Image: Leonard Boswell
Steve Pope  /  EPA
Six-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Leonard Boswell of Iowa is under attack from liberal challenger Ed Fallon as they head toward a June 3 primary election.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 2/28/2008 10:45:23 AM ET 2008-02-28T15:45:23

It’s not just Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton in the battle of newcomer versus established favorite this year.

In Iowa’s 3rd congressional district, it’s insurgent Ed Fallon trying to torpedo Rep. Leonard Boswell, a six–term Democrat who endorsed Clinton in the Iowa caucuses.

Fallon, a former state legislator from Des Moines and a Ralph Nader supporter in the 2000 election, is backed by the group Democracy for America, founded by Howard Dean. Fallon and Boswell face off in a primary on June 3.

What did Boswell do to deserve this?

As with Clinton, Boswell and 80 other House Democrats voted to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq. Six years later that vote still haunts Boswell.

“He voted for the Iraq war and of course for continued funding without any timeline for troop withdrawal,” Fallon said.

Boswell, who served in the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot, defended his vote by explaining that in 2002 “from the commander in chief himself, eyeball to eyeball, the question was: if you have hard intelligence of weapons of mass destruction that would be used on Americans, then that limits your alternatives. And he (Bush) nodded that that was the information he had.”

Voted for a goal of troop exit
Boswell said, “It was misinformation… and I have voted repeatedly for a timeline to start bringing our troops out of there.”

Boswell voted last April for a measure that set a goal for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops by the end of March 2008.

However Boswell, along with 58 other House Democrats, did vote last May against a mandatory withdrawal of troops within nine months. Most House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voted for mandatory withdrawal.

Fallon cites other Boswell votes too: “He supported immunity for telecom companies” for their role in assisting the Bush administration in surveillance of alleged terrorist suspects and “he has also voted to eliminate the estate tax. That’s a tax break that would primarily benefit a handful of very wealthy people.”

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As much a red flag to Fallon as Boswell’s votes are his sources of campaign money: Boswell has received $534,570 from political action committees (PACs), including corporate PACs such as the Lockheed Martin Employees PAC.

“This guy is largely in the pocket of PACs and lobbyists,” charges Democracy for America spokesman Daniel Medress.

Is he a 'Bush Democrat'?
In its e-mail fundraising pitch the group said,“We endorsed Ed Fallon… and now his opponent Bush-Democrat Leonard Boswell is running scared.”

What Democracy for America does not say is that more than 20 percent of Boswell’s PAC money comes from labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

And the top four House Democratic leaders, Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Whip James Clyburn, and Conference Leader Rahm Emanuel have all put their money behind “Bush-Democrat” Boswell.

Video: Nader on the 2000 election Also chipping in for Boswell: Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrat who represents one of the Iowa districts adjoining Boswell’s.

The other House Democratic member form Iowa, Rep. David Loebsack said, “I’m supporting Leonard,” but Loebsack’s campaign fund hasn’t yet put money behind Boswell.

“Nancy Pelosi is not going to be able to vote in this election, neither is Bruce Braley,” Fallon said. His challenge to Boswell, Pelosi, and the other Democratic leaders reveals not only a schism in one district in Iowa, but an attempt by Democracy for America and its allies to move the House Democrats to the left.

Fallon and Democracy for America think Boswell’s voting record is simply not good enough, though his record is in the mainstream of House Democrats.

Where Boswell stands within his party
Boswell’s ratings from various advocacy groups paint a portrait of mainstream Democrat. The AFL-CIO labor confederation gave him an 86% score in 2006.  The Human Rights Campaign (the leading gay rights advocacy group) rated him an average of 84% for the last three Congresses.

In 2007, he voted with the majority of Democrats 93 percent of the time on votes where the majority of Republicans were voting the opposite way, according to the non-partisan journal Congressional Quarterly which calculates a “party unity” score for each member of Congress.

Boswell’s party unity score ranks him far above such House Democrats as Reps. Jim Marshall of Georgia and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, who are going without primary challenges from Democracy for America or other groups this year.

Democracy for America’s appetite has been sharpened by its victory two weeks ago over Rep. Albert Wynn, D- Md, who it sees as another “Bush Democrat.”

A combination of groups including SEIU, the League of Conservation Voters, and Democracy for America defeated Wynn, electing challenger Donna Edwards.

The big difference in Boswell's race is that SEIU and the League of Conservation Voters is backing Boswell, not Fallon.

“They are erring by comparing this with the district in Maryland (where Wynn was defeated). They are just two different districts altogether,” Boswell said. “It’s very much a swing district out in Iowa... Someone who is far right or someone who is far left is not going to meet the needs of that kind of district. I’m the kind of person who brings people together. That’s why I’m a good fit,” he said.

Sees his foe as 'very much far left'
He added, “This challenger (Fallon) is very much far left.”

“That characterization is purely polemic,” responded Fallon. “I’m the one in this campaign that’s calling for earmark reform, I’m the one calling for an end to the abuse of eminent domain, I’m the one calling for getting money out of politics. Those are all issues that resonate with independents and with Republican voters.”

Video: Nader on the opposing candidates But Fallon’s fidelity as a Democrat can be questioned given his disdain for Al Gore and his endorsement of Nader in 2000.

Whether or not Nader’s presence on the ballot cost Gore the White House is less important than the fury that many Democrats still feel over those who backed Nader.

“This year the choice is between George W. Bush and a Democrat who is to the right of Bill Clinton,” Fallon told an Iowa crowd shortly before the 2000 election. “I don't begrudge my friends and constituents who plan to vote for Al Gore. I understand their fear of George W. Bush. But voting against somebody isn't enough anymore. If I had three hands maybe I could hold my nose, my gut and my mouth and vote for Al Gore. But in good conscience, I can't, I won't, and you shouldn't either.''

“He was a Nader supporter; he is trying to dodge that right now,” Boswell said. “Now that Nader is coming out (and running for president again), it’s going to be a little more difficult for him to dodge.”

Vote for Nader 'a mistake'
Fallon said Wednesday, “Voting for Ralph Nader was a mistake. That’s a mistake I apologized for. It was one done out of frustration. Al Gore was not running a very good campaign and then to have him go and choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate was kind of the last straw.”

While the arguments of the past are part of the Boswell-Fallon race, the two men are also offering Iowa voters a contrast over the future as well. Trade and energy policy are two cases.

Boswell defends his vote last November for the Peru free trade accord. "It's not a NAFTA deal at all. (House Ways and Means Committee chairman) Charlie Rangel and (Rep. Sander) Levin worked that out and it does take in human rights and labor concerns and environment. It’s a totally different deal (than NAFTA)."

He calls Fallon's attempt to use the issue "just disingenuous.”

But Fallon said, “Just because this particular so-called free trade agreement has some protection in it compared to NAFTA and previous more far-reaching agreements doesn’t make it a good bill. That easily makes it a ‘no’ vote for me.”

Fallon also said Boswell “supports use of coal and that’s an increasingly critical issue here in central Iowa,” Fallon said. “There are proposals for two new coal plants on the edge of the district and Boswell has emphatically supported more coal and I’ve been very strongly against it.”

“He wants to make an issue out of coal,” Boswell noted. “I’ve said this: we should consider all alternatives. It was science that brought us to ethanol; it was science that brought us to biodiesel. It was science that brought us these other alternatives. Maybe science could bring us to a clean coal.”

He added, “We have a lot of deposits of coal in Iowa…. If you could clean it up, and get us out of bondage to OPEC, and not mess up the environment, why wouldn’t we want to at least look at it?”

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