I am writing this from the Democratic office in Mason City Iowa, where this afternoon Christie Vilsack came to talk with supporters before people headed out to canvass. The room was full, with crowd predominantly senior citizens. This is not surprising, given that the 4th Congressional District has one of the highest percentage of senior citizens in the nation, and by far the highest among the 4 Iowa Congressional districts. Issue for senior citizens are of course important, which is why one of things in scripts for phone calls is about Rep. Steve King's insistence upon a "fair tax" which would eliminate the graduated income tax in favor of a national sales tax, which would be 23% on everything, including prescription drugs. Since King also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that would mean the funds taken from paying insurance companies and being used to close the "donut hole" in funding the prescription drug benefit in Medicare Part D would also disappear.
This is my 3rd full day embedded with the campaign, so below the cheese doodle I will offer a few observations.
Last night, as it happens just after she returned home from having dinner with me, Christie found out she was going to be on Up with Chris Hayes this morning. So she had to drive South from Ames where she lives to Des Moines to appear on MS-NBC, and then come North to Mason City, where as I write this she is out knocking on doors, a long with a number of local volunteers.
You can get a real sense of what Christie is like, and how she sees some of the issues in the district by watching the video (in case you did not see it in real time):
When Christie arrived in the Mason City office, she was still dressed as she had been for TV, and had not yet had a chance to change into her door-knocking clothes and boots. She addressed the gathered crowd for about 15 minutes, was interviewed by a local reporter for a bit, then spoke with some of the people her for about 20 minutes before changing and heading out to door knock. Her remarks here reiterated a number of points that she made on TV.
It is worth noting the the Farm Bill is about a lot more than agricultural subsidies - it also includes funding for economic development in rural agricultural areas. Given that Christie's husband Tom, the former Governor of Iowa, is now Secretary of Agriculture, she probably understands this as well as anyone in the country. The bill passed by the Senate was bi-partisan, and when you have both Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Congressman Tom Latham joining the Iowa Democrats in signing a request to Speaker Boehner to bring up the bill before adjourning until after the election, King's refusal to sign the request is notable, and is a point to which Christie Vilsack will return again and again. As of a week from Monday, there will be no authorization for many of the programs that help those in rural areas, which means Congress cannot allow expenditure of funds even under a continuing resolution. There are people who may be forced into bankruptcy as the result of allowing the authorizations covered in the Farm bill to lapse.
I mentioned that I had dinner with Christie last night. I am here because she and Tom are friends going back 7 years, and as I noted over dinner, last night was the 7th anniversary of my first conversation with Tom, on the phone, about educational policy. While we were at the restaurant there were people who recognized her, and one woman who came up to give her information because she wanted to volunteer in the campaign.
Like me, Christie was a teacher. During the years she was Iowa's First Lady, and in the time since, she has maintained the teacher's passion to want to make a positive difference in people's lives. As First Lady of Iowa, she focused on small towns - she grew up in Mount Pleasant IA, a small town of less than 9,000, to which at her father's request she and Tom returned after he finished law school (Tom is a native of Pennsylvania, and is to this day a Steelers' fan). She wants to see opportunity for the young people of Iowa, economic futures in those same small towns in which they grow up.
She is a strong believer in Iowa Values - this was a state with an early commitment to education: Iowa Wesleyan in her home town was the first college west of the Mississippi , chraterd in 1842 and holding its first classes in 1846. It is a state with a strong sense of communities - one can think of the Amana Community, the Quaker settlement at West Branch, the Bohemian community of Spillville where Antonin Dvorak wrote his 9th Symphony ("From the New World"). Iowa has a strong tradition in local control - of education in particular. Iowans do not like outsiders telling them what to do, which of course complicates their politics with the first in the nation Presidential caucuses.
Steve King has chosen to use his prominence as a Congressman to push a radical agenda that has little to do with the people of his district. He has been more concerned with his agenda and himself. There was an amendment for a bonus for military who had served in combat zones that failed by one vote - King voted against this, despite Iowa's long and proud tradition of service. In the meantime, during King's six terms in Congress he voted for increases in his pay of more than 19,000/year. By contrast, Christie has called on Congressman King to give back his pay raises to taxpayers. She has also pledged to vote against and to give back any increase in pay until the budget is balanced.
The district as newly drawn is 37% independents - it is far from being as conservative as is the district King currently represents. By including Story County (Iowa does not divide counties in drawing up Congressional districts) it has Ames and Iowa State University, a large pool of voters who will not be inclined towards the radical agenda that King has pushed.
King's failure to obtain a chairmanship despite his seniority when the Republicans took control of the House also enables Christie to point out how ineffective he is seen even by the leadership of his own party.
This is a winnable race.
It will to some degree depend upon what happens in the state in the Presidential race.
In the meantime, it is a district where contributions can be very effectively leveraged. Media costs are not excessive. Yes, one has to use some broadcast outlets in DesMoines and in the Omaha / Council Bluffs region to fully cover the district, but much of the district is much smaller markets, like Mason City (28,000), Fort Dodge (25,000), and Sioux City (83,000).
This is considered one of the most hotly contested House races in the country. It is one where we can help get rid of one of the most obnoxious of the Republicans. It is a seat we must win if we expect to have any chance to win back the House.
I am prejudiced because Christie is a friend. I think she will be a terrific Member of Congress. Her being a friend would not by itself get me to drive 1,000 miles and spend a week plus helping the campaign, not if I did not believe she would be a good and effective member.
This part of Iowa is probably not a convenient place for many of you to volunteer, but if you can help out, I am sure it would be appreciated.
Your contributions will of course be welcome - it helps pay for staff, for literature, for yard sign and bumper stickers. Trust me, I know about yard signs, having put together more than 500 of them over the past few days. Postage for mailers, the costs of the phones used for phone banking - so many expenses with which you can help.
If you are willing, feel free to go to the contribute page and kick in some financial love. You can help make a difference.