In next Tuesday’s primary election, two Republicans are seeking the party’s First District Congressional nomination. Independence attorney Ben Lange and Dubuque businessman Rod Blum are campaigning for a chance at denying incumbent Democrat Bruce Braley a fourth term representing the newly-configured northeast Iowa district.
Iowa’s new First Congressional District includes 20 counties, stretching from Marshalltown to the Mississippi River, and from Marengo along Interstate 80 to the Minnesota border. This election tests whether the Republican candidates’ conservative message resonates in the rural and urban mix, including Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque with a cluster of small towns and a big chunk of northeast Iowa farm country.
Ben Lang is a 33-year-old attorney from Independence. He lost in a squeaker two years ago in the old First District to incumbent Democrat Bruce Braley. But he’s optimistic about Republican prospects this year.
“The Democratic registration advantage of 8 percent from last time around has been cut nearly in half to 4 percent in 2012, and we only lost by 1.9 percent” Lang says. “There are more non-affiliated voters than anyone. So what does that tell people that are running for office? You can’t just use Republican rhetoric or Democratic rhetoric.”
But Lang’s message is distinctly conservative, focused on limiting the size and role of the federal government. His primary opponent is 57-year-old Dubuque businessman Rod Blum. Blum campaigns as a job creator.
"The fire in my belly is I think American is at a tipping point and it seems like things are upside down, what’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right,” Blum says. “And we have an out-of-control federal government.”
But a federal government that Blum that contends isn’t doing enough to control illegal immigration. It’s a sensitive issue, especially in the First District’s Marshalltown and Postville communities. Blum calls for getting tough on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
“That’s the jobs magnet. We take care of that, they’ll self-deport to Mexico or wherever they came from,” Blum says. “But I will guarantee you this: if I’m in Washington, D.C., not one dollar of your hard-earned money will go to the welfare, the education, or the health care of an illegal alien.”
On the issues – immigration, education, foreign policy and limiting presidential power – Blum and Lang are aligning similarly. And that’s why the contest between the two Republicans is generational. Blum promoting his business experience, in contrast to Lang’s youth.
“He’s a lawyer; he has a political science degree. You go to college and get a political science degree for what purpose? To be involved in politics.” Blum says. “And given his age, I’d say he covets a career in politics. He’s the prototypical person that’s gonna be in politics for 30 or 40 years.”
Blum underscores that, saying he’ll limit himself to three terms. But Lang says he’s part of a new wave.
“It’s time we send a new generation of leaders to Washington, D.C.,” he says. “We have a candidate, my primary opponent, that’s out there telling 20- and 30-year-old people that they shouldn’t … run for office. They let people in their 50s, 60s and 70s handle that.
"So we’re just supposed to sit around and wait for the older generation to mortgage our future? Absolutely not.”
So in Iowa’s First Congressional District, Republicans selecting their candidate to campaign against incumbent Bruce Braley aren’t so much deciding on issues and conservative principles, but whose message, experience, and age best appeals to swing voters.
And the winner may have an uphill battle. The Cook Political Report calls the new First District “likely Democratic”, and gives the incumbent a five-percentage point advantage right off the top.