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Discussion: Iowa Congressional District #4

posted on October 10, 2008 at 1:52 PM


 

Paul Yeager: Iowa State is an important asset to district four.  But how can it help stabilize and grow the district's economy?  Those are a couple of the questions here that we'll look at tonight.  How will the nation's liquidity crisis affect the districts and Iowa's most capital intensive industry, agriculture?  And how are economic challenges affecting the district's congressional and legislative races?  

Here to help us sort through these question is Trent Rice, President Elect of the Iowa Broadcast News Association, also News Director at KASI in Ames and Dr. John Epperson, Professor of Political Science at Simpson College in Indianola.  Gentlemen, thank you for coming on the program.  

When we look at this race we've seen an infusion of democratic voters or at least people registering as democrats.  How is that on a national scale?  Because of Barack Obama he's getting the credit on a lot of that.  How is the demographic switch, John, going to change this cycle?

John Epperson: Well, I think it's going to be a big help to democrats, there's no question about that.  We were talking earlier they had an early voting event at Simpson which they generally don't get good attendance at.  They had 240 some odd people which is astounding.  Those are newly registered people, students.  The Obama people put a lot of effort into that and so I suspect that that's replicated across the district but that's going to send more democrats to the district which obviously they might vote for Obama but how they vote down the ticket could have a tremendous impact.

Paul Yeager: Is that the same in Ames?  It's a much bigger college town so you'd see it on a much bigger scale. But is there just as much excitement on the student's side of this?

Trent Rice: Oh, absolutely.  There were caucus sites, one of them that my wife attended, where there literally was standing room only.  They were supposed to close the doors in a certain amount of time and they had folks that still needed to get in and actually get to their caucus locations at the high school.  I don't want to say that they were unprepared for the amount of turnout but it far exceeded what I think they had expected.

Paul Yeager: How is this going to change them this race that we have an incumbent republican congressman?  Does that change the way this race is shaping up, Trent?

Trent Rice: I think democrats are absolutely gunning for district four right now.  You look at district three, Congressman Boswell is pretty safe in district three.  One and two are also the same thing.  Four is really where the focus is because I think the democrats really feel like this is the one they can steal.

Paul Yeager: Would you agree?

John Epperson: I think that's right.  I think they haven’t' put as much money into it to this point.  It's one of those districts where they're looking and they're looking and they're looking.  I'm sure they're doing polling and if they see any movement then they'll simply pour more resources because there is no other district in the state this competitive.

Paul Yeager: Trent, it looks like you want to say something.

Trent Rice: Oh, I was just going to mention there is another factor here with Becky Greenwald.  She likes to remind folks that Iowa is the only state that has not elected either a governor or a member of the Senate or House of Representatives a female.  I can't remember another year other than 2008 that played as well for women than this one will and I think they really want to make hay with that issue.

John Epperson: I think that's right.

Paul Yeager: Two years ago, four years ago we heard a lot about value voting.  When you host your show and you hear callers talking, Trent, is any of that coming up in this cycle?

Trent Rice: Not really.  Congressman Latham tends to play it, everything as far as playing those issues he is not what Steve King is in the fifth district.  They're really more how does it affect my pocketbook?  How does it affect my kid's education?  How does it affect my chance to get healthcare?  You don't hear a lot of abortion talk, you don't hear about a gay rights talk in that way in the fourth district.

Paul Yeager: So, money is trumping value?

John Epperson: I think that's right and I agree that Latham he's not a fire brand on those issues.  His positions are the right ones for his party but he doesn't run on those issues and he's not running that way now.  And I think the economy is the dominant issue.

Paul Yeager: When we were talking earlier today, John, it was something that I asked you, what are the top three issues and you said economy, economy, economy.

John Epperson: I think that's right.

Paul Yeager: What about it that is so important?

John Epperson: Well, first of all, the economy is not doing well.  Second of all, all of this financial disaster and all of the declining stocks really has gotten people's attention and people obviously focus on different parts of it.  I have a friend who is retiring at the end of this semester.  Well, bad timing.  Another friend has been retired for two years.  A farmer who is trying to figure out how am I going to get a loan?  Am I going to be able to get one?  What kind of interest rate am I going to have to pay?  Or home sales.  So everybody processes -- where I am I know what we're concerned about and I know we mentioned this earlier is student loan.  Are loans going to be available for our students especially for next fall?  We have our class now.  What is next fall going to be like?

