2chambers recently visited Iowa to explore how the state’s redistricting process has spawned two races that are likely to be among the most competitive and expensive in Iowa history.

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

As we wrote Sunday , Boswell acknowledges that 2012 will be his toughest test yet — after years of close races. He spoke with 2chambers from his campaign office, which is housed in the same building as his official congressional office in Des Moines’s East Village. A transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity, appears below:

2chambers: Why should voters in the Third District elect you to Congress?

“Because they’re smart. They know me. . . . It’s kind of a new old district. You probably already know that the only county we’re taking with us [from his old congressional district] is Polk County, and that’s about 56, 57 percent of the population. And then you go out and look at the parts of the district I’ve served before as a state senator, and the state district I had was all that first congressional district. It jumps up to about 70 percent of the population.

“These competitive races, they like to go out and define you, well, a lot of people know who I am. I come from that area. I’ve served here for the last 10 years, but here in Polk County, part of it, the last four years of the Iowa Senate, I was here constantly, and downtown constantly, at all the civic clubs.

You always seem to face a close reelection battle — why?

“It’s the definition of a swing district, and it seems like it’s been that way my entire life.

“It’s always going to be tough. It relies heavily on independents, and they kind of swing to what’s going on. Fortunate to me, a large part of that, outside of Polk County where they really know me well, they already know me. That’s good. We went around on our first tour, we’ve been out there a lot and we’ll continue to do so. It’s just kind of like a reunion, I’m enjoying it very much.”

I know that you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and that some say groups that donated in the past either haven’t given or haven’t given as much.

“I’ve learned a little lesson here in life. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, been around a while, but when your best friend is the speaker, why, he can kind of influence your stuff a little bit.”

So that’s what’s happening? Latham’s friendship with House Speaker John A. Boehner is affecting your fundraising?

“I believe it to be true. . . . We compare this first quarter with the previous cycle and we’re doing twice as good. That gets you out there among the people, that’s the voting side of it, and we’re exploring some new resources. Don’t want to give everything away to our opponents, but we’re exploring some new resources.”

[Editor’s Note: Boswell later clarified that his fundraising among individual donors — not lobbyists or PACs was twice as good as his previous fundraising quarter. Donations among lobbyists and PACs were down.]

“There’s no way I’m going to match the three people I’m running against. You know I’m running against three people, don’t you? You don’t? Well, let me help you out: I’m running against Latham, I think I’m running against Boehner, and there’s this guy called Karl Rove from Crossroads America. Even before last Christmas, he’d already invested over half a million.

“Personally, I don’t think they’re getting traction. Why? They know who I am. You go down to Page County, very conservative county, which I won last time I ran down there. Where are you going to go in Shenandoah and try to tell them who Leonard Boswell is? It’s going to be pretty hard to.

But you’re not fundraising as much among bigger donors and PACs, right?

“We haven’t looked at the details, but no, I’d say with the bigger money, if you’re talking about PACs, there’s some that are kind of nervous or holding back. Who knows what they’ll do when the time comes.”

Someone has suggested you may be $500,000 down among bigger donors. True?

“I doubt it’s that much, but I don’t know yet. We can look into that. I don’t know.”

[Editor’s Note: Boswell and aides later said they were down by about $400,000 among bigger donors.]

So you plan to make an issue out of the fact that Latham is close to Boehner?

“That’ll be part of it, I suppose. And also, a contrast, when we get to that point, putting up what we’ve done in our record. It’s a contrast. It’s a big contrast. I submit that I support the 90 percent, and he supports the 10 percent. Just check the record. It’s there. What’s the difference between his record and [Rep. Steve] King’s? He’s a nice guy, soft-spoken, but the record is very similar.”

Representative Latham told me last week that it’s not because he’s friends with the speaker that donors aren’t giving to you. He suggested that it’s because he’s going to win.

“Would you expect him to tell you something different? Did he tell you that I’ve represented 77 percent of the population, nine of the counties before? Well, he neglected to do that. Did he tell you that I started my first race in one of his counties, Warren County? I don’t find — when I go across Warren County — a great love for him. Maybe he knows something I don’t know.”

What should Congress do if the Supreme Court invalidates the health-care law?

“I have supported it, I thought we needed the public option to make sure the companies play fairly. . . . If you’re going to have a pool, that’s what makes it work.

“There are some good things happening here. Why would we want to go back to something that’s costing us more? Where’s the sense to that? Some of these arguments we heard back when we were having the debate on it: ‘Don’t you force that health-care on me, but don’t you touch my Medicare.’ I just feel that once people get educated about it they’re going to support it.”

Why get into this competitive contest? Why not just hang it up and go?

“We had a little discussion about that about seven months ago. One of my kids, kind of a little outspoken, asked ‘Dad, what are you going to do? You served 20 years in the military and you risked your life over and over and over. And then you came back and you got drafted into this public service with the legislature. Then you got another call 12 years later to go to Congress. Haven’t you kind of done what you can do?’

“And I said, I probably have. But here’s what I see in this country that I have offered to give everything for: And I’m worried. And these are the reasons, I just went down through the list. So I asked them what they would want me to do. And I let them think about it. And the conclusion was that with what you bring to the table, what you bring, and what it means for you, if you’re willing to do it, do it again, do it for us. I’m doing it with a lot of determination. It’s important.

“We’re pretty lucky to live our lives in the United States, and it’s precarious times. . . . When I came to the state house, and I watched two very capable leaders, Democrat and Republican . . . they went at it on issues. They did their job. And I thought, my gosh, this is pretty serious stuff. And that evening I might walk into a restaurant and they’d be sitting together. And the next day they’d be at it again. But once a decision was made, they move on.

“That’s what I saw when I first went to Washington. But then we experienced the event of Newt Gingrich, and I saw it change. And it’s gotten worse. And it’s going to take people like me to take it back here so we can do things together.”

But when was the last time you went to dinner with Tom Latham?

“I don’t know if we ever have, except at a public event.”

Do you talk to him at all?

“We’re friendly, there’s no reason not to be. Some say, ‘You’re friendly guys, what’s the difference?’ Well, go look at the record. There’s lots of differences. I’m the guy who represents the 90 percent, the middle America.”

Read the full story on the Boswell-Latham race and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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