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-Sen: Patty Judge played not to lose, and it looks like she's not losing

Since launching her U.S. Senate campaign in March, former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge has held relatively few public events. She hasn’t put out attention-getting policy proposals. Her campaign has announced high-profile endorsements through news releases, not at press conferences where tv cameras would be rolling. She didn’t come to the two televised debates ready to drop headline-grabbing talking points.

Both Iowa and national Republicans have mocked Judge’s sparse public schedule, asking, “Where’s Patty?” Even some Democrats have been puzzled by the experienced candidate’s low-profile approach to a race she entered very late.

Judge’s strategy had a certain logic, though. If her internal polling showed her well ahead of the other three Democrats seeking the nomination–expected given her higher visibility as a former statewide office-holder–packing her schedule with rallies and town-halls would have little upside. Republican video trackers, like the ones who have been following State Senator Rob Hogg around since last summer, would catch any slip and blow it out of all proportion.

Two public polls released in recent days lend support to persistent rumors in Democratic circles that surveys conducted for the Judge campaign put her 10 or 15 points ahead of her nearest rival.

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IA-Sen: DSCC makes the obvious official, Judge doesn't talk about it

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge to run against Senator Chuck Grassley, praised her as a “formidable challenger” the day she launched her campaign, and invited her to lunch with Democratic senators in Washington a few days later. So it was no surprise when the DSCC made its support for Judge official on April 20.

Judge’s campaign has touted endorsements from influential Iowa Democrats but didn’t spread the word about the DSCC’s announcement this week–probably because backing from Washington insiders feeds into talking points Republicans and Democratic rivals have already been using.

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Democratic-aligned groups should run some positive ads

Unwritten rules about the division of labor in campaign advertising dictate that candidates run mostly positive commercials about themselves, while outside groups beat up the opponent. I understand that negative commercials have been effective in many races, but few things are more irritating than cookie-cutter political attack ads. Listening to the radio every day in recent months, the only ads I’ve heard from Democratic-aligned groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or NextGen Climate Action have been attacks on U.S. Senate nominee Joni Ernst or IA-03 Republican candidate David Young. When the DCCC starts spending money in IA-01, I’ll bet the only ads produced will be attacks on Republican Rod Blum.

Meanwhile, front groups for Republicans have been running a mix of positive and negative ads. In the IA-Sen race, some of the best pro-Ernst ads have come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Federation for Independent Business. Similarly, Ernst’s campaign has run a mix of positive radio ads about her and attacks on Bruce Braley, including a vicious one that’s in heavy rotation now statewide.

I believe that the National Republican Congressional Committee’s positive ad featuring Tom Latham’s endorsement of David Young in IA-03 was more effective than the cliched attacks on Democratic candidate Staci Appel.

It’s been months since I saw any positive television ad about Braley, aside for a few spots produced by his own campaign. Earlier this year, Senate Majority PAC ran some ads that painted Braley in a favorable light, but otherwise it’s been non-stop anti-Ernst messaging from that group, the DSCC, NextGen Climate Action, and Sierra Club Political Action. Most of these commercials have been mediocre at best. Even if they were high quality, I don’t think the strategy helps the candidate they are trying to help.

For some reason, Democratic ad consultants don’t seem to understand that Iowans need to hear reasons to vote for Braley as well as reasons not to vote for Ernst. There is radio silence on the pro-Braley front and not much positive about him on television. Meanwhile, Iowa viewers and listeners are hearing reasons to support Ernst as well as reasons not to support Braley. I believe the lack of positive messaging about Braley is a strategic error and a key reason recent polling in the IA-Sen race has shown slightly better favorability numbers for Ernst.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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