Challenger Calls Rep. Boswell a Do-Nothing

Des Moines, Iowa, is quite the hotspot — during presidential election season, that is. Central to the first-in-the-nation caucuses and a prominent stopping point in a chief battleground state, this year it is also home to a congressional seat Republicans want.

That 3rd Congressional District seat currently belongs to four-term Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell (search), a man Republicans say represents the state's past, not its future.

"The people in this district are looking for a congressman who can go to D.C. and get the job done," said Kristin Scuderi, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa.

But not everyone is convinced that Boswell is vulnerable to a successful GOP challenge, which would be contingent upon the voters of Polk County, who count for more than 60 percent of the vote in the 12-county district and represent a 10,000-vote Democratic advantage.

Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (search), said the presidential race could play a deciding role in the race. However, President Bush was a more popular figure in the district two years ago. Now "there is more uneasiness with the president" and coattails might be harder to catch.

Gonzales also said that Stan Thompson (search), the man who lost to Boswell two years ago 53 percent to 45 percent, may find it difficult to win a rematch.

"I don't see a significant shift in the landscape, or in the race, that could show how Thompson wins," Gonzales told

"I don't know why the Republicans continue to see this as a big, competitive race," said Polk County Democratic Party Chairman Ted Henderson.

As a decorated Vietnam veteran and former farmer, Boswell relates to the constituents, he provides them with good services and "really has no problem issues right now," Henderson added.

Still, Republicans say Thompson is fit and ready for the job.

"He's just vibrant and full of energy and I think that's something that the third district needs," Scuderi said.

Thompson and his supporters say Boswell has done nothing in the last two years to give Iowans any reason to give him another term.

"He had two years to represent the district and really hasn't advanced his position any more from the day he got elected," Thompson said, noting that Boswell was running in a new district in 2002 after his old one was redistricted and became more Republican. "Voters viewed it as an open seat election last time," and were giving him a shot. This time, voters will scrutinize Boswell more, he added.

He pointed to Boswell's broken term-limit pledge — he was supposed to quit after four terms — and to what he says is a lack of legislative action on Boswell's part.

"Leonard is a do-nothing congressman, he just collects a paycheck," said Ted Sporer, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party. "He's not a bad person … but he delivers no benefits for the state of Iowa."

Of course, Polk County Democrats don't agree. Henderson said Boswell is popular, and as one of the more conservative Democrats in the House, he fits with the district, which all said and told, is nearly equally divided among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. Bush lost the district in 2000 to former Vice President Al Gore, 49 to 48 percent.

Boswell was unavailable for a phone interview, but campaign spokesman Mark Daley said the congressman, who sits on both the Agriculture Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, has been working hard to bring home transportation funds, and had a hand in drafting a recent House Democratic plan for creating a new director of intelligence. He scoffs at GOP suggestions that his boss has done too little in Washington, pointing to his work on prescription drug benefits and Medicare reimbursement to the states.

"We feel very good about where we stand," Daley said.

But Thompson said it's just not enough. He said the Veterans Administration (search) hospital is in need of critical reforms and jobs are draining from the district, which covers the south-central part of the state. Thompson said he has plans for economic growth, which would include reducing regulatory and tort burdens as well as plans for better health care opportunities in the state.

"I have earned a strong reputation as someone who is fair, and will work hard to get his results," the Des Moines attorney said.

Analysts point out that Thompson is lagging behind Boswell in the fund-raising department. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (search), Thompson most recently had $288,672 on hand, compared to Boswell's $802,454. A Republican poll conducted in July found Boswell ahead of Thompson 51 percent to 37 percent, though only 42 percent of the registered voters polled said Boswell deserved re-election.

"We don't see it as a competitive race," said Henderson, "but we're going to work really hard to get Boswell elected."