Public Policy Polling’s last Iowa survey before the general election suggests that both Governor Terry Branstad and Senator Tom Harkin are favored looking ahead to possible re-election campaigns in 2014.
Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,122 likely Iowa voters on November 3 and 4, producing a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent. Click here (pdf) to view the polling memo, with questionnaire and crosstabs.
About 48 percent of respondents said they approve of Branstad’s job performance, while only 36 percent disapproved. That’s similar to what PPP found in August and a lot better than the governor’s approval rating in several PPP polls during 2011, when Branstad was underwater or barely even on approval.
In addition, 49 percent of PPP’s respondents in the latest survey said they would vote for Branstad against an unnamed Democratic opponent if a governor’s election were held today. Just 40 percent said they would vote for the unnamed Democrat, while 11 percent were unsure. This poll probably understates Branstad’s strength, because it reached a presidential year electorate. Registered Iowa Democrats will likely be a smaller share of the electorate in 2014.
Given Iowa’s history of gubernatorial elections during my lifetime, you don’t need a poll to tell you Branstad will be hard to beat if he seeks a sixth term in 2014. Before Governor Chet Culver lost in 2010, you have to go back to the 1960s to find an example of an Iowa governor losing a re-election bid. Had Republican power brokers not brought Branstad back into politics, I think that even against the backdrop of the worst recession in 60 years, Culver could have won a second term against likely GOP nominee Bob Vander Plaats.
Branstad may be disappointed not to have Republicans in control of the Iowa Senate, but I suspect that having Senate Democrats block the more extreme GOP policy initiatives has kept Branstad’s approval rating relatively high. Like Todd Dorman says, Iowans seem to like our state government divided.
In contrast, several Republican governors who had “the trifecta” in their states after winning in 2010 go into the next election cycle looking more vulnerable than Branstad.
Senator Tom Harkin’s approval numbers weren’t as strong as Branstad’s in the PPP poll: 41 percent approve, 40 percent disapprove, 18 percent unsure. Harkin hasn’t been in the news as much this year, especially with Congress adjourned since August. Harkin’s re-elect numbers were comparable to Branstad’s: 48 percent of respondents said they would vote for Harkin if a Senate election were held today, while 40 percent would vote for an unnamed Republican opponent and 12 percent were unsure.
Although the 2014 Iowa electorate will probably lean more Republican than PPP’s sample for this survey, I would consider Harkin strongly favored to win a sixth term. He won re-election by double digits in 2002, which wasn’t a great midterm for Democrats across the country. Iowa Republicans weren’t able to recruit a strong candidate against him in 2008, when he defeated Christopher Reed by 25 points.
Harkin will go into the next election with a big war chest and the top spot on one of the Senate’s most important committees. I don’t think a Republican heavyweight will be eager to take him on in 2014.
A few years ago, many Iowa Democrats expected Harkin to retire at the end of his current term, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. It surely helps that Democrats kept the majority in the upper chamber. Running the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is a lot more fun than being the minority party’s ranking member on that committee.
Please share any relevant comments in this thread, including speculation about possible challengers to Branstad or Harkin.