Research 2000 polls the Iowa governor and Senate races

A new Iowa poll confirms that Terry Branstad is the toughest challenger for Chet Culver and that next year’s U.S. Senate race could become competitive. Research 2000 surveyed 600 “likely voters who vote regularly in state elections.” The poll was in the field from October 12 through 14, and you’ll find full results and crosstabs here.

Republicans may dismiss this as a “Democratic poll” because it was commissioned by the Daily Kos blog. However, Research 2000 is not a partisan firm, and the sample for this poll included 32 percent Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 37 percent independents. That’s a smaller advantage for Democrats than the current Iowa voter registration numbers reflect. The proportion of independents in the sample might be a bit high for an off-year election, but that doesn’t necessarily skew against the Republican candidates.

I’ll highlight some of the key findings after the jump.

Research 2000 compiled favorable/unfavorable ratings for the major candidates for governor. Culver didn’t do much worse than Branstad on this measure: 56 favorable/39 unfavorable for Culver, and 57 favorable/26 unfavorable for Branstad. The majority of respondents did not know enough about State Representative Chris Rants or Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats to express a favorable or unfavorable opinion.

In a head to head matchup, Branstad led Culver, 48 percent to 43 percent. That’s not as big a lead as some Republican-commissioned polls have found. The Research 2000 poll is still good news for Branstad, as it shows him ahead of a sitting governor who crushes the other Republican competition. Research 2000 found Culver leading Vander Plaats 55 percent to 33 percent, and Culver leading Rants 58 percent to 28 percent. The Republicans who recruited Branstad to enter the race had good reason to do so.

Culver can take heart from this poll, because it shows him only a little behind the strongest GOP contender. But the governor has a lot of work to do–he should be leading Branstad by more among women and younger voters, and he needs to improve his numbers with independents. The Republican primary could take a toll on Branstad’s favorability ratings, but Culver will still need to show why he’s been more effective than Branstad as governor.

The Iowa Senate numbers from Research 2000’s poll were even more interesting. Grassley’s ratings weren’t too bad; 55 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable. Even 31 percent of Democrats surveyed had a favorable opinion of Grassley. I guess that’s what 30 years of constituent service will do for you.

On the other hand, Grassley didn’t blow any of his potential Democratic opponents out of the water. Against Bob Krause, Grassley leads 52-35. Against Tom Fiegen, he leads 54-31. Keep in mind that large numbers of respondents didn’t know enough to express an opinion about Krause or Fiegen.

In a matchup with Roxanne Conlin, Grassley leads 51-39. He leads Christie Vilsack by a similar 51-40 margin.

If this poll is accurate, Iowa’s Senate contest should be considered a race to watch. Grassley is not vulnerable yet, but he doesn’t have the huge lead he’s had against previous Democratic opponents. If an aggressive challenger can bring down Grassley’s numbers with Democratic and independent voters, we may have ourselves a race, especially if Grassley stumbles politically next year.

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