In Iowa Ad War, It's Heartstrings Vs. Heartstrings

The TV ad war in a newly redrawn and hotly contested Iowa congressional district has begun, and it pits a story of overcoming personal adversity against ... another story of overcoming personal adversity.

Republican Rep. Steve King's first television ad, "Land," touts his background as a business owner who, the narrator says, "started with a barely breathing dozer, welding it back together himself. Rains came, flooded him out, but Steve King started from the dirt again."

It tells Iowans that King takes the same "dogged determination" to Congress that he used to build an earth-moving company.

The first ad from King's Democratic challenger, Christie Vilsack — "Just Iowa" — focuses on how Vilsack's small-town Iowa community helped her through the death of her mother from cancer when she was just a teenager. It strikes a bipartisan tone, telling voters in the mostly conservative, largely rural district, "I'm not interested in fighting for any political party — just Iowa."

A King campaign spokesman says his ad is running throughout the new 4th Congressional District, from Mason City in north-central Iowa to Sioux City in the state's northwest corner.

A spokesman for Vilsack says she has been running her TV ad for about two weeks throughout the district.

King has been a tough one for past opponents to beat — he's a former state senator with a loyal following who has represented western Iowa for nearly a decade in the U.S. House. But redistricting may work in Vilsack's favor: Iowa lost one House seat in the 2010 Census, and the new 4th District is believed to be more moderate. It includes the college town of Ames, home to Iowa State University, where Vilsack has her campaign headquarters.

Vilsack, by the way, is also a well-known figure in Iowa and beyond: She's the wife of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

The Vilsack campaign also has three radio ads, which take a more confrontational tone, attacking King's voting record on a variety of issues.

If King's name sounds familiar, it might be because he's known for making controversial statements about everything from immigration to abortion. His ad alludes to his reputation as a political lightning rod, saying he's a person with "keen intellectual curiosity," adding that, "when he talks, it might be a little direct, but Steve says what we're thinkin'.' "

King is perhaps best known for his statement in 2008 that terrorists would "be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11" if Barack Obama were elected president.

Most recently, King weighed in on the furor over remarks by Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., about rape and abortion, by saying that he hadn't heard of situations where young rape or incest victims became pregnant. King later said those remarks had been taken out of context. He also defended Akin, saying he had been the victim of "petty, personal attacks" for his statement that, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."


Sarah McCammon reports for Iowa Public Radio.

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