AUDUBON — Matt Campbell likely won’t win as many votes in western Iowa as Congressman Steve King this November in spite of the canyon-sized gap between the two candidates’ educational pedigrees.

On his website, Democrat Campbell of Manning pointedly, and with a jab (make that a haymaker) of snark, tells us in a “head-to-head” comparison chart that he’s a man of many degrees — Morningside College in Sioux City, University of Iowa Law School and Georgetown Law.

Meanwhile, Mr. King, the sitting 5th District representative, has a “high school diploma” and used to own a “dirt moving company,” according to Campbell’s website.

All of this is true.

King is a 1967 Denison High School graduate. He then attended Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, where he was a member of the Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity, before dropping out after drawing 308 in the Vietnam War draft lottery. The high number made his chances of being drawn to duty less likely. King’s said the number had nothing to do with his decision to leave school and enter the construction business and eventually launch King Construction in 1975. How are Republicans putting it these days? “We take him at his word.”

So does it matter that King doesn’t have a college degree?

It was fitting to ask this question of Campbell the other day in Audubon County where just 12.3 percent of the people 25 and older have a college degree or more.

According to the U.S. Census, 21 percent of Iowans 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher education. In Polk County it’s 30 percent.

“My parents don’t have college degrees either so I don’t begrudge that to him,” Campbell told me. “But I do have three degrees of higher education. I think that’s something that is an asset I bring to the position, and I’m not going to be shy about what I bring to the job.”

Like King, the man who nominated her as a candidate for lieutenant governor at the Iowa Republican Party state convention this summer, Kim Reynolds, a half-term state senator from Osceola, attended Northwest Missouri State but failed to leave Maryville with a degree. (I’ve driven through that northern Missouri city a hundred times and didn’t realize there were so many distractions to academic achievement, especially now that the Long John Silvers is closed.)

According to the Northwest Missouri State registrar’s office, Reynolds was a student there from the fall of 1977 to 1980. She took classes in business, consumer sciences and clothing sales and design, the registrar’s office said. But alas, no degree, said the kind lady at NWMSU who fetched the file for me the other day.

Reynolds, between 1992 and 1995, picked up some accounting classes later at Creston-based Southwestern Community College, according to officials at that school. But again, no degree. West Burlington-based Southeastern Community College confirms Reynolds attendance there, too. "That's an accurate statement," said Southeastern Registrar Tim Gray. "She did attend here in the late 1980s."

Reynolds’ campaign staffers cut off an interview I did with her recently before I could get to the education questions, and the man at the top of the GOP ticket, former Gov. Terry Branstad, did not take questions from the media during a stop a few days ago in Carroll.

To be fair, nowhere have I seen Reynolds claim to “graduate” from these institutions. Campaign materials and websites and Facebook pages all correctly note that she “attended” Northwest Missouri State and Southwestern and Southeastern. That said, most people aren’t in the business of parsing resumes and candidate speeches and probably give Reynolds credit for the college credits she didn’t earn. It’s reasonable to argue that if you didn’t earn a degree at the college you attended, you don’t deserve to put it on your resume at all. How many high school dropouts note on resumes that they “attended Valley High School?”

At the end of the day, Reynolds is a high school graduate who is a beat of Branstad’s flawed heart away from the Iowa CEO position.

Does that matter?

Her predecessor in the Iowa Senate, Republican Jeff Angelo (a high school graduate with some technical broadcast training in St. Louis), says candidates who challenge an opponent’s educational background or intellect do so at their own peril.

“You don’t want to send the message, ‘I’m smarter than most of my constituents — and that’s why you should send me,’” Angelo said. “If the implied message is ‘my opponent’s dumber than me’ that’s offensive.”

All of this being said, it is fair to ask if we want a governor without a college degree sitting across the table from leading lights in industry, looking to further merge science and commerce and agriculture, and bring more high-tech jobs to Iowa — as Branstad tells us Reynolds will be charged with doing.

What’s more, a lion’s share of the state budget goes to education. A major goal in Iowa’s K-12 system is to prepare students for success in college. Do we want our state’s top shot-caller making decisions about education when she, by definition, doesn’t know what it takes to succeed in college? (Reynolds should at least release her GPA from Northwest Missouri State.)

And finally, when you have a leader without intellectual bona fides, there is a real danger that she’ll be too easily puppeted, that behind-the-scenes advisers with motivations and machinations we generally can’t see  or  divine, will be the true leaders of the state.

I’m writing this column in Carroll County, where just 16 percent of us 25 and older have college degrees or more education. There are a lot of smart people here, many without education beyond high school.

It’s possible to be a brilliant leader without a college education.

But it is necessary to ask the question in the year 2010 in a state of 3 million people that prides itself on education, a place in which small communities’ identities are tied tightly to schools: Should Iowans demand more than a high school diploma from a woman who could be our governor?