Paul Yeager: The private schools are a little different than the public, a lot of the public school kids at Iowa State rely heavily on student loans.  What is the concern from administrators or people on campus?

Trent Rice: Iowa State over the last decade has really seen a bit of a roller coaster on terms of enrollment and I don't know how much of that is tied to the economy but you know that there are lending organizations, lending institutions out there that may be a little less willing to give the full amount of a student loan or may be a lot more selective about income guidelines that are going to get that loan.  Iowa State, that is a huge factor for them because as student enrollment goes, as tuition goes, goes the money, you talked about it with Kay, goes the amount of money that the university has to ask for from the regents.  It's A to B to C to D, absolutely.

Paul Yeager: Does Ames at all feel like they might be insulated though a bit as an overall economy because of being in the Midwest?  Why would they feel that they're insulated?

Trent Rice: That's a great point, Paul.  Not only because we're in the Midwest but because we are Ames.  Sure, we're the home to Iowa State University but a major regional medical center is there, the headquarters of the Department of Transportation is there, all of the small scale research firms that are still hopefully being able to find money, seek capital to get started, yeah, Ames is fairly insular, Iowa is fairly insular.  So, it fits kind of one to the other.

Paul Yeager: Ames is also known as searching for new economies, new types of economy, a green economy, lots of engineers thinking.  Any concern that their future or their being able to find money and trying to find a new way to start a new business?

Trent Rice: I think that short of maybe going to somewhere where there is already maybe more of an established tech industry, where there's more of an established ready pool of if I can go into a business meeting and talk to five seed capital guys as opposed to having to make the travel, yeah, but I think there's still that insular factor in Ames.  Real estate is still relatively reasonably priced as compared to other places, certainly on the coasts, and if you can bring folks in, if folks are willing to move in and that seems to be the real issue and has been for at least the time I've been in Ames is simply attracting folks to come to Ames.

Paul Yeager: Do you agree, John?

John Epperson: I think Indianola, the town is in some sense a suburb of Des Moines, you've got the college, I think any of the towns in the fourth district with colleges or universities do tend to be insulated from that.  However, there are lots of places that don't have those things and even in those places where you do have a university, you have Iowa State or you have Simpson, there are lots of people who earn their living other ways and there are concerns there.  You were talking about raising tech industries, you've got to raise capital.  This is not a good time.  I've just noticed where a couple of ethanol plants have put off plans to be built because they could not raise the money, one here in Des Moines.

Paul Yeager: Talk about historically when you look back two, four, eight, ten years, how different is this conversation that we're having about this district?

John Epperson: It's very different.  The war has dominated the conversation, I think, the political conversation since it started about five years ago and that certainly was what was driving the conversation in 2006.  The economy wasn't great, there was the sort of backlash against Katrina, there was a judgment that the president wasn't doing very well but I think it was the war in particular that drove people and that narrative continued really up until the beginning of this year when you began to see some economic issues and things have just gotten so bad in the last month that it seems to me that is going to tend to dominate everything.

Trent Rice: And Congressman Latham while he says he is reluctant to issue the treasury secretary a blank check and tell them to go out and buy up securities, he's also in what could be a competitive race.  He cast the vote against that bailout bill last Friday.  He cast the one that I think he thinks he's going to need to be able to bring home to the fourth district and say look, I'm not writing anybody a blank check for anything.

Paul Yeager: I had a conversation with a long time republican who lives in the district who was with a large company for a long time and always had been a republican and thought that one vote by the current congressman is going to change him or he had changed his vote, he was upset with the party, had a distrust in government.  Is that something maybe some of your listeners tell you that they have a distrust?

Trent Rice: Well, it's not a distrust in government but people are looking for somebody to -- this is human nature I think -- people are looking for somebody to blame.  Who can I pin this to?  If you're in a reasonably competitive house race and maybe the only one in Iowa the last thing you want to do is have somebody be able to pin this one on you.  And I think there is a -- I say this with all due respect -- I think there is still a kind of basic misunderstanding of how this whole thing is going to work.  It's been able to have been sold by those who opposed this as saying this is a $700 billion bailout for billionaires, I said no to that, love me.

