Reaganomics, farm prices fuel a feisty House campaign in Iowa

Just in time to get out the Republican farm vote.

That's how Iowa Democratic congressional candidate Lynn Cutler views President Reagan's endorsement of the program to give grain farmers advance cash this month for agreeing to idle 10 percent of their land on next year's crop.

As Mrs. Cutler tells a group of her supporters at a ''trickle down'' party here featuring ''voodoo economics steaks'' (hot dogs): ''The Reagan paid diversion program is good and it's fine, but it should have happened a year ago. . . . Just before the election it's the same old chicanery.''

Meanwhile, in Iowa City, incumbent GOP Rep. Cooper Evans is telling supporters at a barbecued chicken fund-raiser how hard he and other Midwestern Republicans have been pressing the President and secretary of agriculture to endorse and announce this ''excellent'' set-aside program.

''I don't think anybody ought to be under any illusion that the program is going to solve the problem,'' he cautions. ''But Iowa cannot truly prosper until agriculture prospers. We have to get production down and do more to get grain sold overseas. The one-year extension of the grain agreement with the Russians is a start.''

This race for the blue-collar, academic, and farm vote in Iowa's Third District is a rematch of the 1980 race. It is expected to result in a close vote on Nov. 2.

Since 1934 voters in this district have sent a Republican (for 26 years it was H.R. Gross) to Washington. But redistricting in response to the 1980 census has brought in more Democrats, primarily from the University of Iowa in Johnson County. That shift was partially responsible for Mrs. Cutler's decision to try for a rematch. Last time around, the widowed mother of four and now vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, lost by less than 2 percent of the vote.

''It was an amazing feat that she almost beat a conservative Republican in what was probably the most conservative district in the state,'' says Blackhawk County Democratic chairman Dan Holm.

Representative Evans, a well-to-do farmer from Grundy Center who bankrolled some of his own campaign costs last time around, has been widely considered Iowa's most conservative congressman - at least until now. Though a vigorous supporter in the last campaign of more money for defense - he voted for the B-1 bomber, M1 tank, and MX missile - he now admits to strong reservations about the speed and extent of the buildup.

''I think the feeling is almost universal that defense spending increased too rapidly - that you can't solve the problem by just throwing more money at it,'' he says. ''I think it was a great mistake to try to squeeze billions of dollars for defense out of small domestic programs.''

''People around here are outraged by defense spending and they want to cut back,'' agrees Mrs. Cutler. ''There's no question why Evans is now suddenly backing off his own commitment. He used to be leading the charge.''

The Third District race is in many ways a classic liberal-conservative battle.

In a fund-raising appeal to political action committees earlier this year, Evans referred to his ''strong free-enterprise voting record'' and described his opponent as ''old-line liberal, anti-business, pro-big government. . . ''

Asked on what points she most disagrees with the incumbent, Mrs. Cutler says simply: ''Everything.'' She would like to see national economic planning, a bill to force interest rates down, and more price supports for farmers in need. ''We may have $1.70 a bushel corn by November when the cost of production may be $2. 96,'' she says.

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