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Boswell Wins 3rd District Democratic Primary
U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell fended off challenger Ed Fallon with a healthy margin of about 20 points June 3. He sealed his victory with a double-digit win in Polk County, which was perceived as Fallon’s stronghold.Fallon, who served seven terms in the Iowa House representing inner city Des Moines, sought to unseat Boswell, who will seek his seventh term in Congress. Fallon criticized Boswell for being too conservative for the district. A so-called Blue Dog Democrat, Boswell voted for the Iraq War and a controversial bankruptcy bill, and he supports trade agreements like NAFTA, which Fallon claimed were unfair to American workers.
Iowa Independent first reported Fallon’s intent to challenge Boswell in December. By January, when Fallon officially announced his candidacy, many saw potential for an upset because of the his unexpected success during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. In that race, Fallon placed a close third, but he won more votes in the counties comprising Boswell’s congressional district than his opponents did because of a wide margin in Polk County.
But the three-way race in 2006 turned out to be no barometer for the two-way contest this year.
Boswell began with a vast campaign account and maintained his fundraising advantage until the end. He accepted money from political action committees (PACs), while Fallon did not. Fallon did receive support from online activists across the country. Democracy for America and the blog OpenLeft helped him raise over $75,000 online — likely the highest online fundraising total in Iowa history. Still, Fallon fell far short of the $700,000 fundraising goal he set for himself when he announced his candidacy.
Although Boswell did not campaign as actively as Fallon throughout the district, his staff worked diligently behind the scenes to encourage supporters to vote absentee. Fallon, who spent the majority of his money on a large staff of organizers, did worse than expected on this count. In rural Mahaska County, for instance, Boswell received 13 times more absentee ballots than Fallon (the margin was 131-10). In Iowa County on the district’s eastern edge, Boswell won the absentee vote 66-6.
Because of high personnel costs, Fallon’s campaign was unable to afford to advertise by mail or on television. Boswell, on the other hand, sent voters a slew of negative mailings, several attacking Fallon for endorsing Green Party “spoiler” candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. He also used the “franking privilege” afforded members of Congress to send two positive mailings to his constituents for free. And in the final week of the campaign, Boswell received help from an unaffiliated political organization classified as a “527,” which sent mailings to voters that made exaggerated claims about Fallon’s supposed support for sex offenders and methamphetamine users.
Fallon did have one bright moment in the contest, when he received the endorsement of the Des Moines Register. Many expected that the endorsement, combined with what appeared on financial disclosure reports to be an aggressive effort to get out the vote, could springboard Fallon to victory.
But Fallon had trouble gaining traction from the beginning of his campaign. His criticisms of Boswell received generally little press coverage, perhaps because the same issues had been argued ad nauseam during the year-long Iowa caucuses, or perhaps because Fallon’s relationships with most members of the Democratic Party establishment across the state had become strained during his years in the state legislature. Fallon’s message was also drowned out by the ongoing presidential race, which consumed most of the space that newspapers and television newscasts devoted to political coverage. He received the most press attention of the campaign after Iowa Independent revealed complicated campaign finance questions related to his unregulated political advocacy organization, I’M For Iowa.
Fallon’s lack of positive media attention coupled with disappointing fundraising numbers prevented him from communicating his message to voters, but his resounding defeat indicates that even so-called “high information” voters, who were well informed about both candidates, broke in Boswell’s direction.
Boswell now faces a general election challenge from Republican Kim Schmett, a member of the conservative establishment who worked for former U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske in Washington, D.C. Schmett has raised just over $50,000 to date.