New Iowa Map Pits Incumbents Against Each Other

by Nathan L. Gonzales April 1, 2011 · 9:53 AM EDT

With Iowa losing a seat in reapportionment, it looks like Rep. Steve King will face a primary challenge to keep a seat in Congress.

Iowa’s first proposed Congressional map for redistricting puts the homes of two different sets of incumbents in the same districts, setting the stage for competitive primaries on both sides of the aisle.

On the surface, Republican Reps. Tom Latham (4th district) and Steve King (5th district) would share a newly drawn 4th district, while Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley (1st district) and Dave Loebsack (2nd district) would share the newly drawn 1st district.

Iowa lost a seat in reapportionment, taking the state from five House seats to four and increasing the likelihood that incumbents would end up in the same district since all five Members appear interested in running for re-election.

Rep. Leonard Boswell’s 3rd district would shift from Des Moines and areas east to Des Moines and areas west to the Nebraska border. The Democrat’s election could get more difficult because it would include GOP-leaning counties in the southwest corner of the state that currently belong to King.

Loebsack’s Linn County home is in the proposed new 1st district. He also could run in the 2nd district, where no incumbent currently lives. Some of Loebsack’s base is in Johnson County, including the University of Iowa. But apparently Christie Vilsack, wife of former governor and current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, has a home in the new 2nd. She has suggested she is interested in running for Congress.

District lines in Iowa are drawn by a nonpartisan commission and then are handed over to the Legislature for public hearings and a final vote. The maps cannot be amended, just approved or denied, and it’s unclear whether this map will pass. The first plan was approved in 1991, while it took two tries for lawmakers to approve a second plan in 2001.

A Latham-King primary looks inevitable and would be extremely competitive. King is beloved by the evangelical community while Latham is extremely close with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Ten years ago, the redistricting commission put Latham’s home in the 4th district but most of his territory in the 5th district. Latham ran and won the 4th while King won the open 5th.

Both parties are crunching voter registration and electoral results to get a firm grasp on the competitiveness of each district.

As explained by Mike Glover of the Associated Press in Iowa, the state has a unique system for redrawing districts. Glover reported Wednesday: “The map is prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which is forbidden by law from considering voter registration numbers or where incumbent lawmakers live. The agency is tasked with making the districts as compact and equal in population as possible.”

Glover reported that if the first map is rejected, the agency has 35 days to prepare a second map, which also cannot be altered. He wrote that if that map is rejected, the agency has another 35 days to prepare a third proposed map, which can be altered. Finally, the Legislature has until Sept. 1 to give the map final approval. If that doesn’t happen, the Iowa Supreme Court will step in.