Over the two-week congressional recess, 2chambers visited Iowa to explore how the state’s redistricting process has spawned two races likely to be among the most competitive and expensive in the country.
The race in Iowa’s 4th Congressional district pits Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) against Christie Vilsack (D), wife of Tom Vilsack, the state’s former governor who now serves as President Obama’s agriculture secretary.
King spoke with 2chambers after a town hall meeting with constituents in Harlan, Iowa. A transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity, appears below:
2chambers: Why should the 4th District elect you to Congress?
King: “I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life. Marilyn [his wife] and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage together. We’ve raised a family and started a business and now have grandchildren. I live in the middle of corn. And it’ll be rotational leaning towards beans this year, and that’s great too. But I’ve lived this life all my life. I’ve built my business on agri-business and I’ve made my living out of this earth.
“I was compelled to run for politics because of the frustrations of a government that was too intrusive. I have a clear record as a full-spectrum constitutional conservative. And I’m rural small-town Iowa. There are 39 counties here that are mostly rural, small town. We used to hold season tickets at Iowa State. By the way, the district, the part that I get to keep, the 18 counties in Northwest Iowa, is the best Republican district in America to have a base to run for office from. It’s fantastic.”
Why is this such a competitive race?
“Well, we’re not sure of that. Just that she’s [Christie Vilsack] going to raise a lot of money. But it’s because it’s redistricting. And I posed the question here [during his town hall meeting] – I don’t know the answer to this question – I just know that some time around two years ago it first started to come to me that Christie Vilsack had said that wherever redistricting puts me, she would move there to run against me. I’ll leave it to others to ask her that question or to speculate what that motive might be.
“But there’s some history between the Vilsacks – Tom Vilsack – I really didn’t think there was a history between me and Christie. He and I served in the state Senate together. Then he as governor and me in the State Senate. Then me in Congress and he as governor. And then of course I’m fourth in line in seniority on the Ag Committee and he’s the secretary of Agriculture.
“We’ve had plenty of opportunities. One time I sued him successfully and the case of King v. Vilsack is in the books. I’m sure that topic of dinner discussion around the table at Terrace Hill wasn’t particularly complementary.”
[Editor’s Note: Terrace Hill is the name of the Iowa governor’s mansion.]
What was the lawsuit about?
Executive Order # 7. He had unconstitutionally amended the civil rights section of the [state] code [to extend nondiscrimination protections to gay and lesbian state employees]. I took an oath to uphold the constitution. Even to the extent of, as I said the other day, I spent my kid’s inheritance to pay the attorney’s fees.”
So clearly there’s a history between you and the Vilsacks?
“Well between Tom and myself. I don’t know if this is a vicarious campaign or not.”
You want six debates with Christie Vilsack, but haven’t debated before. Why?
“I’ve always debated my opponent in an open election in a new seat, because I did debate for this new 5th District [back in 2002]. And one of those debates was on television at KMEG in Sioux City. That was a 90-minute debate, and when that was over, we took the raw tape with us and took it down and put it on the cable TV network on a continuous loop in Council Bluffs, my opponent’s hometown.
“And I debate everyday. I’m debating something all the time. There’s nobody around me that thinks it’s hard to keep me out of the debate. But when you have opponents that don’t have a platform and their whole campaign is negative attacks, it would be rewarding negative behavior to have a debate in that scenario. This is different. She has raised a lot of money. She will raise a lot of money. I saw the list of ‘countercultural PACs’ that lined up in the first days.”
Which ones are those?
“Well, we saw [George] Soros money in there. I joked that it was Vegetarians for Peace and the Michael Moore Foundation and everybody in between. I don’t know if it’s real, but it’s worked in other situations.
Would you take a no PAC pledge?
“I made and kept the pledge not to accept any special interest money in the State Senate. But to be able to raise the funds necessary to do what needs to be done, it’s too late to make that pledge.”
“The PAC side of this thing – I’m going to be attacked for PAC support while she collects PAC support. That doesn’t seem to be hypocritical from their camp.”
Any reason to believe that Republicans are less likely to support you this year? (Some local news reports suggest some GOP donors aren’t giving King money.)
“We had a fundraiser of folks on Saturday, of people who traditionally have not given. I’m not sure everybody in the room gave, but a number of people wrote nice checks.”
“You always have some people who are caught in a position where there’s .. face this scenario. The secretary of agriculture has control over a lot of policy in this country. And there are people out there who are thinking, ‘I don’t really need to be fighting with the secretary of agriculture.’ If that equation enters their head, they might be a little tepid in their support for me. Not because they’re not enthused about supporting Steve King, they’re just not enthused about complications.”
I was wondering if you would raise those kinds of concerns about Tom Vilsack. Are you suggesting he’s been here in Iowa too much or done things for the state that he wouldn’t do if his wife weren’t running for Congress?
“I’m advised from reading an article that Tom Vilsack, shortly after he made the statement that this would be ‘a holy war,’ he had gotten his ethics attorneys together to be advised on how to handle this. And I think he will follow the letter of their advice very closely.”
Can Mitt Romney win Iowa?
“He came really close, didn’t he, in the caucus. It comes back to the same question that I raise here – it’s ‘Obamacare,’ it’s a balanced budget amendment, it’s an opportunity society versus a dependency society. If your vision is for economic growth and prosperity, the president doesn’t have that. He can’t claim that he’s going to bring us prosperity, except to take from, starve the goose that’s laying the golden egg, and take that out and hand it out from the government. I think the vision of Americans – especially Midwesterners where we’re rooted in the prairie settlers – that level of independence is deeply within us. And it is Iowa’s character and culture.
If the Romney campaign calls and says they’d like to campaign with you in Sioux City, will you stand on stage with him?
“With Romney? Yes, yes, absolutely. And I looked him in the eye and told him that.
If Mitt Romney were to call you and ask your advice on his vice presidential running mate, is there a name you would mention or a criteria he shoudl follow?
“I don’t know if I should send that message. There are several good candidates out there. Of course Paul Ryan’s name has elevated up near the top. And [Sen. Marco] Rubio’s has been there a long time. Both of them would be very capable. There’s something about bringing a fresh, articulate policy voice and face to this arena. Ryan’s face is probably not what you would call fresh, but it’s still young. That’s good. When I listen to Rubio, he speaks to my heart in a way that I think is important. He understands – as you heard me speak in here – about the pillars of American exceptionalism, the underpinnings of what made this a great country.”
[Read more of King’s comments on Paul and Rubio here.]
When you come home to Iowa, what do voters complain to you most about?
“We have more focus on agriculture, more focus on renewable energy. But I’m hearing from our people that even on the East Coast, in Michigan, for example, the third-highest priority subject matter is Keystone XL Pipeline. I’d say that’s the top three or so for me here, but I didn’t think it went that far East. We have that, we have a farm bill coming up and part of what you heard with the young lady ask earlier about what we’re going to do with the diminishing resources. Then we have the big issues that I’m raising – repeal of Obamacare in the discussion right now.”
Read the full article on the King-Vilsack race and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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