DES MOINES — As part of our 5in5 project, I’m hoping to spend a few minutes speaking with most, if not all of the contenders in each of the House races that I’m looking at.
If I don’t meet with a candidate, it’s because he or she is on vacation or changed plans at the last minute in a way that doesn’t mesh with my tight travel schedule.
Monday, as I visited Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, I spoke with Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) about his race against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and how the addition of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to the GOP ticket affects downballot races.
The following transcript is edited for length and clarity:
2chambers: I was looking back at my notes from when we spoke in late March and was reminded of something quite profound you said that is relevant to what happened over the weekend. I asked about Democrats attacking you about ending “Medicare as we know it” and you said those attacks wouldn’t stick because voters are eager to hear specifics from candidates. And then Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan over the weekend to serve as his running mate – and he’s the guy providing the most specifics when it comes to Medicare. Does his selection reinforce your sentiments?
Latham: Exactly. I think people want to hear the truth. They understand that we’re in real trouble in this country. They want to hear from someone with specific solutions, and I think they look at the current administration as people who are offering nothing but continuation of status quo, and that’s not what they’re looking for.
Does having Ryan on the ticket and his support for changing Medicare and cutting billions of dollars out of the Farm Bill help or hurt your chances?
I certainly think that rather than to do nothing like the current administration’s talking about, and actually having solutions out there is very, very positive for us.
So you’d rather have a guy touting specifics.
Yes, people want to hear the truth.
How does Ryan being on the GOP ballot change the race in Iowa?
I think having a Midwestern person, one who I think fits in very well with what Iowans look at. He’s an outdoorsman, he’s someone from a relatively smaller community, Janesville, a good family person and I think that really is a positive for Iowans to look at.
I think the contrast that he provides and when you get into a debate with Vice President Biden, it will be stark, as far as being able to straightforwardly answer questions and to offer solutions rather than just more Washington double-talk. I think that will play well with Iowans.
Democrats are saying that Ryan is every GOP candidate’s running mate — and are trying to paint that as a bad thing. Do you buy that?
I really don’t, because I think people want to be told the truth. I hear that every day: Don’t lie to us, if we have real problems, we need to fix them. I think anybody, whether they agree with you entirely or not, they’ll respect you because you’re telling them the truth and it’s not the same kind of double-talk that they’re hearing coming out of Washington.
You come from an older state – how do you address the potential concerns among voters that Ryan is too young, young-looking or ill-equipped to serve as VP?
He’s very smart, he understands the issues, his energy and enthusiasm, knowledge are going to be a real asset. He’s been, as we all know, somewhat of a policy wonk, although he can articulate how the policy that he’s talking about relates to real people. I think he’s probably the best spokesman to lay out the problem that Medicare is in.
In your view, how did he rise so fast through the ranks?
He was one of the few people who wanted to be on the House Budget Committee and that’s been his primary interest. Obviously, that’s a committee that changes a lot every year, because you have different representatives. It’s a committee you can move up pretty quickly, but it’s certainly a case where you knew that he was somebody who was going to be very, very good at it and he has one of the toughest jobs in Washington – to be budget chairman.
What would you say has been the biggest change in Iowa in the last two years since you last ran for reelection?
I think if you look at voter registration, it’s an indication that people are much more in agreement with Republican solutions. They’re very disenchanted with the administration, with this president. His biggest supporters are the most disappointed people. When you look at – they had 105,000 voter registration three and a half years ago, we currently have a 21,000-voter advantage in the state.
It has not been just a bump because of the caucus, it’s been a steady decline in registration for Democrats and a steady increase for Republicans. I think that’s a real indication that the whole idea has changed and people don’t want to be associated with the Democrats anymore.
How challenging is it for an incumbent Iowa congressman to come home from the August recess having not yet passed a Farm Bill?
I would have liked to have had the Farm Bill on the floor, but the fact that the real problem is for the livestock producers, we have passed disaster relief for livestock people, the Senate hasn’t done anything. That’s really the biggest issue.
Besides jobs and the Farm Bill – if there were another issue that you’d like to see congress focus on, what would it be?
The debt. $16 trillion – people are extraordinarily concerned about that. A $1.2 trillion deficit this year. This is the fourth year that the president has had a trillion dollar deficit. He said he was going to cut it in half, he’s only increased it. That’s what people are worked up about. There is a general feeling among a lot of folks that we’re losing the opportunities for the future in this country, because of the debt. And I agree that it’s not sustainable and we’ve got to have people who speak honestly and truthfully to the issue.
What’s the most frustrating thing about running for Congress this cycle?
You mean besides Washington Post reporters who try to come up with some stupid rumor? (Laughter.)
It’s hard to have an honest debate. This should be about real issues, about differences in voting records and when they try to change the subject from what’s important, that’s probably the most frustrating to me.
Who’s your favorite Democrat? Or your closest Democratic colleague?
I talk to Collin Peterson [ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee] more than anybody. We have shared common interests in agriculture. We talk about Farm Bill on Ag stuff every day. We’re good friends, absolutely.
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