DES MOINES - Once-a-decade redistricting has created four competitive congressional races that pit two incumbents against one another and give a 10-year House veteran his toughest challenge yet.
Iowa lost one district because the state didn't grow as quickly as others, making redistricting especially disruptive. It prompted nine-term Republican Rep. Tom Latham to move into the 3rd district to avoid running against GOP Rep. Steve King, and in the 2nd district, Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack moved to avoid opposing Democrat Bruce Braley.
The result is a race between Latham and eight-term Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell and a situation in which all the congressional candidates are running in districts markedly different than two years ago.
For King, there's the additional challenge of running for the first time against a well-funded and known Democrat, Christie Vilsack. King has acknowledged that the race against Vilsack, the wife of former Iowa governor and now U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, has been his toughest since being elected in 2002.
1st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
The 1st district race is a rematch of the 2010 contest, with the incumbent Braley facing Republican lawyer Ben Lange.
Lange, 33, lost to Braley, 54, by only 4,209 votes in the last election, but since then redistricting has significantly change the district. The 21-county northeast Iowa region now includes Dubuque, Waterloo and Cedar Rapids - the Davenport area was moved to the 2nd district.
Democrats hold a narrow voter registration advantage over Republicans, but both parties are outnumbered by independents, who are nearly 38 percent of voters.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Braley has raised $2.4 million and Lange about $849,000 as of Sept. 30.
Lange, of Independence, has focused much of his campaign on criticizing Braley for the Democrat's role in the nation's growing debt.
Braley has identified himself as a populist. He's pointed to his success in passing bills that increased payments to Iowa doctors who accept Medicare and an act that required simplified language on government forms. A Braley bill that expands grants to disabled veterans who need to retrofit their homes passed the House but hasn't cleared the Senate.
They debated on Oct. 10 and have another scheduled for Nov. 1 in Dubuque.
2nd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack moved to Iowa City in order to remain in the 2nd district, where he's facing Republican attorney John Archer in a race largely focused on jobs and the economy.
The district includes 24 counties in southeast Iowa, a region that has some of the state's highest county unemployment rates.
Archer, a corporate attorney for Deere & Co., has called for balancing the federal budget. On his campaign website, Archer accuses Democrats of trying to control the economy "for the entrenchment of their power base" and argues that the Obama administration seems eager "to push as many citizens as possible into some form of dependency on government."
Archer, 47, said tax rates for employers and investors are too high and government regulations too onerous.
Loebsack, 59, a college professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon before being elected to Congress in 2006, has made it a priority to help constituents deal with the federal government. He talks frequently about growing up in poverty and being raised by a single mother, which he says keeps him focused on the needs of families and small businesses. He pledges to work toward balancing the federal budget "without ending Medicare."
About 35 percent of registered voters in the district are Democrats - roughly equal to independents. About 29 percent are Republicans.
3rd CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
The 3rd district matchup between Boswell and Latham is another result of redistricting, which prompted Latham to move to Clive into Boswell's redrawn district.
Latham's $3.1 million in fundraising has doubled Boswell's fundraising total of $1.5 million. Both have drawn high powered support, with former President Bill Clinton holding a fundraiser for Boswell and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner raising money in Iowa for Latham.
In campaigning, Latham, 64, has called for balancing the budget without raising taxes. Boswell, 78, supports raising income taxes for the richest Americans.
Boswell supports Obama's health care reform law, but Latham argues it should be repealed and Congress should start over on a new health care overhaul.
Both candidates have run aggressive television ads.
On Latham ad criticized Boswell for paying bonuses to his staff, prompting Boswell to respond that his staff pay is less overall than Latham's staff salaries.
Boswell has run an ad noting that while Latham opposed federal funding to aid struggling banks, he and his family were invested in a bank that accepted bailout money.
Latham calls the ad misleading
The district includes 16 counties and stretches from Des Moines to Council Bluffs. Republicans have a slight registration edge over both Democrats and independents.
4th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Republican Rep. Steve King has cruised to easy wins in every race since his election in 2002, but he acknowledged this year's challenge by Democrat Christie Vilsack has been far more difficult.
The combination of a new, slightly less Republican district and a well-known opponent has made the race competitive.
Vilsack, 62, is married to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who served as Iowa governor for eight years.
Vilsack said the experience of traveling the state as first lady helps her connect with voters, and she's had the campaign cash to get our her message.
As of Sept. 30, Vilsack had raised $2.8 million and King raised $3.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Much of the campaign has revolved around King's status as a nationally known conservative who is eager to speak his mind on issues ranging from the president to immigration and even dog fighting.
King, 63, has compared same-sex marriage to polygamy, said Obama favors black people, suggested an electrified fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and described prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq as akin to fraternity hazing.
Vilsack said constituents tell her they're often embarrassed by King's remarks.
King said in many cases, his opponents twisted his words.
"I'm dealing with people out there that are professional hyperventilators," he said in an interview. "They get up in the morning, they search through their Internet, they try to figure out what it is that me or somebody else that they love to hate might have said that they can twist into something that they can be indignant about."
King's recent vote and statements in opposition to an amendment that would make it illegal to watch dog fighting and take children to dog fights led to television ads by the Washington-based Humane Society Legislative Fund that oppose the Republican.
King said he wouldn't attend a dog fight but questioned why dog fight should be banned if fights between people are allowed.
King hadn't debated an opponent since his first election in 2002, but he's participated in five with Vilsack and had two more scheduled.
Vilsack has largely focused her campaign on an argument that despite all the attention he receives, King gets little accomplished and hasn't tried to seek consensus in a gridlocked Congress.
"There's no farm bill, there's no transportation bill long-term, there's no infrastructure bill, there's no jobs bill, there's no balanced budget, there's no immigration reform bill," she said in an interview. "This Congress has done absolutely nothing and I think people are going to react to that."
King said voters don't see him as ineffective.
"I've never had anybody talk to me about that in my years of representing them," he said. "I think the public sees it as a manufactured argument for a campaign."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.