New Register poll has bad news for Culver

Governor Chet Culver has gone through a couple of very tough months, with the film tax credit scandal breaking in September and low revenue projections prompting a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut in October. Selzer and Co. polled Iowans for the Des Moines Register last week, and Culver's numbers are at an all-time low. He's at 40 percent approve/49 percent disapprove (Selzer's last poll in September pegged his approval at 50 percent). The right direction/wrong track numbers are 34/57, the worst they've been in ten years.

Culver loses a hypothetical matchup with former Governor Terry Branstad 57 percent to 33 percent, and he loses a hypothetical matchup with Bob Vander Plaats 45 percent to 37 percent. Against Chris Rants and Christian Fong, Culver can't break 50 percent. He's ahead of Rants 42-35 and ahead of Fong 42-34.

The last governor to score as low was Branstad. In February 1992, as he grappled with that year's recession and budget crisis, only 37 percent of Iowans approved of his performance.

The economy was in much better shape by the time Branstad had to face voters in 1994. Culver's only got a year to turn things around. There's no guarantee unemployment will be falling by then, especially if President Obama decides to act like Herbert Hoover during the next year. Iowa's unemployment rate, though low by nationwide standards, is the highest it's been since the mid-1980s.

The only good thing I can say about this poll is that it may convince conservative Republicans that Vander Plaats can win the general election. During the summer, Branstad looked like a hail-mary pass for the GOP.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Research 2000 found much better numbers for Culver a month ago. Either the budget situation has caused his approval to nosedive in the past month, or one of these polls is an outlier. Unfortunately, I wouldn't bet on a Selzer poll being an outlier in Iowa.

Rasmussen's Iowa poll from September found numbers similar to what Selzer found last week.

SECOND UPDATE: I agree with Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register:

Culver has kept up an optimistic tone, predicting Iowa will emerge from the recession in better economic health than most states. Several key statistics show Iowa's overall economy and its state government have weathered the tough times better than other states. A report issued last week by the Pew Center on the States ranked Iowa as tied for second among states in terms of fiscal health.

But that message isn't registering with Iowans.

That Pew report gave Iowa good marks for money-management practices, and put Iowa in the group of states "least like California" in terms of budget problems, but I don't know how Culver can get that message across. Republicans have simple talking points: budget problems = Culver incompetence.

  • Good news/bad news

    Good news for:

    Vander Plaats: This could cement him as a legitimate candidate in the eyes of the Republican primary voters (as you said). It lets him argue, "why should we compromise on our core beliefs with Branstad, when a rock-ribbed conservative like me can beat Culver handily?"

    Fong: To do from out of nowhere, also-ran status (with no prior political experience, mind you) to striking distance of a sitting governor is pretty amazing. It also is telling that he's pulling down roughly the same support as the much better known and more experienced Rants.

    Mixed bag for:

    Branstad: The poll clearly shows him putting the hammer to Culver. But a rising tide is lifting all boats, and his campaign would be a lot stronger if he were able to say "I'm the only candidate that can win!"

    The RPI: While the poll is good news (Culver is increasingly vulnerable) it is going to make those internal divisions in the party that much worse. Plus, it makes it look more and more likely that the result gets decided in convention instead of the primary.

    Bad news for:

    Culver: He's dropping like a rock. He needs a big, big boost in poll numbers to even get back to where Vilsack and Branstad were at their first re-election. If his ads are having any effect at all, I don't see it. His blood is in the water, and the Republicans know it.

    The IDP: 1 in 5 Democrats would vote for Branstad? Where's the loyalty? Not good news at all.

    Rants: Rants seems destined to be the biggest also-ran in this race. Even Fong seems to be closing in on him. If I were him, I'd be talking to Branstad or Vander Plaats, seeing what kind of deal I could get now on joining a ticket or dropping out. He's floundering.  

    • if I were Rants

      I would stay in and fight. He's not going to get a deal from BVP or Branstad, and he's getting good reviews of his stump speech. I would keep trying to chip away at Branstad.

      Culver needs the employment situation to improve most of all.

      I think more Democrats would come home to vote for Culver next fall. That's less of a problem than his numbers among independents, in my opinion. They don't seem to remember how bad a governor Branstad was.

      • this kind of message from Rants

        is going to leave a mark, I think:

        "What Rod [Roberts], Bob [Vander Plaats], and I experienced in Decorah was an unusual event for a Republican gathering. We were all there and we all gave our standard speeches. But, we were accosted by the other Republicans in the room.

        Decorah is an area that has a lot of people who are involved in road contracting. A huge percentage of Winneshiek County's population is involved in that industry. One gentleman, who was aggravated to the point of yelling at us, wants to raise the gas tax. He doesn't call it the gas tax. He calls it the highway user fee.

        It was an uncomfortable meeting when you tell a lot of people in a room something that they don't want to hear. At the end of the meeting we were surrounded by these folks who want the gas tax raised. I told them, if they were looking for someone to raise the gas tax, I'm not their candidate. I also told them that you are not going to find a Republican candidate who will tell you what you want to hear. That same gentleman told me, 'That's not true; Terry Branstad will raise the gas tax.'

