Iowa House Battle Draws Speakers Boehner and Pelosi

John Boehner

“I’m actually running against three people,” said Mr. Boswell, a Democrat, making an oft-repeated appeal for help in his matchup against Representative Tom Latham, a Republican with whom he has served in the House on behalf of Iowa for nearly two decades.

“There’s Latham, and I’m running against the speaker,” he said, referring to Speaker John A. Boehner, one of Mr. Latham’s closest friends. “The third person is Karl Rove.”

Iowa lost a House seat after the 2010 census, leaving these two veteran incumbents facing off in a new district made up of a nearly equal number of Republican, Democratic and independent voters in one of the most closely watched races in the country.

But perhaps no one is watching more closely than Mr. Boehner. He spent a long Memorial Day weekend in Iowa bolstering his compatriot, helping raise the money he knows Mr. Latham, whom he refers to as “my bud,” will need to keep his job. While outside groups headed by the likes of Mr. Rove, the Republican operative, are sure to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into this race, Mr. Boehner is the star.

“Without question,” Mr. Boehner said in an interview. “He’s my friend, and I’d do anything I can to help him.”

In the new Third District of Iowa, Mr. Boswell, 78, enjoys some significant advantages: he already represents Polk County, which includes Des Moines, and a few other parts adding up to roughly 60 percent of the new district. But Mr. Latham, 63, is winning at the bank, in no small part with the help of Mr. Boehner, who is using the full force of his position and popularity among the party faithful, shaking hands, scarfing eggs and pressing donors to dig deep.

At the very moment Tuesday night that Mr. Boswell was with about 25 supporters who had paid about $150 each to visit with him at the home of owners of a successful cured meat business, Mr. Boehner was with Mr. Latham across town at a $5,000-a-head fund-raiser at the golf-course-adjacent home of a wealthy donor. About 60 people reveled with the group, which included the professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller.

The speaker also spent the morning helping Mr. Latham raise money at a breakfast in nearby Johnston, where people paid $100 to hear the two opine on the nation’s debt crisis and make Mr. Latham’s case to new voters. “There was a sense of urgency,” said David Greenspon, a local businessman who attended.

Mr. Latham is one of many beneficiaries of the fund-raising prowess of Mr. Boehner. The speaker has traveled the country this spring filling the coffers of Republican candidates, surpassing his most prodigious rival, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader and former speaker, raising over $70 million to her $43 million since early 2011.

But perhaps nowhere is Mr. Boehner’s influence as quantifiable as in the House race here. As of May 16, Mr. Boswell had raised $976,926, compared with Mr. Latham’s $2.2 million. Mr. Latham had received nearly $1.5 million from political action committees active in House races, compared with $486,750 at the same time two years ago. Mr. Boswell had received $522,325 from PACs, compared with $610,357 last cycle.

Put another way, Mr. Boswell has raised less PAC money this election, while Mr. Latham has nearly tripled his PAC haul.

Mr. Boswell says the reason for this is that Mr. Boehner’s team has leaned on Washington-savvy donors who have given to him in the past — often along with his Republican opponent — to leave him high and dry.

“We’ve got it from pretty good sources that that is putting some restraint on my ability to raise money back in Washington,” he told his fund-raiser guests. (Mr. Boehner’s team dismisses this accusation: “Absurd,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman.)

Mr. Boehner and Mr. Latham met before Mr. Latham was first elected in 1994 and became fast friends while serving on the Agriculture Committee, lighting up together in the smoking room and eventually at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill that both men fancy.

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