IA-Sen: Braley learns painful lesson in 21st century campaigning (updated)

Every candidate for public office has to learn basic rules of campaigning, such as, “Every mic is a live mic.” In other words, always assume you may be overheard when you stand next to a microphone, even if you think it’s not turned on.

In the age of camera phones and YouTube, candidates may be speaking into a live mic even when there’s no microphone to be seen. Representative Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, learned that lesson the hard way today.  

By now you’ve probably heard about Braley being caught insulting Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley on video. The conservative dark money group Priorities for Iowa made the video public today. Priorities for Iowa masquerades as a “non-partisan” 501(c)4 organization but is run by former Mitt Romney campaign staffers and Republican elected officials.

The video was recorded (presumably without Braley’s knowledge) at a private fundraiser in Texas. Speaking to a crowd of fellow trial attorneys, Braley said,

“To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice. Someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible and public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or you might have a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

For the operatives behind Priorites for Iowa, who lived through Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” video, it must be so satisfying to pin this gaffe on Braley.

Naturally, the tag line on the YouTube page where the video was uploaded inaccurately quotes Braley as “scoffing” that Grassley was “just an Iowa farmer,” making an unflattering comment sound even worse.

Numerous Republicans, including four of the GOP candidates for U.S. Senate, ran to the media to voice their outrage. At this writing, Mark Jacobs already had a fundraising e-mail blast out highlighting Braley’s remarks.

Grassley’s office released a written statement.

“By the logic expressed on this recording a trial lawyer shouldn’t be involved in policy making about agriculture, or energy, or health care.

“Sen. Grassley has served on the Judiciary Committee since he was first elected to the Senate, and he’s got a strong record on the committee.  Grassley-authored amendments to the False Claims Act have recovered nearly $40 billion for taxpayers that would otherwise be lost to fraud.  He’s the co-author of laws to curb class-action lawsuit abuse and to reform the bankruptcy code.  Sen. Grassley is unmatched in his legislative and oversight work to protect whistleblowers, both in and out of government, who speak up about wrong-doing for the public good.  He coauthored the Whistleblower Protection Act and numerous updates to laws protecting whistleblowers, including national security and on Wall Street.  Sen. Grassley’s work on the Judiciary Committee exposed the illegal gun-trafficking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious.  It was Sen. Grassley’s persistence that pressured the current administration to provide Congress with the legal rationale for using drones on American citizens.

“Alongside that, Sen. Grassley’s one of only two working family farmers in the United States Senate, where he brings Iowa common sense to work for ag, anti-trust, transportation, environmental, energy, trade, health care, communications, national security, and tax policy that works for all of America.”

Braley quickly apologized.

“I apologize to Senator Grassley and anyone I may have offended. I respect Senator Grassley and enjoy our working relationship even though we disagree on some issues,” Braley said in the statement. “But there is a clear choice in this race between Mark Jacobs and my other opponents who support policies that are bad for Iowa farmers, and the work I’ve done hand in hand with Iowa farmers to grow Iowa’s farm economy and create good paying Iowa farm jobs.

“My parents both grew up on Iowa farms during the Great Depression.  It deeply influenced who they are and who I am, and gave me a profound appreciation for what farmers do for the world. One of my grandfathers was a charter member of the Iowa Farm Bureau. I grew up in rural Iowa, doing farm jobs and working a grain elevator. I have tremendous respect for Iowa farmers and appreciate how important they are to our state, and I’m grateful to have the support of hundreds of farmers across Iowa.”

No doubt Braley will hope to move on from this event as soon as possible, while Republicans will try to make “just an Iowa farmer” a tag line for attacking the Democratic nominee all year. Grassley’s a popular politician, and it was a mistake to speak disparagingly about his expertise, especially to a room full of lawyers.

While this video is red meat for people who already dislike Braley, it may be a tall order to convince masses of Iowa voters that he has contempt for all farmers. Not only can he tap into childhood memories of working on farms, he has stood up for farming interests many, many times during his Congressional career.

Braley has opposed safety or environmental regulations perceived to threaten Iowa farmers.

He has sought to elevate the voice of farmers within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He has been a big supporter of biofuels for years and could hardly have been more emphatic in his efforts to preserve the Renewable Fuels Mandate.

