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Can Iowa Help Turn Congress Blue?

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Iowa is a pretty purple state-- a Democratic governor (Tom Vilsack), a progressive Democrat (Tom Harkin) and an old-line conservative rubber stamp Republican (Charles Grassley) in the U.S. Senate. There's a pretty even split between Republicans and Democrats in party registration, a 25/25 tie in the State Senate and a 2 vote tilt towards the Republicans in the State House. Gore beat Bush by 1% in 2000 and Bush beat Kerry by 1% in 2004. Pretty even... except for one thing: 4 of Iowa's 5 congressmen are Republicans (and the Democrat, Leonard Boswell, votes with the Republicans far more frequently than most Democrats).

In November there is a realistic chance to change that in a meaningful way. Although one of the country's most extreme right wing kooks, Steve King, looks pretty safe in Iowa's huge 5th congressional district in the western part of the state, on the other end of the state, a big change is brewing. Another GOP rubber stamp Republican, House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, is giving up his seat to run for governor. Iowa's 1st CD, which encompasses Dubuque, Davenport/Bettendorf and Waterloo is a quintessential moderate district. Nussle's voting record wasn't moderate and the Republican nominee to replace him is a hard right extremist, multimillionaire restaurateur Michael Whalen, an anti-minimum wage/anti-Social Security ideologue.

Yesterday I hosted a q&a session with the Democratic nominee for the seat, Bruce Braley, over at Firedoglake. Braley is a plainspoken, energetic populist, steely-eyed and progressive to the core. He's not one of those just-better-than-the-Republican kind of Democrats. Two weeks ago the distinctly not progressive DCCC tapped him to give the Democratic response to Bush's Saturday national radio address.

That caused me to scratch my head since Braley's positions on issues are not exactly what DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel is encouraging in Democratic challengers. "It is time for President Bush to announce a timeline for the responsible withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. While it is important to provide the means for Iraqi self-government, it is time to begin bringing our troops home." That sounds a lot more like Jack Murtha than it does like the advice Emanuel gives Democrats. And when it comes to healthcare... well, it's a position made for working and middle class Americans, not for politicians looking for legal bribes from Big Pharma and HMOs. Look though Democratic challengers' websites and tell me how many you find that even mention a woman's right to choice. Or just believe me-- almost none. Now look at Bruce's issue page on his site. "I support the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade and believe it is settled law." Powerful-- and no wiggle room to compromise with superstitious, brainwashed primitives. Bruce is a solid progressive candidate? But Rahm Emanuel's? I asked.

"I wouldn't change who I am to run for office. I am running to be a strong voice for change and to speak out for people who don't have a voice in Washington. I met with Rahm several times and I convinced him that my positions are the mainstream positions in this district. He listened and he understood. Even Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Jim Leach have come out for bringing the troops home. Iowa has a disproportionately large number of citizens in the National Guard. And they're not young kids; these are people with careers and families. People here are opposed to this occupation."

Braley is a common sense problem solver with Main Street values, not an ideologue and not a Wall Street values kind of guy like his opponent. "I'm not running for Congress so I can take safe, comfortable positions that won't change things for the better and improve the lives of people in my district and in this country."

This is undoubtedly one of the half dozen most competitive congressional districts in the country and with Whalen pouring his own fortune into the campaign and bringing in a steady stream of Republican heavies to campaign for him-- Cheney, Rove... people most Republicans are begging to stay out of their districts-- Braley has been an adept fund-raiser and has been on the campaign trail with popular mainstream Democrats like John Edwards, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Yesterday he was added to the Blue America Communities ACT BLUE Page, which I respecfully invite you to visit.