February 6, 2014



Here's how Rep. Steve King of Iowa's 4th District wants to run for re-election: battling it out with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for the Republican Party's soul on immigration, challenging President Obama over alleged constitutional lapses, and doing his best to keep up the heat on Obamacare.

He shrugs off defeats, not saying a word when colleagues yanked his amendment on egg-laying hens from the farm bill.

When Congress passed an omnibus federal spending bill that he opposed, King issued a terse release: "This bill spends too much of your money," he said.

But he gleefully tweeted from the Republicans' annual policy retreat last week that the battle was joined with Boehner over the party's direction on immigration. He cited an "intense" internal debate and said the rank and file by "3-4 to 1 don't trust the president and demand he secure border first."

Also last week, King belatedly submitted comments to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy urging her to reverse EPA's recent decision to cut the renewable fuel standard that's so important to Iowa corn growers.

That's King in his element, bouncing from battle to battle unhindered by any baggage from previous fights.

Here's how King does not want to spend his time as he runs for re-election: raising huge piles of campaign cash.

When King faced Democrat Christie Vilsack in 2012, he became a fundraising juggernaut for the first time in his congressional career.

He raised nearly $4 million and welcomed massive reinforcement from conservative groups.

But now, facing newcomer Jim Mowrer, King has taken his foot off the fundraising pedal.

King has nearly $400,000 less cash on hand than he did at this stage of the previous election cycle, and he raised about $40,000 less in the last quarter of 2013 than he did in the final quarter of 2011, the comparable reporting period.

For the second quarter in row, Mowrer outraised King, beating him $175,000 to $162,000, according to quarterly reports filed late last week.

"The momentum for this campaign continues to grow each and every day. I am tremendously proud of support I have received from individuals all across Iowa," Mowrer said in a statement. "One thing is clear, people in Iowa are sick and tired of a do-nothing Congress. We've had enough of Congressman Steve King voting for his own self-interests instead of serving the people of Iowa's 4th District. I intend to change that."

The leading nonpartisan political analysts in Washington aren't ready to buy into the idea of Mowrer stealing this reliably Republican seat, regardless of his compelling story as an Iraq War veteran and his personable demeanor.

"We have the race as 'safe' for King because we don't believe Mowrer can win," said Stuart Rothenberg, founder of the Rothenberg Political Report and a columnist for CQRollCall. "It's just that simple."

Rothenberg said Vilsack's 2012 experience is telling: The wife of the former governor and current U.S. Agriculture secretary couldn't top 45 percent even in an election with President Obama at the top of the ticket.

To have any chance at winning this district, Rothenberg said, a Democratic candidate would need a tide like the ones the party rode in 2006 and 2008, plenty of political experience and fundraising muscle, an ability to sway swing voters and some Republicans, and a little bit of luck.

"A nasty GOP primary wouldn't hurt either," Rothenberg observed.

King isn't facing a primary, and Democrats aren't riding a national tide.

Further, Mowrer is a political neophyte facing an aggressive street fighter in Steve King.

Rothenberg said the Democratic Party's national campaign strategists aren't sold on Mowrer either, and Mowrer's most recent report shows that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to put money into the race.

But there are a few interesting nuggets in Mowrer's campaign report, beside the fact that he's outraising the Republican incumbent.

The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, contributed $15,000 from his leadership PAC.

And a PAC affiliated with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley chipped in $2,000.

Iowa voters could be seeing more of O'Malley as the 2016 presidential race unfolds, and the Marylander obviously sees an upside in lending a hand to Mowrer.

The Teamsters, a government employees union, the postal workers, carpenters, food and communications workers, transportation workers and laborers also cut checks for Mowrer in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Iowa Republicans and even independent analysts say those checks are simply an investment in future campaigns when the young Mr. Mowrer is better known in the district and King, perhaps, has shuffled off into retirement.

But Mowrer is hanging around this time too.

If he can put up another strong fundraising report at the end of March, and if King makes a few more comments feeding Mowrer's narrative that the incumbent is mostly preoccupied with getting face time on CNN, Mowrer just might get a second look from the analysts, the strategists and King himself.