He was among the most vocal U.S. House members demanding a vote on a long-term Farm Bill. When House leaders dragged their feet on bringing the bill to the floor, Braley circulated a “discharge petition” to try to force a vote on the legislation. I lost track of the number of times Braley emphasized how critical it was to provide support and certainty for Iowa’s agricultural economy.

To the chagrin of lefty environmentalists, Braley even intervened in a county-level dispute to support a large hog confinement expanding near a population center in his district.

In other words, depicting Braley as hostile to farmers is not very credible. Still, this video will remain part of an ongoing Republican narrative portraying the Democrat as elitist and out of touch with Iowans.

Braley will attend many more private functions and fundraisers this year. He should never again assume he’s not being recorded.

Any comments about the IA-Sen campaign are welcome in this thread.

MARCH 26 UPDATE: Republican condemnations of Braley’s remarks continue to pour in. While he certainly expressed himself poorly, a lot of the reaction is over the top. Governor Terry Branstad had this to say:

“I think it is awful. I think it is terrible, that somebody running for office in Iowa would go to Texas to raise money from trial lawyers and then put down our senior senator and the farmers of the state of Iowa,” Branstad said. “And I think that this is something that Iowans will not forget. Agriculture is something that is important to this state, and we were there in the nation’s Capitol to honor one of the greatest humanitarians of all time who was a farmer, who became a great agriculture researcher and saved a billion people. And it is just unthinkable.”

Grassley, a Republican,  didn’t  know anything about the controversy until Braley came up to him to apologize in the hallway, Branstad said, adding he considered the congressman’s remarks “unbelievable.”

“To say that we should never have a farmer as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee? With Grassley’s knowledge and experience I think he would be a great chair of the Judiciary Committee.  And to say it in Texas to a bunch of trial lawyers and to talk about opposing tort reform for 30 years, I think that says we don’t need another trial lawyer congressman as the United States senator from Iowa. We need Grassley as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.”

What a joke. Less than four months ago, Branstad was raising money in Texas. Last year he appeared at several events organized by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded group that opposed the farm bill and other legislation important for Iowa’s agricultural sector.

I think my favorite Republican reaction came from a Mark Jacobs e-mail blast on March 25:

I know two emails in one day is a lot, but we should elect a Senator who won’t be dismissive of our way of life.

Definitely, a guy like Jacobs who ditched the state of Iowa for 30 years is an expert on “our way of life.”

Meanwhile, Braley’s campaign ramped up the damage control on March 26 with this press release, defending the Democrat’s record on agricultural issues and attacking Jacobs. Here’s the full text (emphasis in original):

While Bruce Braley Fights for Iowa Farmers, Mark Jacobs Fights for Wall Street

Braley has always delivered for famers: fought for Farm Bill, RFS, & wind energy tax credit, stood up to EPA and administration regulations

DES MOINES, IA – Iowa farmers know that Bruce Braley has a long history of fighting for them in Congress, which is why so many of them stand behind his campaign for US Senate.

Bruce fights for Iowa farmers because of where he comes from. Bruce grew up in rural Iowa and worked on Iowa farms, detassling corn and bailing hay. Bruce worked summers at a grain elevator, driving a truck, cleaning out grain bins, and delivering feed.

Representing Iowans in Congress, Bruce has kept fighting for Iowa farmers and agriculture. That’s why he fought for three years to pass a long-delayed comprehensive Farm Bill. He fought to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit. Bruce fought the EPA when they tried to impose farm dust regulations on Iowa farmers, and he stood up to the administration when they tried to impose labor restrictions that would stop children from working on their own family farm.

While Bruce Braley has been fighting for Iowa farmers, former top Goldman Sachs executive Mark Jacobs has been calling for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, advocating for a return to his glory days on Wall Street when their reckless behavior crashed our economy while big bankers made millions.

Braley for Iowa spokesman Jeff Giertz said, “Bruce Braley grew up and worked in rural Iowa, and while he’s been fighting for policies that help Iowa farmers and strengthen the middle class, Goldman Sachs executive Mark Jacobs has been calling for a repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and a return to the days when Wall Street titans like Jacobs crashed our economy and made millions doing it. The choice is clear: Bruce Braley fights for Iowa farmers, and Mark Jacobs fights for Wall Street.”

