Catching up on the IA-01 race, with ads from Pat Murphy and Rod Blum

Since the June primary, I haven’t written much about the first Congressional district campaign between former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy and longtime business owner Rod Blum. In theory, the race could be competitive. IA-01 leans Democratic with a partisan voting index of D+5, meaning that in the last two presidential elections, voters living here skewed about 5 percent more Democratic than the nationwide electorate. Crucially, this is a midterm, not a presidential year. The latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office indicate that the 20 counties in IA-01 contain 156,344 active registered Democrats, 134,313 Republicans, and 186,446 no-party voters. Hardly an overwhelming advantage. The right Republican could win this district.

Nevertheless, I doubt Blum has a strong chance in IA-01 for three reasons. First, the hero to the “Liberty” crowd and Steve Forbes is not moderate enough to win a lot of crossover voters. Blum applauded a key vote that led to last year’s federal government shutdown. The Republican won’t be able to run up the score in his home county either, because both Murphy and Blum are from Dubuque.

Second, Bruce Braley’s Senate hopes are dead in the water if he doesn’t get a strong Democratic turnout in the Congressional district where he is best known to voters. So his campaign and the Iowa Democratic Party have incentive to focus on GOTV in the key IA-01 counties. Unless the “coordinated campaign” is an epic failure, Murphy should benefit.

Third, as in Iowa’s second Congressional district, we haven’t seen a lot of activity from outside groups in IA-01. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is committed to defending this seat, but to my knowledge has not spent any money on radio or television commercials here. Likewise, the National Republican Congressional Committee put Blum in its top tier of challengers but hasn’t reserved air time or spent significant money against Murphy. I believe they would do so if they smelled a real opportunity here.

We haven’t seen much polling on this race. In August, Murphy released partial results from an internal poll indicating that he was ahead by 51 percent to 40 percent. Blum countered with his own internal showing Murphy leading by just 40 percent to 35 percent. Take those with a grain of salt, as with all internals.

Loras College surveyed 300 voters in IA-01 earlier this month and found Murphy barely ahead, by 34.6 percent to 33.0 percent, with 32.3 percent either undecided or refusing to answer. Both candidates have been campaigning around the district, but neither Murphy nor Blum started running general election television commercials until this month, which could explain the high number of undecideds. On the other hand, Loras doesn’t have a long track record in polling, and that survey had a relatively small sample and a relatively large margin of error (plus or minus 5.6 percent). The cross-tabs included some unusual findings, such as Murphy barely ahead among women and Blum barely ahead among men. If true, that would be a big red flag for Murphy, who defeated three women candidates in the Democratic primary. While Republican blogger Craig Robinson draws big hope from this aspect of the Loras poll, I am skeptical that the gender gap we’ve seen in so many elections for decades is magically absent from this race. The margin of error for a subsample of a poll is always larger than the margin of error for the whole survey.

After the jump I’ve posted the first two general election ads for Murphy and the debut general election ad for Blum, as well as the spot Blum ran before the GOP primary. They all look solid to me. Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread.  

Murphy’s campaign ran a biographical spot called “Story” during the Democratic primary, and shortly after Labor Day, this ad reappeared in the Cedar Rapids market.

My transcript:

Murphy’s voice: This is not a Hollywood story. Teri and I raised four kids in the house she grew up in. [Footage of adults with kids coming up to the Murphy home, entering the house, hugging the candidate and his wife.]

Now Sunday dinner is for seventeen. [camera closes in on family snapshot featuring all the Murphy children and grandchildren]

We’ve made a good life out of hard work and two paychecks. [footage of Teri Murphy’s arms taking a ham out of the oven, two granddaughters helping set the dinner table as Murphy watches and smiles]

In the Iowa House, I fought for families like ours. I raised the minimum wage, expanded health care for Iowa kids, and demanded equal pay for women. [footage of young grandsons playing under the table, Pat Murphy sitting and talking with others in the family at the table, Teri Murphy talking with arm around one of her daughters; words on screen PAT MURPHY “raised the minimum wage” Iowa City Press-Citizen, 5/2/08; PAT MURPHY “expanding health care coverage for kids” Globe Gazette, 4/5/09, PAT MURPHY “strengthening equal pay protections” Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, SF137, 4/28/09 ]

Murphy speaks directly to camera: I’m Pat Murphy. I approved this message, because Congress needs to hear more stories like ours, and I’ll make sure they do. [words on screen: DEMOCRAT PAT MURPHY FOR CONGRESS]

I almost always prefer a candidate speaking in his own voice to a professional narrator. The visuals in this ad are appealing and relatable too.

Earlier this week, Murphy’s campaign started running “268,” which draws an unstated contrast with Blum.

My transcript:

Male voice-over: In Congress, there are 268 millionaires. Pat Murphy won’t be one of them, and won’t vote like one either. [Viewer sees Pat Murphy, casually dressed, pulling the garbage can to the curb in front of his house. Words on screen PAT MURPHY. He waves at a car driving by, which honks a greeting to him.]

Instead of giving tax breaks to CEOs and other millionaires, Murphy will cut taxes for middle-class Iowans. [Viewer sees Murphy backing pickup truck out of his driveway, driving down the road. Words on screen PAT MURPHY CUT MIDDLE CLASS TAXES]

Instead of protecting perks for politicians, Pat Murphy will protect Social Security and Medicare. [more footage of Murphy driving down the road, pulls into parking spot on what looks like a typical street, waves at people who are waving at him. Words on screen: PAT MURPHY PROTECT SOCIAL SECURITY & MEDICARE]

Pat Murphy won’t ever fit in at the millionaires’ club, but he’s a perfect fit for Iowa. [Viewer sees Murphy get out of the truck, approach the couple who waved at him and shake their hands.]

Murphy’s voice: I’m Pat Murphy, and I approve this message. [footage of Murphy sitting and talking with the people]

Am I the only person surprised that there are only 268 millionaires among the 535 members of Congress? I would have guessed a much higher number.

Last week, