RACE OF THE DAY: Iowa-05

Iowa Rep. Steve King holds the kind of safe Republican district that's hard for Democrats to seize in a good year, let alone amid the current national environment.

But don't tell that to Matt Campbell, the Democrat running against the controversial four-term Republican.

Campbell said he's been encountering "King fatigue" when campaigning around the sprawling Western Iowa district.

"His tone has been pretty negative, pretty divisive," he told The Ballot Box. "I think it’s been even more polarizing in the past two years than even in years past.

"It's much more apparent now," he added, because the debate over the Iraq war, which King supported, has died down.

Beyond his support for the invasion of Iraq, King has made controversial comments about everything from the IRS to immigrants to President Obama. He's never debated a Democratic challenger. With that in mind, Campbell crashed a town-hall meeting held by the congressman at the end of August in Sioux City and demanded that King debate him.

King coolly replied, "My answer to that is that judging by the way you have conducted yourself, you have not earned it."

"That issue's resolved as far as he's concerned," Campbell said. "There will not be a debate, and I think a lot of Iowans are bothered by that. When the state's employee holds himself above the process, it bothers them."

Voters are more disapproving of debate-dodging during an anti-incumbent year, he insisted.

"I've had people who are Tea Partiers say they want to vote for me because they want to throw everybody out," Campbell said. "I think I can tap into some of that energy."

Campbell called himself a "strong, national-security Democrat" and said that voters are now less forgiving of King's "saber-rattling."

"He was at the CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] convention, said that progressives and liberals are enemies of the state, yet not once mentions al Qaeda or the Taliban," he said. "I think it’s highly objectionable."

Despite King’s penchant for controversy, Campbell still faces a steep uphill battle to unseat him.

"I think the challenge is just raising my name recognition in the time I have remaining so that people are familiar with who I am so they feel comfortable making that choice away from what they've had in the past," he said. "I think for some voters, they haven't felt, for whatever reason, that they had that viable alternative."