More than 250 farmers and agricultural producers launched Farmers for Braley back in August, and their numbers continue to grow.

“While some folks try to score political points, Bruce Braley is delivering for Iowa farmers. He’s been a tireless champion for Iowa agriculture because he comes from a rural background. We need more people like him fighting for us in Washington.” -Gary Lamb, Farmer, Chelsea, IA

“There is no question in my mind that Bruce Braley is committed to fighting for Iowa’s farmers. I saw him work to help pass a Farm Bill that provides Iowa farmers with the certainty we need to succeed. It’s because I know him and I’ve seen him work hard for us that I support Bruce and want him to keep fighting for Iowa.”  -Bruce Rohwer, Farmer, Paullina, IA.

“We’ve known Bruce Braley for almost 10 years and he has always been a champion for Iowa’s farmers. Beyond his background growing up in rural Iowa, he understands our concerns because he makes it a priority to get out on the farms and talk with us about the challenges we face. As farmers in Iowa, we want Bruce fighting for us in Congress.” -Russ and Donna Winburn, Farmers, Grinnell, IA

“I’ve met Bruce Braley, and shared stories with him about working farm jobs and the local issues that impact Iowa’s farmers every day. He’s always on our side, he understands where we come from and has spent his entire career making sure we have a seat at the table.”  -Bob Bell, Farmer, Prole, IA

“When you talk with Bruce Braley about the concerns of Iowa’s farmers, you can easily see he’s genuinely passionate about our lives. That’s because he grew up around agriculture and understands what we go through each and every day. We need someone with that experience standing up for us in Washington.” -Phil Dougherty, Farmer, Dougherty, IA

“Bruce Braley doesn’t just work for Iowa’s farmers, he works with us to ensure the policies coming out of Washington make sense for us. He’s always made our priorities his priorities and that’s why I’m proud to stand with him.” -James Berge, Farmer, Kensett, IA

Bruce Braley was born in Grinnell and grew up in nearby Brooklyn, Iowa. Bruce started delivering newspapers in the 2nd grade and has been working ever since. Growing up, he did jobs like bailing hay, working at a grain elevator, shelling corn, and selling greeting cards door-to-door. He worked in jobs like road construction, truck driving, tending bar, and waiting tables to help pay his way through college and law school.

In the Senate, Bruce Braley will fight for middle class Iowans because that’s where he comes from. He’s working to raise the minimum wage, protect farms, strengthen small businesses, and create good Iowa jobs. Braley lives in Waterloo with his wife, Carolyn. They have three grown children: Lisa, David, and Paul.


Jacobs: Dodd-Frank Act “Is A Prime Example Of Government Overreach.” In a March 2014 Republican forum sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Mark Jacobs was asked what regulation he would repeal. Jacobs responded: “Well, as someone who spent a good part of his business career in the electric power business operating coal plants, it is very tempting to pick the EPA. But I’m going to go with the Dodd-Frank Act. And I’ll tell you, I’ve heard from community bankers all over this great state about how the compliance room is the fastest-growing area in the bank. Here is a prime example of government overreach. We had a financial market meltdown in 2008. There were some large banks that were bad players in that, but the prime cause of the financial market meltdown was the policy enacted by our federal government to push home ownership and relax underwriting standards. The reaction we get is now a piece of legislation and regulation that strangles our community banks. Community banks are the lifeblood of capital for small businesses to get started, to grow, and I think what’s happening here is absolutely wrong.” [NFIB Senate Forum, Des Moines, IA, 3/18/14] (Video)

KIMT: Braley, A “Strong Supporter” Of The Farm Bill, Said It’s “Important To Spend The Time Listening To” Iowa’s Farmers. In March 2014, KIMT reported, “As part of his tour of the state, Braley paid a visit to Phil Dougherty of Dougherty farms and the two are discussing the major concerns of rural farmers today, especially when it comes to improving infrastructure… A strong supporter of the now passed five-year farm bill, Braley says it’s these conversations that help him get a better understanding of what Iowan’s look for, from their governing body. ‘It’s important to spend the time listening to people who make their living from the land and talking about what we need to be doing in Congress to make sure that people continue to have the opportunity to live the American Dream here in rural Iowa,’ said Braley.” [KIMT, 3/20/14]

Braley Called For “Policies That Truly Help A New Generation Of Farmers Get Started.” In March 2014, the Quad-City Times reported, “Braley said he is glad a farm bill is in place that, while not perfect, does protect farmers and provide for a framework for the next farm bill in five years. However, as the nation’s farmers get older, the government needs policies that truly help a new generation of farmers get started. Not just American’s youth, Braley said, but anyone else who would like to make farming a career. ‘I believe that we take for granted how fortunate we are here in America to have an abundant food supply, and we produce enough for our needs and to export,’ Braley said. The absolute necessity of the farmer to American life and the economy cannot be overstated, he said.” [Quad-City Times, 3/21/14]

Braley Was Proud To Vote For The Farm Bill. On January 29, 2013, Braley voted for the 2014 farm bill (HR 2642). In February 2014, Radio Iowa reported, “Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley says he is pleased to see the U.S. Senate approve the Farm Bill and send it to the president. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, voted against the Farm Bill after his provision to limit payments was stripped from the bill. Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, says he has a similar concern as Grassley, but not enough to vote against the bill.  ‘There were a lot of compromises that ended up being made at the end of the day. He, like every other member of the Iowa delegation had to weigh whether on whole it was going to be good for the state,’ Braley says. ‘All the rest of us voted for the Farm Bill and I’m proud of the vote I took – even though there were things in the bill that I would like to have seen changed.’” [House.gov, 1/29/14; Radio Iowa, 2/5/14]  

Braley Urged President Obama To Oppose Reduction Of Renewable Fuels Standard. In November 2013, Rep. Braley’s congressional office announced: “Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to oppose a potential reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and to travel to Iowa to meet with Iowans and see firsthand how the RFS is strengthening the economy and creating jobs.” [Bruce Braley Congressional Press Release, 11/8/13]

Braley Voted To Provide Tax Credits For Renewable Energy, Including Wind And Biomass. In 2008, Braley voted in favor of a bill that would revive or extend about $55.5 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses for one year. Specifically, the bill would extend existing tax credits for solar energy, wind energy, biomass, geothermal energy and certain coal projects. The bill would also create a new category of tax credit bonds to help state and local governments with projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases. [CQ Weekly, 5/26/08] The bill passed 263-160. [HR 6049, Vote #344, 5/21/08] HR 6049, Vote #344, 5/21/2008 Passed 263-160; R 35-159; D 228-1; I 0-0]

Braley Urged Speaker Boehner To Extend Wind Energy Production Tax Credit. According to a press release by Bruce Braley’s congressional office, “Following the news of Siemens layoffs, Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) wrote Speaker Boehner to demand immediate action on the Wind Energy Tax Credit. Braley wrote: ‘Iowa workers are suffering, and your political games are directly contributing to job losses in Iowa.  I urge you to immediately release your hold, and allow an extension of the wind energy production tax credit to come up for a vote in the U.S. House, where it would pass with a bipartisan majority.’” [Bruce Braley Congressional Press Release, 9/18/12]

Braley: “A Regulation Prohibiting youths From Working On Farms Would Strike At The Very Core Of Agriculture Across Iowa.” In an April 2012 press release from his congressional office, Rep. Braley announced: “after the US Department of Labor announced it was withdrawing a proposed regulation that would have made it more difficult for farmers and ranchers to hire youth to work in agriculture: ‘The demise of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to require children be a minimum age to work on farms is welcome news. A regulation prohibiting youths from working on farms would strike at the very core of agriculture across Iowa and the Midwest.  This is Iowa. Working on the family farm is part of growing up.  I know — I remember many hot summer days I spent as a kid detassling corn in the fields. I’ll keep working to ensure misguided regulations like this one don’t see the light of day.’” [Bruce Braley Congressional Press Release, 4/26/12]

Braley Voted To Block Farm Dust Regulations, Splitting With Democrats. In December 2011, USA Today reported, “The House voted Thursday to block federal pollution limits on the dust kicked up by farms, mines and other rural operations. Rep Kristi Noem, R-S.D., sponsored the bill to block federal pollution limits on dust from farms, mines and other rural operations… Thirty-three Democrats voted for the bill, including all three from Iowa: Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack. No Republican voted against it.” [USA Today, 12/8/11]

  • Toast

    Bruce is done.  It was bad enough that every radio station in Iowa was going to be running ads with his remarks about not having towel service in the Congressional Gym during the shutdown. Now every local newscast in the state will have nightly spots with Bruce standing next to a liquor cart insulting farmers.

