One of the country’s toughest congressional races is here in Iowa. It’s between Steve King, a Republican incumbent and the state’s former First Lady Christie Vilsack - a political newcomer. Iowa’s losing a seat in the House after the election due to redistricting. Now ultra-conservative King is facing a more moderate electorate as he runs in the newly drawn 4th district.
This state fair is a magnet for political candidates. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney’s new running mate Paul Ryan campaigned at the fair in recent days. Republican Congressman Steve King worked a long line of hungry fairgoers.
“(I'm) ready for my pork chop,” a fairgoer told King.
“I had a little bite, I tested em out for you, avoid the veggie burger go for the chops," King joked.
The new district is believed to be more moderate since it includes the college town of Ames… home of Iowa State… a massive agricultural research university. His opponent Christie Vilsack moved to Ames to challenge King. He says people should vote for him because he’s a product of the new district.
“Marilyn and I have been married for 40 years," King said. "Our 3 sons that are now grown have only known one father, one mother, one house, one church, one school.”
King reaches out to shake Ginny Huntington’s hand, but she refused his handshake.
“You’re American though aren’t you?” King asked Huntington as she waited in the Pork Tent line.
Huntington tells him she’s very American.
“I could never vote for anyone like that...ever,” Huntington later told IPR.
King has a track record of bluntly speaking his mind. In 2008, King said if then-Senator Barack Obama won the presidential election terrorists would be dancing in the streets. He was the only member of Congress to vote against a plaque recognizing slaves who built the capitol.But he’s been doing something right. He’s won every election since he first came onto the political scene 10 years ago. Like many in the line, Lyle Fraizer of Denison, says the Congressman has his vote.
“He’s been there doing the job and I don’t like the lady,” said Fraizer, referring to King's opponent Christie Vilsack. “It’s a man’s world.”
Vilsack was a teacher, her husband Tom Vilsack was the governor of Iowa in the early 2000s. Now Tom Vilsack serves as United States Secretary of Agriculture under the Obama Administration. Some voters in the line said that doesn’t qualify her for a seat in the House. But other voters said Vilsack is a breath of fresh air. She would be the first woman sent to Washington by Iowa voters. Sylvia Vust of Ellsworth said she’s tired of Steve King representing her state.
“Things he’s said and the thing he stands for," Vust said. "The things he is supporting and it’s no decision for me at all. Christie embodies everything that I support.”
After delivering a political speech at the fair Vilsack mingles with supporters.
“They should vote for me because my lens is local," Vilsack said. "Because I want to be an advocate every day for the two years I’m there for the things they care about, whether it’s creating trade opportunities for farmers or revitalizing small towns.”
But Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Des Moines’ Drake University, points out she’s a first time candidate.
“She needs to develop a toughness and aggressiveness that King already has," Goldford said.
Both candidates have raised more than 2 million dollars each. But according to the Center for Responsive Politics Vilsack got the majority of her contributions of more than 200 dollars from out of state. They’re running about even in Super PAC support.
Money aside, Goldford said it might come down to voters in Story County.
“Christie Vilsack has to activate a democratic base, not huge outside of Story County," Goldford said. "King will have Republicans solidly, in fact, rather than Romney providing coattails for King in Iowa, King will provide coattails for Romney.”
King shows no sign of tempering his outspokenness during the election. If he can convince voters in the new more moderate district to keep him in Congress… he may have little incentive to do so in the future.