January 22, 2014



Jim Mowrer wants to join Congress to pursue a series of practical goals: developing agricultural and energy policies that benefit Iowa's 4th District, improving rural Iowa's roads and bridges, caring for war veterans and applying business best practices to the government.

It's not a surprising agenda; it's only striking when compared with the agenda of the man Mowrer seeks to replace on Capitol Hill.

That would be Rep. Steve King, who came to Washington 11 years ago vowing to shift the entire U.S. government to the right.

Ever since, King has attacked the political system with zeal and with outlandish statements that seemed designed to discomfit even his own Republican leadership.

Last week it was reported that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed King as, well, as something best left unsaid in a family newspaper.

(King shot back with a statement saying there was no room in politics for such personal attacks, directly quoting an earlier Boehner denunciation of King's comments about immigrants and earning a shout-out from the amen corner at The Daily Caller.)

Mowrer, a self-described moderate Democrat, says he is dismayed by the circus King has created around himself.

"That's not what it's about, chasing headlines every day," Mowrer said. "What matters is the individual members coming together to make the country a better place."

The Iraq War veteran, Pentagon reformer and first-time congressional candidate sat down with Potomac Watch during a visit to Washington last week.

"I'm a moderate, and I look to work with everyone," Mowrer said. "That's the biggest difference with King."

He pointed to King's "extreme rhetoric," support for the recent government shutdown and opposition to the Violence Against Women Act. Just last week King voted against the bipartisan, omnibus government funding bill that fellow Iowa Republican Tom Latham helped draft.

King's opposition to the bipartisan, Senate-passed immigration reform bill is largely incomprehensible, according to Mowrer.

The immigration bill would "restore the rule of law," Mowrer said, by requiring 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to enter a "corrective process," including the payment of a fine, in order to legalize their status. It would also cut the federal deficit, he said.

King, on the other hand, "doesn't have a good solution," Mowrer said.

Can Mowrer win?

"The district is absolutely winnable," Mowrer asserted.

King's success in 2012 with 53.2 percent of the vote to Democrat Christie Vilsack's 44.6 percent "wasn't an overly convincing victory," Mowrer said.

Vilsack was well-funded and well-known, but Mowrer said he can build from her campaign and that he has his own advantages.

Mowrer was born and raised on a farm in the district, he has an impressive war record, and he can highlight another year's worth of inflammatory comments from King.

"I've talked to business people, to Republicans in the district, and they recognize King can't get the job done for Iowa," Mowrer said. "They recognize that change needs to come."

Iowa Republican Party outlets call Mowrer an unknown entity in the district and say, interestingly enough, that liberals lack enthusiasm for such a long-shot campaign.

Inside-the-Beltway political analysts Stuart Rothenberg and Charlie Cook didn't have the 4th District race on their radar at the beginning of the year, assuming it was safe territory for the Republican incumbent.

But Mowrer's third-quarter fundraising report last year was an eye-opener: He pulled in $181,514, nearly $72,000 more than King raised in the same period

Mowrer said his fourth-quarter report, due out at the end of the month, will be equally as impressive, and that he has "the full support" of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The youthful candidate could erase some of the skepticism about his campaign with another strong report, although King demonstrated in 2012 that he can go toe-to-toe with anyone when it comes to fundraising.

Both candidates are bringing big names to district: King brought in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for a fundraiser in October while Vice President Joe Biden flew in to raise money specifically for Mowrer.

Presidential hopefuls from both parties will probably find it in their interest to help the 4th District candidates as the year goes on, so get ready, voters, for a stream of high-profile visits.

House races often turn on national trends, and unfortunately for Mowrer, the trend lines don't seem especially promising this time around.

There's no national wave taking shape for Democrats at this point, despite damage to the Republican brand caused by last fall's government shutdown.

And the president's party usually loses big in the midterm election in his second term; President Obama's poor polling numbers right now do not suggest that particular historical trend will change this year.

But sometimes voters buck the trends, especially when they simply grow tired of a politician's behavior.

Mowrer is betting that 4th District voters, Democrats and Republicans alike, have reached that tipping point.