    I don’t know how or when he lost all discipline as a candidate, but he has become a liability to the democratic ticket and, more importantly, he just became a bad investment. This will kill his fundraising ability.

    It’s too bad because I think Bruce is a good guy, but it seems he can’t roll out of the rack in the morning without stepping on his  %^*$.  

    • that's a bit much

      Look at his competition. All of them have major flaws as candidates.

      For instance, Jacobs talking about Braley attacking “our way of life” when he didn’t live in Iowa for 30 years.

      For instance, Ernst not being able to decide whether she’s for or against the renewable fuels standard.

    • Braley

      I think this is a pretty bold statement. I don’t know that anyone expected Bruce (or any candidate for that matter) to get through a year-long campaign without having some slip up; it is just not very probably with today’s politics and media.

      While this may immediately assist the R’s fundraising abilities, they still have a race of their own. By the time we get to the general, this is going to be old news and we’ll have moved on to the next stupid comment one of them will have undoubtedly said.

      • I agree

        There will be more gaffes, probably on both sides, before this campaign is done. This is not going to be the final word on the race.

    • re

      I probably wouldn’t say “toast” yet, but this is a major misstep that is going to hurt him. He might already have a ceiling problem, acting as though being from Iowa is a disqualifier to national leadership isn’t going to help (and it isn’t really being that obtuse to take that as an implication).

    • It sounded a lot different to me

      It didn’t sound like he was dissing Grassley or Iowa or farmers, so much as he was saying to a room full of lawyers that they would probably prefer to have a lawyer chairing Senate Judiciary (or at least, not a farmer who’s become very right-wing in recent years).  Having lawyers on the committee that reviews judicial appointments seems pretty logical (remember that on our own state judicial nominating committee, half of the members are lawyers appointed by the Bar).  I realize that many people think everyone is equally qualified to pick judges, but it’s the attorneys who are in front of the court and deal with judges frequently.  We don’t need ideology influencing judicial nominees (yes, I realize that horse left the barn awhile ago, but we don’t need to add to the problem).  I think they should make the whole tape available, so people can hear the context in which the statement was made.

      • that sounds about right

        This was an inelegant way of saying Grassley is poorly suited to run the Senate Judiciary Committee. I agree, but Braley didn’t express himself well, and it looks bad.

        I think Republicans are in danger of overplaying this. Braley apologized right away and doesn’t have a record that’s hostile to Iowa farmers. I hardly think it’s going to be the most salient campaign issue six months from now.

  • Braley

    We all know what Bruce was trying to do here.  People do this at partisan gatherings all of the time.  You have to be careful going after Grassley however.

    Georgia Republicans may run into this kind of problem, you don’t really want to criticize Sam Nunn while drawing contrasts with Michelle Nunn.  It could awake a sleeping political giant.  Although I am sure a lot of Georgians forgot who Sam Nunn is/was.

    Bruce is probably a little rusty, he’ll bounce back.  I still think the only two in the race that could possibly beat him would be Jacobs and Ernst.  He’s got to stay sharp.  He got beat up one time on the Fox Business Network for defending the stimulus as well.  You’ve got to be ready with facts, figures and reality even when you go into less than favorable crowds.  

    • Georgia has had so much in-migration

      I bet a lot of voters don’t even know who Sam Nunn was. But I agree with you.

      The IA-Sen race was never going to be a lock for Braley unless the GOP nominated someone like Sam Clovis. He’ll have to fight for it against any of them. Probably Ernst is the strongest, but I wouldn’t bet on her not making any more gaffes for the next seven months.

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