IA-Sen: Grassley leads by 17 points in new Selzer poll

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is outperforming the top of the Republican ticket and leads former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge by 53 percent to 36 percent in the latest Iowa poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. The Register’s William Petroski wrote up the key findings:

The Iowa Poll shows Grassley has broad support, leading Judge among all groups tested except for four: Democrats, Hillary Clinton supporters, former Bernie Sanders supporters and people who identify with no religion. Among political independents, Grassley leads Judge 54 percent to 30 percent. He leads among men and women and among all age, income and education groups.

Grassley’s job approval rating — with 56 approving and 30 percent disapproving among all adults, not just likely voters — is identical to where it stood in September 2010, before he cruised to victory that November, defeating Democrat Roxanne Conlin by 31 percentage points.

Among the same 642 "likely voter" respondents, Donald Trump leads Hillary Clinton by just 43 percent to 39 percent.

Selzer’s poll was in the field before the release of a 2005 videotape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women he finds attractive. Democrats have blasted Grassley for condemning Trump’s comments but urging Republicans to stick with the GOP ticket, because of the election’s likely impact on the U.S. Supreme Court. I doubt the Trump tape will affect Grassley’s re-election numbers, though.

Iowa Republicans have been spiking the football on this race for some time. Yesterday the Twitter accounts of Grassley’s campaign and campaign manager Bob Haus directed followers to the liberal Daily Kos website, where IA-Sen is now listed as safe Republican. Various other election forecasters see the race the same way.

Many Iowans who preferred State Senator Rob Hogg for U.S. Senate, as I did, have privately expressed frustration that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent almost no money here, after intervening in the Democratic primary to recruit and promote Judge. The DSCC’s tactical choice is understandable, because more than half a dozen other Senate seats are better pickup opportunities than Iowa’s. But I do wish they’d stayed out of the primary. Although Judge had higher name recognition, I never did see evidence that she was in a position to make this race more competitive than Hogg. She has held relatively few public events around the state since winning the nomination. Hogg would have been much a more active campaigner, which might have helped our down-ballot candidates.

Was Grassley ever truly vulnerable? Beating a six-term senator was always going to be hard in a state that generally re-elects its incumbents. Grassley has been able to spend millions more dollars on tv ads than any challenger could have managed. (I enclose below his latest positive spot.) His support took a hit from his handling of the Supreme Court vacancy, which inspired the DSCC to recruit Judge. I would guess that refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland is the main reason Grassley’s leading by "only" 17 points now. Selzer’s polls for the Des Moines Register in September and October 2010 showed him 31 points ahead of Roxanne Conlin.

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IA-02 GOP nominee Christopher Peters joins #NeverTrump camp

Dr. Christopher Peters, the Republican nominee in Iowa’s second Congressional district, announced today that he will not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. In a prepared statement, Peters said his "views don’t fully align with either party’s platform" and asserted that neither major-party nominee has exhibited the "character and judgment necessary to be president." He rejected the "lesser of two evils" approach to voting, which in his view won’t "bring us closer to fixing" a "deeply flawed" political system.

Since launching his campaign in March, Peters has often promised to be an "independent voice" for Iowans, in contrast to five-term Representative Dave Loebsack, who "votes with the Democrats more than 90 percent of the time." Up to now, he had avoided taking a clear stand on Trump’s candidacy. For example, speaking to Kevin Barry of KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids in May, Peters said, "The top of the ticket I can’t control, so I’m not going to worry about it. It’s kind of like taking the Serenity Prayer at a certain point. My focus is the second district, specifically Iowa, more broadly the country as a whole. […] I don’t think Mr. Trump cares whether I endorse him or not, because he’s rich, and I’m not that rich. So I think he’ll do just fine. […] I don’t think it affects this race too much, or in any way I can control."

When Barry pressed Peters on whether he is behind Trump, Peters replied, "He’s got till November to earn my vote. We don’t know who all the candidates are going to be yet, and we don’t know all their policy positions. Again, if I’m an independent voice, and that’s who I am, I’ll vote [for] whoever I want to vote for in November, and I haven’t made that decision yet."

Peters did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, nor has he appeared at any Trump campaign rally in Iowa. He spoke at U.S. Senator Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride fundraiser in late August, but left that event before Trump’s featured speech and photo op with Iowa GOP leaders. A Libertarian candidate for Iowa Senate in 2010, Peters went to Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson’s rally in Des Moines over Labor Day weekend but didn’t endorse Johnson then or now.

In today’s statement, Peters said "Trump’s behavior and temperament are only a part of the problem. He has repeatedly demonstrated a poor grasp of constitutionalism, civil rights, the rule of law, the role of diplomacy versus military interventionism, and even fundamental economics. I should have spoken out against him much earlier, and regret that I failed to do so." Scroll down to read the full commentary.

Peters and Loebsack are will attend their first candidate forum today at the Coralville Public Library, beginning at 2 pm. IA-02 leans Democratic, with a partisan voting index of D+4. The latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the district’s 24 counties contain 171,027 active registered Democrats, 146,108 Republicans, and 172,729 no-party voters.

