary against long-time Rep. Ralph Regula (which was probably instrumental in prompting Regula’s 2008 retirement), and then almost won the 2008 primary against state Sen. Kirk Schuring. So it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that freshman Democratic Rep. John Boccieri will be facing Renacci next year.

VA-07: Democratic real estate developer Charles Diradour has decided to scrap his nascent candidacy against Eric Cantor, so it’s back to the drawing board for Dems in the reddish 7th. Cantor has the biggest bankroll of any House Republican, so it’d be an uphill fight, to say the least.

NY-St. Sen.: With state Sen. Hiram Monserrate intending to stay in the Senate despite having been convicted of misdemeanor assault last week, the Queens Democratic Party (led by Rep. Joe Crowley) is taking the unusual step of recruiting and endorsing a primary challenger to him. Assemblyman Jose Peralta will be running against Monserrate with the local party’s blessing. The Senate is also still considering whether to begin expulsion proceedings against Monserrate.

PA-S. Ct.: Josh Goodman has a good catch on how the lone Supreme Court race on the ballot in Pennsylvania next week is actually a key race, in terms of state legislative redistricting in 2010. The state’s legislative redistricting board has 5 seats, with two seats from each legislative chamber and the remaining seat chosen by the first 4. But if the two legislative chambers are controlled by different parties (as is currently the case), there’s a deadlock, and the 5th member is chosen by the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court is also currently deadlocked between the parties (3-3, with the victor of next week’s race the tiebreaking vote), so the Supreme Court race essentially is for control of state legislative redistricting for the next decade. In the one poll I’ve seen of the race, Democrat Jack Panella led GOPer Joan Orie Melvin 38-35.

Polling: PPP is asking for your help again: they’d like to know what you’d like to see for a release schedule over the next week.

IA-03: Two potential challengers for Boswell

I heard it first from Bleeding Heartland user mirage, and now IowaPolitics.com confirms that State Senator Brad Zaun is thinking about challenging Representative Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third Congressional district next year. Zaun was mayor of Urbandale, a heavily Republican suburb of Des Moines, before winning a hard-fought race in Iowa Senate district 32 in 2004. He was re-elected to a four-year term in 2008, so he wouldn’t risk losing his seat in the upper chamber by running against Boswell.

According to IowaPolitics.com, Zaun will decide in the next few weeks whether to run:

Zaun said Boswell’s speaking out against cap-and-trade legislation this past summer but then voting for it concerned him and sparked his interest in a run for Congress.

“I’m frustrated because I think Leonard as well as so many other elected officials in Washington, D.C. don’t listen to their constituents and don’t represent where their constituents are on issues,” Zaun said. “Most elected officials in Washington, D.C. are out of touch with people they represent.”

Zaun is vice president of R&R Realty and has not yet formed an exploratory committee for the U.S. House. He said his biggest consideration on whether to run is his family. He and his wife have five kids ages 22, 21, 18, 13 and 11. “I’ve had long, long conversations with my wife,” he said.

Conservative and corporate-funded groups ran advertisements against Boswell this summer after he voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

IowaPolitics.com also quoted Mike Mahaffey, a former chairman of the Iowa GOP, as saying “he’ll decide by next week whether he will run” against Boswell. He’s been thinking about the race for several months. Mahaffey was the Republican candidate in IA-03 the first time Boswell won the district in 1996. However, the district was quite different then and did not include Polk County.

Some political analysts, like Isaac Wood and Larry Sabato, consider IA-03 potentially competitive but give a strong advantage to the incumbent. CQ Politics is among the odds-makers who consider IA-03 a “safe Democratic” seat. I tend to agree that Boswell is not vulnerable in 2010. Republicans ran hard against him in 2002, 2004 and 2006 but came up short.

If this race did become competitive, I think a challenger with a strong base in Polk County, like Zaun, would stand a better chance than someone from one of the smaller counties in the district. Polk County contains Des Moines and most of its suburbs. Mahaffey is from Montezuma in Poweshiek County (where Grinnell College is located). But if Zaun doesn’t run, Mahaffey has the connections to put together a stronger campaign than the two currently declared candidates, Dave Funk and Pat Bertroche.

