The big split in Iowa Republican tactics

RED OAK — What a difference 50,000 voter registrations make.

In Iowa’s 4th Congressional district, GOP Rep. Steve King is merrily pounding away on his favorite themes: opposition to immigration reform, the lawlessness of the president and Obamacare.

His language is intended to rile the base and ensure Republicans come out to vote in November when he faces Democratic newcomer Jim Mowrer.

Republicans have a 50,000-voter edge in registrations in the 4th district.

King departs from conservative orthodoxy on local issues such as ethanol and wind subsidies, but that is expected of an Iowa Republican.

He sees no need to bend, in the slightest, toward the center on anything else.

Just to the south in the 3rd district, the latest figures show Republicans have a 7,000-voter edge in registration.

That’s down from about 15,000 in 2012 — and Barack Obama still carried the district twice.

Now, Democrats are putting up a well-funded candidate in a high-profile bid to pull this House seat into their column.

The incumbent, six-term Republican Rep. Tom Latham, is retiring at the end of the year.

“We have the general election rated ‘toss-up,’ ” said Stuart Rothenberg of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, D.C.

“And yes,” Rothenberg said, “that makes it one of the Democrats’ best takeover opportunities.”

Staci Appel, the former state senator, has unified support within her party and the backing of national groups like EMILY’s List and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Even though she lost her Senate seat in the GOP wave of 2010, Appel is a formidable opponent.

She would be even more formidable if the Republican candidates play too noisily to their base voters, and if the six-candidate field for the GOP nomination spends too much time infighting.

The Republican candidates seem to get this point, and their rhetoric and messages reflect that.

At a candidate forum in Red Oak on Saturday, the Republicans made clear their dislike for Obamacare but, most tellingly, they didn’t push one another to the right on this or any other issue.

“We’re all pretty conservative,” Monte Shaw, the head of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, told Potomac Watch prior to the debate.

Shaw said John King — Steve’s brother — and former Rep. Greg Ganske are his campaign co-chairs, showing the breadth of his support across the party.

“I’m the only one building a broad-based coalition that will win in November,” he said.

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, state Sen. Brad Zaun, businessman Robert Cramer and former Chuck Grassley chief of staff Robert Young disagree with that assessment.

But they’re disagreeing in a friendly tone.

The candidates all tout a balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits and repeal of Obamacare.

But they also say they recognize the nature of the district and the strong desire to get things done.

“Bread-and-butter issues” will win in the 3rd district, said former Iowa state House Speaker Brent Siegrist, who moderated the debate — who lost to King in a primary and convention fight over a decade ago.

What a difference a 50,000-voter edge makes in the tone of a race.

Missed opportunities can haunt candidates in different ways.

Republican and Democratic Iowa state House candidates found their way to the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Denison on Saturday.

But neither U.S. Rep. Steve King nor his Democratic challenger Mowrer made it over.

King missed a chance to try to show Latino voters that he’s a good hombre.

But Mowrer missed an opportunity to enlist real voters in what remains an uphill campaign.

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