Paul Yeager: Could that backfire though?

John Epperson: It could if people perceive that this bailout is a good thing.  I think the one thing working in Latham's favor is there's not enough time to know.  If you just look at what has happened in the last four or five days you would say this has got to be terrible.  I think that the bailout or rescue makes sense, I think that it would have been terrible if we hadn't have done it.  Look what the market did the day that the house defeated it.  But I think Latham, I think he did what was in his heart but he also did what he thought was going to help him politically.  It was a free vote in that sense.  They didn't need his vote.

Paul Yeager: Not something that he would need pinned upon or stuck in a debate ...

John Epperson: It's sort of a populous position and it's I'm the conservative but I'm not going to help these big bankers because they're the ones that ought to take the loss.

Paul Yeager: There is some pork that was sandwiched into this bill.  You always wonder what can a member of congress do to help the economy.  Well, bring pork home to the district.  How much has -- whether you argue against it you heard Senator McCain talk about it, rail against it -- how much of an impact of what has he brought home to this district will play in his chances of re-election?

Trent Rice: Well, one man's pork is another man's economic development.  You have Iowa State University, you also have the major USDA facility that is in the process of a major hundreds of billions of dollars renovation and expansion, the DOT also the infrastructure issues that everybody pays attention to.  If you can come back to the district and say, you know, I brought more money so the DOT can hire more workers so we can make I-35 a little smoother that's not going to lose you anything.

Paul Yeager: It's not and as you said it's an economic development issue if it is a bridge or it is a road or it is a way to spur an economy.  So, what is your take on that?

John Epperson: Well, I think one of the things about Iowa in general and the fourth district certainly is that most of the pork, most of the earmarks, whatever you want to call them that Iowa politicians have brought back to the state are pretty defensible.  There may be but I'm not aware of any just outrageous examples.  They tend to be things like you were talking about, infrastructure, a bridge, a grant to Iowa State or the University of Iowa or wherever and those things tend to be much more defensible and, in fact, Iowa politicians have often made the argument that if it were not for earmarks Iowa would get ignored.  Iowans understand that argument but you still get people who complain about it and there's still excesses.  So, I think that being able to say I helped the district and we did good public service also is still a pretty good argument.

Paul Yeager: We have a couple of minutes left and I want to ask you one thing.  You're at an Iowa conference school, you're at Simpson.  Decorah is on the opposite end at Luther.  How does a candidate, how does Becky Greenwald try to get her message or Tom Latham from Indianola to Decorah to Mason City to Algona and the points in between?

John Epperson: It's extremely difficult because it's a very strange district that is spread out so physically.  You've got a lot of driving, a lot of going from one place to another, it's many media markets so you have to compete effectively, you have to have the money to compete in a lot of markets so it's very challenging.  It's probably the most challenging district because the western district is larger, I suspect, but it's not very competitive.  This is a competitive district and always has been.

Paul Yeager: So, does this cover an incumbent?

Trent Rice: Free media, free media.  It does a favor for an incumbent, sure.  Something like that people know, he is known, they know his face.  If I had to count every e-mail or phone call that I've gotten from not only the democratic party but from Greenwald's folks saying she's going to be shining shoes on the corner, please come look, I mean, it's as the professor said, they're looking for every free media opportunity on radio and TV they can get.

Paul Yeager: 30 seconds to each.  Who wins this race?

John Epperson: Right now it would be Latham but I wouldn't be completely stunned if Obama wins Iowa by a very large margin it might be enough to prove me wrong.

Trent Rice: I think Latham wins but I think he has as big a challenge as he had since 2002.  I think the fact that Becky Greenwald is a woman running in a popular year for women in politics really, really helps her.

Paul Yeager: Should be an interesting one.  Do you think we'll expect any large drops of large names to come in?

John Epperson: If they think they can help.  That's what is going to happen especially after the debate is over they're going to go where they think they need for themselves and they'll show up if they think it will help them.

Paul Yeager: Dr. John Epperson, Professor of Political Science at Simpson College.  Trent Rice, he's the President Elect of the Iowa Broadcast News Association, also News Director at KASI.  Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here tonight. 

 

 

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