Iowa House Race Wins National Attention

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The list of political figures passing through eastern Iowa's 1st Congressional District includes the first lady of the United States and Sen. Barak Obama (D-IL). They're visiting Iowa in hopes of helping their parties win a single open House seat.


Next we're going to report on one congressional seat, one race that could help determine which party controls the House after November. It's in eastern Iowa, where Republican Mike Whalen and Democrat Bruce Braley are fighting for that seat. And with less than four weeks to Election Day, the national parties are pouring money and manpower into the race. The question is whether any of it is making a difference.

NPR's David Greene introduced us to this district a few weeks ago, and he's gone back to file this report.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #1: Let's play Who Deserves A Pay Raise. Today's contestants -on my left, a hotel clerk who works long hard days and...

DAVID GREENE: What you're hearing is an ad attacking the Republican candidate in Iowa's 1st District.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #1: On my right, Mike Whalen, a wealthy hotel and restaurant owner, who's made millions. But, guess what? He's against raising the minimum wage for working people.

GREENE: Nobody in Iowa paid for this ad. It came direct from Washington.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Woman: Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

GREENE: Here's another ad, just as nasty, going after the Democratic candidate.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #2: Bruce Braley has been called a peace candidate by the communist party. Bruce Braley endorsed by ultra-liberals...

GREENE: And listen to who produced this.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #2: The National Republican Congressional Committee paid for and is responsible for the content of this message.

GREENE: This is a pivotal race when it comes to the direction of Congress. It's an open seat, one Democrat seat as a potential pick up. They only need to grab 15 seats to take over the House so the national parties have kicked into high gear.

Last month, the GOP's congressional committee spent a quarter of one week's advertising money to go after the Democrat in this district. But the parties haven't just hit the airwaves, they're sending in manpower. Well, lady power.

Unidentified Man #3: I'd like to introduce the first lady of the United States of America, Mrs. Laura Bush.

Ms. LAURA BUSH (First Lady): Thank you very much.

GREENE: In downtown Davenport, Iowa, Mrs. Bush told supporters that Republican candidate Mike Whalen...

Ms. BUSH: ...cares deeply about the people of this state.

GREENE: And that he...

Ms. BUSH: ...learned the value of having the job when he was 14.

GREENE: And if Iowa voters make him a congressman, Whalen of course...

Ms. BUSH: ...will support President Bush's tax cuts.

(Soundbite of clapping)

GREENE: Vice President Dick Cheney has also been here to campaign for Republican Whalen, who's never run for office before. Braley, the Democrat here, is also a political newcomer. He's had some big names drop in from his party, many of them potential presidential hopefuls who might want to be getting their name out in Iowa anyway. John Edwards has been here and recently the candidate gave this introduction.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Potential 2008 Presidential Candidate): Now please give a warm Iowa welcome to my new best friend, Senator Barack Obama.

GREENE: The senator from Illinois came to the front of an elementary school gym in Davenport and made a lot of promises.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): We'll lick envelopes. If we've got to make phone calls for Bruce Braley, then we'll make phone calls. If I've got to come back to Iowa to campaign for Bruce Braley, I'll come back to Iowa.

GREENE: Out in the audience, Helen Hart(ph) was very excited about this visit.

Ms. HELEN HART (Democratic Supporter): I am just enamored of Barack Obama.

GREENE: But what exactly does a visit like this do?

Mr. HEART: It helps to energize us and particularly the people that think that maybe their one vote doesn't count so much.

GREENE: Indeed for both parties the primary goal in this important races is getting their faithful to the polls. The National Democratic Party just hired a get-out-to-vote specialist specifically for this race. And both parties expect to dispatch more troops in coming weeks.

(Soundbite of bowling pins falling)

(Soundbite of cheering)

GREENE: At a bowling alley in Davenport called Bowlmor Lanes, Bill Hoper(ph) was getting ready for a big night in a local men's league. He's been following the congressional race and says he'll likely vote Republican. But he's not moved by big names coming to town.

If President Bush showed up in Davenport to campaign for Whalen, would that make a big difference for you one way or the other?

Mr. BILL HOPER (Resident, Davenport, Iowa): No, it would just means there would be more work for me. You know, I work in the elevator industry.

GREENE: And whenever someone important stays at a hotel overnight here, Hoper gets called to fix the elevators so they don't stop on secure floors. He says he does like President Bush, but...

Mr. HOPER: To come here out his way to campaign for someone like that takes away from his job that he has to do in Washington. I got to go bowl.

GREENE: He should probably get his bowling in while he can. Given the revolving door of political luminaries, he'll likely be called in to secure an elevator or two soon.

David Greene, NPR News, Davenport, Iowa.

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