By DAVID PITT
DES MOINES – Politicians and activists agree: There is lots of interest in the election, but many Iowa voters will be relieved when the campaigns are history.
The campaign ads started months before the state’s January 2012 presidential caucus, and never stopped.
“People talk all the time about how they basically mute their TV or shut it off,” said Republican Rep. Tom Latham, who is locked in a heated campaign for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District with Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell.
Campaign volunteers have experienced voter fatigue, too.
“People are going to be glad when we forget their names and forget where their houses are,” said Caroline Koppes, an Obama campaign volunteer in Dubuque. “They’re tired of it.”
It’s a high-stakes election for many candidates, – presidential, congressional and legislative alike. Iowa voters also will be tasked with deciding whether to retain an Iowa Supreme Court justice who supported gay marriage.
Today is especially noteworthy for nine-term incumbent Latham and eight-term incumbent Boswell, as losing will mean the end of a long political career. Latham, 64, chose to move into the 3rd District after Iowa lost a congressional seat due to once-a-decade redistricting that reflected population changes noted by the U.S. Census. The district stretches from Des Moines west to the Missouri River.
Their race has been expensive – Latham’s $3.1 million fundraising haul is double Boswell’s $1.5 million – and poll numbers indicate it is close.
“It’s been a very spirited contest but we’re competitive and we’ve been able to follow the plan that we laid out,” Boswell, 78, said.
Iowa’s status as a battleground state in the presidential campaign between President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney has implications for this and other races in Iowa, and Latham said he expects to get a boost from highly motivated Republican voters.
“The intensity on the Republican side is like I have never seen it before,” he said.
The 4th Congressional District race, which pits a well-known incumbent against Iowa’s former first lady, has also attracted plenty of attention.
Republican Rep. Steve King, known for his outspoken conservative views, has cruised in every race since he was first elected in 2002. But the 63-year-old acknowledged this year’s challenge by Democrat Christie Vilsack has been difficult. Vilsack, 62, is married to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who was Iowa’s governor for eight years.
Her victory would be historic: She would be Iowa’s first woman in Congress.
The races in the first and second districts lean toward incumbent Democrats because of a slight voter registration edge. Democrat Bruce Braley is facing a rematch with 2010 Republican challenger Ben Lange in the 1st district, and incumbent Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack moved to Iowa City in order to remain in the 2nd district, where he’s facing Republican attorney John Archer.
Voters have been engaged this year, setting a record for early voting with more than 640,000 absentee or in-person ballots cast by last weekend. And there were lines Monday at some county election offices.
Iowa has been lavished with an unusual amount of attention from the top-ticket presidential candidates. Obama wrapped up his campaign Monday night in Des Moines with rally featuring Bruce Springsteen. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan also stopped there Monday.
The state legislative races may result in the biggest changes, though. Republicans are hoping to win a majority in the state Senate, which would let them move ahead with an ambitious agenda backed by GOP Gov. Terry Branstad that calls for tax cuts, education changes and social policy moves related to abortion and same-sex marriage.
The gay marriage issue also is reflected in a judicial retention vote for David Wiggins, one of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined in a 2009 ruling that cleared the way for same-sex marriages.
Associated Press reporter Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report from Iowa City.