An Iowan’s view of Sabato’s new House ratings

Last year all five Iowa incumbents in the House of Representatives were re-elected by double-digit margins. The main challengers failed to win even 40 percent of the vote against Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02), as well as Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05).

I’ve long assumed that none of Iowa’s Congressional districts would be competitive in 2010. Although Republicans have put Leonard Boswell (IA-03) on their long list of House targets, several other analysts share my view that Boswell is safe for next year. To my knowledge, the only declared candidates against Boswell are the little-known Dave Funk and Pat Bertroche. Boswell’s 1996 opponent Mike Mahaffey is thinking it over too.

Isaac Wood and Larry Sabato released new House race rankings, and they included IA-03 among 47 Democratic-held districts that are “likely” to remain Democratic:

The “likely” category is reserved for those competitive races where one party has a distinct advantage over the other. Most of these races feature either strong challengers or weak incumbents, but not a combination of the two that would warrant a more competitive designation. Consider these races as a watch list which could turn into heated battle with a single misstep by an incumbent or positive fundraising report.

I could see Iowa’s third district becoming competitive, but only if the economy is in terrible shape next fall and Republicans fund a well-known candidate with a base in Polk County (the population center of the district).

I question Wood and Sabato’s decision to put Loebsack’s district in the “likely” category as well. So far right-winger Steve Rathje is definitely running against Loebsack (he narrowly lost the 2008 GOP primary for U.S. Senate). Mariannette Miller-Meeks is also considering a rematch. She’s an impressive woman, but I frankly can’t imagine this district becoming competitive in 2010. IA-02 has much stronger Democratic voting performance than IA-03, which tracks closely with the nationwide vote in presidential elections.

Iowa City-based blogger John Deeth, who’s lived in IA-02 for a long time, also thinks Loebsack is rock solid for 2010.

Share any thoughts or predictions in this thread.

P.S.: Any idea when SSP’s 2010 House race ratings will be released?

UPDATE: From Deeth’s blog:

MMM’s case (other than her admittedly interesting biography) was attacking Loebsack as a solid vote for Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leadership — as if that was a BAD thing in a Democratic district. She also had trouble keeping her own party united behind her, with anti-choice forces within the GOP sent out late attacks and fed the rumor mill.

Only thing I can think of is that Sabato just looked at the Loebsack percentage of just a hair under 60. The Green and independent candidates account for that; in Johnson County at least MMM’s percentage almost exactly matched McCain’s, and Loebsack trailed Obama by almost exactly the third party vote.

Looks to me like Sabato just threw every 2006 and 2008 upset winner (Space, Shea-Porter, Walz, etc.) on the “Likely” list. Like I was saying even BEFORE the 2006 election, the real fluke is that Jim Leach held the seat as long as he did.

IA-03: Boswell’s 1996 opponent considering rematch

Former Iowa GOP chairman Mike Mahaffey told CQ Politics that he is thinking about running against Representative Leonard Boswell in Iowa’s third Congressional district next year. (Hat tip to WHO-TV’s Dave Price.) Boswell barely defeated Mahaffey in his first bid for Congress in 1996.

CQ Politics highlights a big obstacle for Mahaffey if he runs:

A Boswell-Mahaffey rematch after a 14-year hiatus would also take place on quite different turf from their first race. The 3rd District in 1996 was located mainly in southern Iowa and was heavily rural; Boswell was aided in that race by the fact that he had spent his life outside of politics in farming. But redistricting, performed in a non-partisan procedure in Iowa, move the district’s boundaries north and east to take in the state capital of Des Moines, to which Boswell relocated from his rural hometown.

It will take a lot to convince me that Mahaffey, a small-town lawyer and part-time Poweshiek County attorney, poses a serious threat to Boswell in a district dominated by Polk County. So far IA-03 doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s list of competitive U.S. House districts, even though the DCCC still has Boswell in the Frontline program.