DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — New Democratic House Minority Leader Mark Smith is known for being a soft-spoken presence in the often rambunctious Iowa Capitol, but colleagues say he'll bring a quiet persistence to the daunting task of preparing for the 2014 election cycle.
The Marshalltown lawmaker was recently elected to the leadership post after longtime leader Kevin McCarthy announced he was stepping down to work for the attorney general's office. Smith's top priority in the months ahead will be recruiting candidates and fundraising in hopes of leading the Democrats back to the majority in the House.
It's a big job. All 100 House seats will be up next year. Democrats would need to maintain their 47 seats — including McCarthy's Des Moines district — and pick up at least four more to get back in the majority. Without a presidential race on the top of the ticket next year, getting voters out to the polls could be a challenge.
Still, Smith — who previously served as an assistant minority leader — said he likes his chances.
"Iowans are beginning to understand that House Republicans are out of touch and too focused on an extreme agenda," said Smith, who said he thought Democrats would be competitive in several districts where there are Republican representatives, but more registered Democrats.
Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen toyed with a congressional run next year, but opted to stay in his current role and will lead the GOP efforts. A spokesman for Paulsen did not respond to a request for comment.
Smith, who is serving his seventh term in the House, first became involved in politics as a volunteer for Sen. Tom Harkin's first failed congressional campaign in 1972. After years of volunteering and working with local Democrats, he ran for office in 2000. During his time in office, he has largely focused on health care issues. He cites his work in 2005 to set up the IowaCare program — a limited benefit health program for low income Iowans — as a signature achievement.