Iowa state Sen. David Hartsuch is a Republican who makes Democrats’ blood boil.
Since his upset win in 2006, the socially conservative, outspoken Bettendorf physician has had Democrats itching for a fight.
Now he has not one but, perhaps, two.
Hartsuch is being challenged in the Republican primary June 8 in what is shaping up to be a nasty fight to try to keep the District 41 Senate seat in GOP hands.
Challenger Roby Smith of Davenport said Hartsuch is unelectable and ineffective. And, he said, Hartsuch has lost touch with the district — in part because he works at a Wisconsin hospital.
Hartsuch, who said he’s a proven, conservative commodity, readily trades blows with his GOP challenger.
Smith, he said, is willing to bend with the political winds, fails to articulate a reason for running and has filled his campaign with little but criticisms of the incumbent.
This is a seat Republicans need to hold if they’re going to pick up ground on the Democrats who control the Iowa Legislature.
The district, encompassing all of Bettendorf and a part of east Davenport, has been in GOP hands since the 1970s.
Still, Democrats think they have their best chance in years to take it away.
The district has shifted leftward in the four years since Hartsuch ousted longtime incumbent Maggie Tinsman, also a Republican.
The number of Democrats in the district rose by 3,000 since then, while Republican and independent registrations are virtually the same.
“I’m a conservative Republican, David’s a conservative Republican,” Smith said in an interview. “But you have to have an effective senator that’s going to do the job and get elected.”
Carrying around a sheaf of papers with election statistics, Smith said Hartsuch lost his own district in his unsuccessful bid for Congress two years ago against U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. And, he said, he barely defeated Phyllis Thede, a late-starting, under-funded Democratic opponent, four years ago.
“I’m running to keep this seat in Republican hands, first of all,” Smith told a group of Republicans at a party luncheon a couple of weeks ago.
Hartsuch, who pledged to the same Republican group he would work hard to keep the seat in the GOP column, has a ready response to Smith’s doubts.
“I would say I’m more electable than he is. I won my election,” Hartsuch said back in January.
Smith, who co-owns a small business, ran a losing campaign in 2006 against state Rep. Jim Lykam, a west Davenport Democrat.
He and his family moved to an east Davenport house several months after the election.
Instead of stressing electability, Hartsuch told the Republican group he’s “carried the mantra of limited government, lower taxes and strong families” into the legislature.
He gets a 100 percent rating from the National Federation of Independent Business, too.
The question, he said, is whether Republicans want a “proven conservative.” In an interview, he expressed doubts about Smith’s credentials.
“He hasn’t said what he is or isn’t about,” Hartsuch said.
Both Smith and Hartsuch said spending in Des Moines has gone out of control and the area’s economy is their top concern.
They fault the governor’s I-JOBS initiative. Hartsuch said he’ll challenge its constitutionality.
They both want to cut taxes, too.
Hartsuch emphasizes property tax reductions, with Smith focusing on income taxes. He said he would cut rates 10 percent over four years.
Smith complained, however, that instead of focusing on the economy, Hartsuch wastes time on peripheral matters.
He cited his effort to amend a bill in the 2010 session making it a felony for a person convicted of domestic abuse or who’s the target of a no-contact or protective order from having a gun.
Hartsuch offered a series of amendments aimed at giving the accused a chance to challenge the basis of the protective order. His amendments drew only a handful of supporters, however, and one got only his lone vote.
“We need to be focused on jobs and the economy and not trivial bills,” Smith said of the amendments.
Hartsuch defends his actions.
No-contact and protective orders require a lower standard of proof than a criminal conviction. Hartsuch said his amendments would protect the falsely accused.
He voted against the final bill along with 10 others. It passed, 36-11.
Smith, like state Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, backs the measure.
“Stalkers shouldn’t have guns,” Smith said.
Hartsuch said his path is principled, Smith’s politically expedient.
Both men are also in sync when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage. They oppose both.
But on the latter, it is Hartsuch who is critical of Smith, pointing to a 2006 Quad-City Times editorial that said Smith claimed same-sex marriage could lead to marriage with animals.
“I think it will lead to polygamy, but I think it’s ridiculous to say it will lead to people marrying their dogs,” Hartsuch said.
Smith said he never made that claim and doesn’t hold that belief.
He said he was simply relaying the words of a person he met while campaigning.
Smith also has raised questions about Hartsuch’s decision to work at a hospital in Platteville, Wis. He said it’s proof he’s out of touch with constituent needs.
“How can you be in touch when you work in Wisconsin?” he asked.
Hartsuch has worked there since last fall. He said he got the job through an Ankeny-based medical staffing firm, and that he works 12- and 24-hour shifts, the equivalent of six 24-hour shifts a month.
In a bistate area, working across state lines is not unusual, he said.
“It’s not that far away,” he said.
Platteville is about 90 miles from the Quad-Cities.
The winner of the June 8 primary will go up against the winner of a Democratic primary, pitting Davenport School Board member Richard Clewell against Dave Thede, a teacher in the Davenport school system.