Government

A week's worth of bad news for Blum

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum faces a difficult road to re-election this year, and the past week did little to boost Blum’s prospects.

Blum is a two-term Republican congressman from Eastern Iowa’s 1st District, which has more Democratic than Republican registered voters. Blum has beaten the odds twice in the district, but faces likely his toughest election yet in large part because of the national political winds blowing in Democrats’ direction.

Blum was in the news regularly in the past week, and none of the headlines will help him stave off Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer in this fall’s midterm election.

It started when Politico published a report citing senior Republican Party strategists who are determining where to dedicate resources to protect GOP incumbents. Blum made the short list of Republican incumbents who are most in jeopardy of being cut off, the report said.

Financial help may still be on the way for Blum. Shortly after the Politico story broke, the billionaire conservative Koch brothers announced their plan to support eight House Republicans, including Blum. The Kochs plan to devote roughly $400 million to the election, officials with the brothers’ political network said.

But then came news the U.S. House Ethics Committee is investigating whether Blum violated any rules relating to a business he founded while in office but failed to disclose. When the lack of disclosure first was reported by the Associated Press, Blum called it a clerical oversight. Last week, he called the investigation a political “assassination attempt” orchestrated by the “radical left.”

The investigation started in the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, nonpartisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct against members, officers and employees of the House. The office — when it deems necessary, as it has in this case — refers matters to the House Committee on Ethics, which consists of five Republicans and five Democrats.

And one of Blum’s most highly celebrated legislative accomplishments got something of a black eye this past week when it was revealed that not all the $117 million in federal financial assistance for Cedar Rapids’ $550 million flood protection system will be in the form of grants, as city leaders had hoped.

Blum and other congressional Republicans celebrated the announced federal funding in July.

“I am pleased to inform you that we are receiving $117 million to complete the Cedar Rapids Flood Project,” Blum said in a July 5 news release. “I have worked hard to ensure Cedar Rapids receives the needed federal funds to secure and protect the City of Five Seasons from future flooding disasters.”

But a letter from Cedar Rapids city leaders to Blum and U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst expressed their “grave concern” that more than a third of the federal funding — $41 million — is in the form of a loan the city must repay. City leaders had expected the full $117 million to be federally funded.

The letter first was reported by the liberal Iowa political news site Iowa Starting Line.

Blum, Grassley and Ernst on Friday wrote to city leaders assuring them that 100 percent of the federal funding would be provided “up front” and that any lands or easements the city has to provide will be credited against the $41 million loan with required cash contribution of 5 percent of the total cost, or $5.9 million.

Finally, two prominent national political forecasters shifted their projection of the 1st District race in the Democratic direction.

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a product of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, and the Cook Political Report last week changed the 1st District race from a tossup to “leans Democratic.”

The Crystal Ball cited the ethics investigation in noting its forecast change.

“One caution: Finkenauer, at 29, would be young for a new member of the House, and she will need to continue to prove herself in a district that is older than the national average. But we think she’s a small favorite for now, and this rating change solidifies Blum’s status as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country,” the Crystal Ball report said.

l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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