        I said to him, in defense of Governor Branstad, just because he raised it once doesn't mean that he will raise it again. He said 'No, he told me he will raise the gas tax.'

        We have lost recent elections because Republicans have stopped acting like Republicans. We are not going to get people back unless we start acting like Republicans again. I don't know how Republicans are going to win back Terrace Hill if we don't start walking the walk. We need to nominate a candidate who will walk the walk.

        With all due respect to Terry Branstad's service to the state, because it's been long and storied, he's a good gentleman, but I'm beginning to believe that the defining issue in 2010 will be taxes. All of your candidates running for Governor are Pro-Life. All of your candidates running for governor support traditional marriage. There are no differences there.

        So what sets us apart? The front runner in the race, who is not here this evening, and by the way, I can't imagine running for governor and not being here this evening. The issue we have with Chet Culver is that he has made such a mess of our state finances, that he has already started his campaign, not against me, not against Christian [Fong], but against Governor Branstad on the issue of taxes. We can't give him that issue if we want to win back Terrace Hill."

        At last week's Scott County GOP dinner, Rants used a similar line about Branstad: I can't imagine wanting to be your governor and not being here with you this evening.

        At some point, Branstad has to get out there for these kind of events, and he is bound to make some mistakes.

        • Good message, but a fine line

          I agree that's a good message. But there's one thing in there that caught my eye:

          "With all due respect to Terry Branstad's service to the state, because it's been long and storied, he's a good gentleman..."

          It's very hard to simultaneously praise and bash someone like that. Too much "bash" and you're a bully, tearing down a fellow Republican and a good man. Too much "praise" and "then why are you running against him". So far Rants and BVP seem to be doing pretty good at walking that line, but we'll just have to see how it plays out.

          One other thing I can't understand. What accounts for the discrepancy here? Rants is putting out good stuff like this every week: why isn't he getting any traction in the polls?

          • the masses aren't paying attention yet

            but the activists attending these events think highly of Rants' speeches. I see that again and again on conservative blog reports--audiences are impressed by him.

            I'm not saying Rants can win the nomination--I think he won't have nearly enough money for that. But can he hurt Branstad during the primary? Absolutely.

    • I agree with you on Branstad

      The Research 2000 poll was better for him, because it showed Culver losing narrowly to Branstad while crushing Rants and BVP by 20+ points. He is not going to excite the GOP base, and his best message for the primary is, "I'm your only hope."

  • oh boy...

    not to be debby downer here, but, see why I'm NOT optimistic.  

    Roxanne cannot carry the ticket all by herself.  Will she run away from Gov. Culver?  I wonder how she will handle the Gov's race and her proximity to Gov. Culver.  

    I do expect Gov. TB to come back to down to earth in number soon. How far he comes down, I'm not sure.  He hasn't done a lot of interviews & hasn't felt the full court press of this other candidates, this primary could still get a lot uglier. Right now a lot of people are taking comfort in nostalgia, even if its factually inaccurate...

    Culver cannot simply say, "we'll recover stronger than ever..." It will not work. People are angry and worried, two things the GOP always can capitalize regarding peoples' emotions.

    Culver cannot recite a lot the data that backs up our state's fiscal situation or our position relative to other states in this recession. In short he cant just rearrange the furniture on the Titanic and expect to win this thing next Nov.

    People want red meat right now and Gov. Culver & Democrats HAVE to be able to express that emotion of hearty anger mixed with a real way forward.  Democrats have to inspire and fire people up in order to turn them out at the polls. If the base isn't excited, just forget about it.

    Also, I weep for a future with Gov. BVP. vomit

    • Conlin will not run away from Culver

      Not a chance. She will focus like a laser on Grassley's record.

      We're not getting Governor BVP. A lot of people still don't know much about him, and I don't see his potential to do well east of I-35.

      As you say, Branstad will come down to earth. The Republican primary will be rough, and the GOP has really over-hyped him.

      In 2002, Vilsack's message was essentially, Doug Gross would have you believe that Iowa is somehow isolated from the national economy, but the truth is, there's a national recession. Iowa's doing better than most. Culver will need to adapt some version of that message. I don't know the best way to get it across. Citing reports by Moody's and the Pew Center on the States can only go so far. I would like to see more personal stories about how I-JOBS programs have helped communities recover, and how that wouldn't have happened without Culver.

      The next legislative session will be critical. Statehouse leaders and the governor have to work together and not point fingers at each other if they can't get the bills through the House. That didn't make Democrats look very competent last session.

      • Everything you just said...

        should be printed and distributed to every Dem politician in Iowa.  

        FWIW, I think Branstad is going to get beat up badly in the primary and that the Gov race will be VERY close in the end (unless its BVP, I don't care what this poll says, he has 0 chance of winning).  I actually think Rants is there "best" candidate from a governing standpoint.  If I was a Repub, I'd probably vote for least he has proactive ideas.

        Roxy is going to have to really demonstrate and focus on how Grassley f-ed up in the healthcare debate and generally make it about issues rather than personality.  "Awe-shucks Chuck" won't be beat like that, esp with her (in my view inconsequential) personal baggage.  

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