Although dozens of GOP members of Congress have joined the #NeverTrump ranks, Peters is the only federal candidate in Iowa willing to repudiate the party’s nominee. To my knowledge, only two other Iowa Republicans on the ballot this year have said publicly they will not vote for Trump: Hardin County Auditor Jessica Lara and State Representative Ken Rizer. State Senator Jack Whitver, who is up for re-election in 2018, has called on Trump to step aside without saying whether he would vote for Trump, assuming he remains the nominee. State Senator David Johnson, whose term also runs through 2018, left the Republican Party in June to express his opposition to Trump.

Final note: While numerous Republicans cited their concern for daughters or granddaughters when denouncing the explosive Trump videotape from 2005, I applaud Peters for condemning Trump’s "character deficiencies" as a father of three teenage sons: "if I ever learned that any of them grew up to be men who conduct themselves like Trump, I would be deeply disappointed."

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Zika funding a classic case of systemic Congressional failure

U.S. House and Senate members returned to work Tuesday, no better equipped to handle basic tasks of governance than they were before their unusually long summer recess.

You might think funding to combat a public health emergency would be easy to pass even in a hyper-partisan, election-year atmosphere. But you would be wrong, because legislation to pay for a Zika virus response remains tied up over "poison pills."

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IA-Sen: Grassley running a negative ad for the first time in decades

Only a few days after launching his general-election advertising blitz, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley started running a 30-second commercial attacking his Democratic challenger Patty Judge. I enclose the video and transcript below, along with the response from the Judge campaign.

Grassley did not run any negative commercials during his 2010 re-election bid. In fact, I am fairly certain you’d have to go back to the 1980s to find any attack ads paid for by Grassley’s campaign. UPDATE/CORRECTION: I’ve been told Grassley ran one negative spot against Democratic challenger David Osterberg in 1998, saying (among other things) that the former Iowa lawmaker had been educated in socialist Sweden. SECOND UPDATE: Osterberg confirmed Grassley ran negative advertising in his race, but he recalls that the commercial was on radio rather than television. Scroll to the end of this post for details.

Incumbents who are not worried about the election typically stick to positive messages in their paid media. The last four public polls of Iowa’s U.S. Senate race have found Grassley ahead of Judge by 45 percent to 38 percent (CBS/YouGov), 51 percent to 42 percent (Quinnipiac), and 52 percent to 42 percent (Suffolk and Marist). Those are smaller leads than the senator has had over previous Democratic challengers.

SEPTEMBER 2 UPDATE: The Washington Post’s James Hohmann called Grassley’s ad "another very telling sign of how scared Senate Republicans are running right now," adding that the attack was "thin gruel."

The commercial hits former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge for not voluntarily taking a pay cut when the Great Recession led to a state budget deficit. Grassley, of course, has accepted many pay increases when the federal deficit was much larger…

Grassley’s campaign manager Bob Haus told KCCI-TV that the ad "states just the facts pure and simple" and that Grassley will run more commercials focused on Judge’s record.

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IA-Sen: Chuck Grassley's back on tv, and he brought his lawnmowers

The "barrage" of television commercials promoting U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley’s re-election began a few days ago. The senator’s campaign stayed off television for most of the summer following short buys for two commercials in late May and early June.

In style and content, the new 60-second ad resembles the first commercials Grassley ran during the 2010 general election campaign. The focus is on the senator’s personal qualities and work ethic, not policy accomplishments. The viewer hears about Grassley’s past work in factories as well as on the farm, his near-perfect attendance for Senate floor votes, and his commitment to visiting all 99 counties every year. Finally, as Iowa politics watchers have come to expect, the ad includes footage of Grassley mowing his own lawn, using his "cheap" invention of two push mowers attached to the back of a riding mower.

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Patty Judge, in new tv ads: "Washington changed Chuck"

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Patty Judge took the fight to 36-year Senator Chuck Grassley in her campaign’s first two general election television commercials, launched on Tuesday. Both 30-second spots assert that Grassley has "changed" during his long tenure in Washington. One spot features Judge delivering the message alongside a cardboard cutout of the incumbent. A string of "ordinary Iowans" question the cardboard Grassley during the other ad. Scroll down for videos and transcripts.

Grassley hasn’t run any commercials since the two ads his campaign aired before the June primary, which Bleeding Heartland analyzed here and here. I’m surprised he didn’t prepare a spot to run during the Rio Olympics, after reporting more than $1.2 million in contributions during the second quarter and nearly $6 million cash on hand as of June 30. Judge’s campaign raised $347,707 during the second quarter and had only $228,292 cash on hand at the end of June.

Three of the four Iowa polls released this month showed Grassley’s support barely above 50 percent; Judge was running 9 or 10 points behind. The most recent survey, conducted by CBS/YouGov, found Grassley leading Judge by only 45 percent to 38 percent. An incumbent polling below 50 percent traditionally signals an opening for the challenger.

But contrary to KCRG’s misleading headline and write-up, a 45-38 lead is not a "statistical tie." The margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent in CBS/YouGov’s poll means that assuming professional sampling methods, there’s a 95 percent chance that Grassley’s support is between 41 and 49 percent, and that Judge’s support is between 34 and 42 percent. In other words, Grassley is extremely likely to be ahead if CBS/YouGov’s respondents are representative of the likely voter universe. He’s just not dominating the race by the kind of margins he’s enjoyed over previous Democratic opponents.

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble reviewed data from earlier re-election campaigns pointing to Grassley’s strong performance among no-party voters, as well as his "crossover appeal" for thousands of Iowa Democrats.

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