IA-01: If Rod Blum wasn't worried before, he should be now

Reviewing the Democratic “tidal wave” in Virginia on Tuesday, Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report commented, “You can’t really look at tonight’s results and conclude that Democrats are anything other than the current favorites to pick up the U.S. House in 2018.” A backlash against President Donald Trump and Congressional Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act fueled strong Democratic turnout, sinking far more Virginia GOP state legislators than expected.

That’s not the only reason Representative Rod Blum should be feeling more nervous about winning a third term in Iowa’s first Congressional district.

Blum has been seen as one of the most vulnerable U.S. House incumbents since early in his first term. However, a huge swing to Republicans in northeast Iowa helped him win re-election in 2016 by more than 7 points, a larger margin than his victory in the 2014 GOP wave.

Nevertheless, Iowa and national Democrats put put IA-01 on their target list way back in January. Analysts at Roll Call just ranked Blum fourth on a list of ten House members “most likely not to return” after next year. That piece came out before Tuesday’s election.

Roll Call still lists IA-01 as a “lean Republican” district, but the Cook Political Report sees this race as a toss-up.

One of four Democrats competing for the nomination in IA-01, Thomas Heckroth, commissioned a survey by Public Policy Polling that was in the field on November 2 and 3. The full results and cross-tabs contain one horror story after another for Blum.

• The incumbent’s job approval is well below 50 percent: 33 percent of respondents approve of his performance, while 52 percent disapprove and 16 percent don’t know. Trump’s numbers in the same poll were 42 percent approve/52 percent disapprove/6 percent don’t know.

• In a head to head matchup, 42 percent of respondents would vote for Heckroth, 41 percent for Blum, and 18 percent were unsure. Abby Finkenauer would receive 43 percent support, Blum 42 percent, 16 percent not sure. Although those leads are not statistically significant, re-elect numbers below 50 percent are warning signs for any incumbent.

• Incredibly, Heckroth and Finkenauer have slight leads in this poll despite being almost completely unknown to the electorate. About 8 percent of respondents said they have a favorable opinion of Heckroth, 22 percent unfavorable, 70 percent unsure. Finkenauer’s numbers: 9 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable, 69 percent unsure. Those findings suggest that many IA-01 voters are inclined to vote for anyone but Blum. The Democratic candidates have more room to grow their support than Blum does.

• The cross-tabs show that just 28 percent of independents approve of Blum’s work, 52 percent disapprove, and 19 percent are unsure. A plurality of voters in IA-01’s 20 counties are affiliated with neither major party. According to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office, the district contains 159,518 active registered Democrats, 142,554 Republicans, and 190,677 no-party voters.

• Blum’s approval among Republicans in PPP’s sample (59 percent) is far lower than his disapproval among Democrats (77 percent). That could be a problem for the incumbent if Iowa Democrats show up in larger than usual numbers next November, as Virginians did on Tuesday. (In most Iowa midterm elections, Democratic turnout drops by more compared to presidential years than Republican turnout does.)

A Public Policy Polling survey in early October found dreadful numbers for Blum as well. From that polling memo by Anniken Williams:

In Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, Republican incumbent Congressman Rod Blum has an approval rating of 33%, and a majority (51%) of voters say they do not approve of the job he is doing. President Trump has an approval rating of 45% and a disapproval rating of 50% in Blum’s district, while 6% of voters say they approve of the job Congress is doing and 87% say they disapprove. Speaker Paul Ryan is also unpopular with 26% of voters saying they approve of the job he is doing and a majority (61%) responding that they disapprove. These percentages, along with a hypothetical matchup between Democrat Abby Finkenauer (42%) and Blum (40%) indicate that Blum is vulnerable in his upcoming re-election. The new tax plan is not popular in his district, and a plurality of voters (48%) indicated they would be less likely to vote for Blum if he voted in favor of the Republican tax plan.

PPP surveyed 1,093 IA-1 voters from October 6-8, 2017. The margin of error is +/- 3.0%. This poll was conducted by automated telephone interviews.

Blum can draw comfort from two realities. First, the areas where Democrats made the largest gains in Virginia were more affluent than IA-01 and contained a larger share of voters with college degrees as well as a larger share of voters who are not white.

Second, Blum will probably be able to outspend his eventual opponent by a substantial margin. As of September 30, his campaign had $883,779.07 cash on hand. Most of his campaign debt is owed to himself, so he won’t need to pay those funds back.

Both Finkenauer and Heckroth have raised six-figure sums for their Congressional bids, but they are likely to spend almost all of it to win the Democratic nomination. As of September 30, Finkenauer’s campaign had $168,586.28 cash on hand. Roughly $40,000 of that total can’t be spent until the general election, because it came from donors who had already maxed out their $2,700 contributions for the primary. Heckroth had $105,295.85 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter, all of it available to spend during the primary campaign.

The other two Democrats running in IA-01 are Courtney Rowe, who had $1,509.53 on hand as of September 30, and George Ramsey III, whose campaign finished the third quarter with $358.81 in the bank, having borrowed $14,205.52 from the candidate.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I enclose below the November 7 press release from Heckroth’s campaign, announcing the PPP survey findings.

UPDATE: A November 9 memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee indicates that the DCCC’s polling shows only a 1-point lead for a generic Republican against a Democrat in IA-01. In 2016, the GOP had an 8-point lead in the DCCC’s generic polling for Blum’s district. The DCCC’s internal numbers show Trump’s at 34 percent approve/52 percent disapprove in IA-01, while just 26 percent view U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan favorably, compared to 61 percent with an unfavorable view.

Poll shows Heckroth beating Blum in general election matchup
Blum and Trump job approval underwater in First District

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – In a new survey of likely general election voters, Democratic Challenger Thomas Heckroth is beating Republican Rep. Rod Blum 42-41 percent, with over half of likely voters saying they disapprove of Blum’s job performance.

“Traveling across this district, it’s clear that people are ready for real leadership that puts working families ahead of billionaires and big corporations,” said Thomas Heckroth. “Rod Blum’s failure to deliver that leadership and focus on the needs of his constituents has made him vulnerable and it’s time to make a change. We’re building a grassroots organization with support in communities large and small that will be in the best position to retake the First District next year.”

In addition to Heckroth beating Blum 42-41 percent, the survey showed Blum’s job approval underwater with only 33 percent approving and 52 percent saying they disapprove. The majority of voters also disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, with 42 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.

The First District race was recently moved from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up” by the Cook Political Report – one of only 15 toss up districts in the nation. Additionally, Bloomberg Businessweek has said this is one of six seats Democrats need to flip to retake the House and Roll Call has ranked Blum as the 4th most vulnerable incumbent in 2018.

The survey of 737 likely general election voters was conducted by Public Policy Polling. Full results from the poll are available online here.

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