Iowa Poll: Joni Ernst now leads Bruce Braley for Senate
The ground under Bruce Braley has shifted.
The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate is 6 points behind his GOP rival, Joni Ernst, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll of likely voters.
Ernst leads 44 percent to 38 percent in a race that has for months been considered deadlocked. She leads nearly 4-1 with rural voters, and is up double digits with independents.
“Very interesting, and good news not just for Ernst but also for the GOP’s chances of taking the U.S. Senate,” said national political prognosticator Larry Sabato of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball.”
Just seven months ago, political analysts considered Braley almost a shoo-in for a seat held for 30 years by liberal Democrat Tom Harkin.
Still, the 6-point deficit isn’t insurmountable with 37 days left until the Nov. 4 election, political analysts say. Twelve percent of likely voters remain undecided.
Some of the vulnerabilities for Braley, a lawyer and eight-year congressman: He isn’t winning in his home district, in northeast Iowa. Two-thirds of likely voters think it’s a problem that he missed a large percentage of Veterans Affairs Committee meetings in the U.S. House. Fifty-nine percent think his role in crafting the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, is a problem.
And he’s suffering badly with rural voters. Only 15 percent support him compared with 58 percent for Ernst. One potential reason: Two-thirds of likely voters who live in the country are bothered by a remark he made about Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley that’s been perceived as besmirching farmers.
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OBRADOVICH: TV attack ads landing punches
“I think he has an attitude about the voters and life in general which was indicated by what he said about Chuck Grassley,” said Democrat Dianna Fuhrmeister, a poll respondent who grows garden vegetables for a living in rural Iowa City. “He thinks he knows better than us.”
Braley’s remark, made at a private fundraiser in Texas last winter, seemingly disparaged Iowa’s popular 33-year senator for being a farmer, not a lawyer. Braley apologized to Grassley after the caught-on-tape remark was released in March. But that gaffe and others prompted the national political news outlet Politico last week to slot Braley’s campaign as No. 1 on its list of “the worst campaigns of 2014.”
Fuhrmeister, who is registered as a Democrat but considers herself an independent, said her mind is made up to vote for Ernst, a state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard.
“She’s the veteran. She seems to have common sense,” she said.
The Iowa Poll of 546 likely voters in the 2014 general election was conducted Sept. 21-24 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
In June 2013, Braley’s image was still an open canvas: 54 percent of likely voters were unfamiliar with him. Just 17 percent had a negative opinion.
Today, only 16 percent are unfamiliar with him. As many Iowans view him negatively as favorably (42 percent each).
The nearly $14 million in TV commercials purchased to air in Iowa in this U.S. Senate race — many of them attack ads — appear to have shaped unfavorable opinions of both Braley and Ernst.
IOWA POLL: Statistics from the poll
Ernst drew a blank for 87 percent of likely voters last summer. Now, just 11 percent are unsure about her, and 44 percent have a negative view of her, the Iowa Poll shows. Forty-five percent have a favorable impression.
In late March, Ernst was a face in the crowd of a five-way Republican primary when her first TV campaign ad caught fire. “Squeal” introduced her to Iowans and the nation as someone who grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm and would use her special skills to cut pork in Washington.
In the June 3 primary, she was the runaway winner, with 54 percent of the vote. Braley, meanwhile, had no primary opponent.
J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll for the Register, said: “He’s done two things wrong: He didn’t take advantage of that time to really build up his image. And I don’t think he cleaned up his messes.”
Republicans call Braley “gaffetastic”; Democrats call the gaffe feeding frenzy unfair.
His campaign operatives, who years ago coined the so-called “Harkin rule” of “attack, never defend,” have noted that Ernst has had her share of missteps.
Democrats have pounded the first-term state senator for comments made during the primary, including a statement in a Des Moines Register editorial board meeting that she had “reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
She later clarified her statement to say that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. invasion in 2003, but that Iraq had used them in the past.
But Braley’s missteps have drawn more notice.
“The reason Braley is getting all the attention is that Iowa was in the safe Democrat column for the Senate. ‘It’s his to lose,’ ” said Steffen Schmidt, a political analyst at Iowa State University. “Ernst has gone from ‘Joni who!?’ to beating Braley … which is quite an achievement.”