Economy, Iraq Key in Iowa Congressional Race

Democrat Bruce Braley campaigns at a senior center. i i

Democrat Bruce Braley campaigns at a senior center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he promised to protect Social Security benefits. David Greene, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Greene, NPR
Democrat Bruce Braley campaigns at a senior center.

Democrat Bruce Braley campaigns at a senior center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he promised to protect Social Security benefits.

David Greene, NPR

2006 Election Map

Republican Mike Whalen greets customers at his restaurant. i i

Republican Mike Whalen greets customers at his restaurant, The Machine Shed, in Davenport, Iowa. He casts himself as an average guy who started a business from the ground up. David Greene, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Greene, NPR
Republican Mike Whalen greets customers at his restaurant.

Republican Mike Whalen greets customers at his restaurant, The Machine Shed, in Davenport, Iowa. He casts himself as an average guy who started a business from the ground up.

David Greene, NPR
Jay Connor and Dan Lancaster i i

Karaoke DJ Jay Connor, left, looks on as National Guardsman Dan Lancaster, on an 11-day leave from Iraq, sings at the Times bar in Waterloo, Iowa. David Greene, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Greene, NPR
Jay Connor and Dan Lancaster

Karaoke DJ Jay Connor, left, looks on as National Guardsman Dan Lancaster, on an 11-day leave from Iraq, sings at the Times bar in Waterloo, Iowa.

David Greene, NPR

Dozens of local elections will determine control of the U.S. House this fall. One of the few competitive elections is in Iowa's 1st District, where Republican Rep. Jim Nussle's decision to run for governor left an open seat.

The race features Mike Whalen, a Republican who is trying to shy away from President Bush's record and Iraq, and Bruce Braley, a Democrat who's trying to focus on economic issues while struggling to find the right message about the war.

In Waterloo, Iowa, Jay Connor says he's been paying attention to the race but remains undecided. Asked if he thinks the war and President Bush will be a factor, Conner says:

"I think it will stick a little closer to home. I just think we need to look at our own homeless, own seniors, our economy. I don't want to hear mudslinging about how Bush did this and Bush did that. I want to hear someone talk about programs that will make some positive change."

Whalen, who owns a farm-themed restaurant and country store in Davenport, Iowa, acknowledges that Bush's weak poll numbers make it difficult to run as a Republican.

"If he were at 80 percent, it would be easier," Whalen says. "You don't have to be a political genius to know that..."

Whalen rarely mentions President Bush if he doesn't have to. But at campaign events, he talks often about the issue that's long been the president's political strength — fighting terrorism.

Braley, the Democratic candidate, is spending a lot of time on the senior-center circuit. He told a room full of seniors in Cedar Falls that if Republicans move again to make changes to Social Security, he'll stand up to them.

Braley has enjoyed a slight lead in the polls over Whalen. But the Democrat has struggled to nail down his position on Iraq. This spring, Braley suggested he would support cutting funds for the war effort. His comment was like a gift to his opponent, who said the Democrat's position would hurt U.S. troops.

This report was produced by Evie Stone.

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