SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One of the country's toughest congressional races is in Iowa between Steve King, a Republican incumbent, and Christie Vilsack, who is the wife of the state's former governor. After the election, Iowa will lose a seat in the House due to redistricting, and now the conservative Mr. King is facing a more moderate electorate as he runs in the newly redrawn district. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters caught up with both candidates and they campaigned at the Iowa State Fair.
CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: This state fair is a magnet for political candidates. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney's new running mate Paul Ryan campaigned here this week. Up at the pork tent, Republican Congressman Steve King works a long line of hungry fairgoers.
REPRESENTATIVE STEVE KING: It's a great day for it. How are you? Steve King.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi. Nice to meet you, Steve.
KING: Nice to meet you this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ready for my pork chop.
KING: I had a little bite. I tested them out for you. I'm here to tell you...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, OK.
KING: ...avoid the veggie burger and go for the chops. It'll be worth it.
MASTERS: The new district is believed to be more moderate, since it includes the college town of Ames, home of Iowa State, a massive agricultural research university. His opponent Christie Vilsack moved to Ames to challenge King. He says people should vote for him because he's a product of the new district.
KING: Marilyn and I have been married for 40 years. Our three sons that are now grown only have known and only had one father, one mother, one house, one church, one school.
MASTERS: King reaches out to shake Ginny Huntington's hand, but she refuses his handshake. King asks:
KING: You're American though, aren't you?
MASTERS: Huntington tells him she's very American, and later tells me:
GINNY HUNTINGTON: I really could never vote for anyone like that. Ever.
MASTERS: That is someone with a track record of bluntly speaking his mind. In 2008, King said if then-Senator Barack Obama won the presidential election, terrorists would be dancing in the streets. He was the only member of Congress to vote against a plaque recognizing slaves who built the Capitol. But he's been doing something right: He's won every election since he first came onto the political scene 10 years ago. Like many in the line, Lyle Fraizer of Denison says the congressman has his vote.
LYLE FRAIZER: He's been there doing the job. And I don't like the lady.
MASTERS: What is it that you don't like about her?
FRAIZER: It's a man's world.
MASTERS: Fraizer is referring to King's opponent, Christie Vilsack. She was a teacher; her husband Tom was the governor here in the early 2000s. Now, he's the U.S. secretary of agriculture, and some voters in the line say that doesn't qualify her for a seat in the House. But other voters say Vilsack's a breath of fresh air. She would be the first woman sent to Washington by Iowa voters. Sylvia Vust of Ellsworth says she's tired of Steve King representing her state.
SYLVIA VUST: And the things that he has said and the thing he stands for, the things that he is supporting, and it's no decision for me at all. Christie embodies everything that I support.
MASTERS: After delivering a political speech at the fair, Vilsack mingles with supporters.
CHRISTIE VILSACK: They should vote for me because my lens is local. And because I want to be an advocate every day for the two years I'm there for the things that they care about, whether it's creating trade opportunities for farmers or whether it's revitalizing small towns.
MASTERS: But Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Des Moines's Drake University, points out she's a first-time candidate.
DENNIS GOLDFORD: She needs to develop a style. She needs to develop a toughness and aggressiveness that Representative King already has.
MASTERS: Both candidates have raised more than $2 million each. But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Vilsack got the majority of her contributions of more than $200 from out of state. They're running about even in superPAC support. Money aside, Goldford says it might come down to voters in Story County; more specifically that college town, Ames.
GOLDFORD: Christie Vilsack has to activate a democratic base, which is not huge outside of Story County. King will have Republicans solidly. In fact, I think that rather than Romney providing coattails for King in Iowa, King will provide coattails for Romney.
MASTERS: King shows no sign of tempering his outspokenness during the election. And if he can convince voters in the new, more moderate district to keep him in Congress, he may have little incentive to do so in the future. For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.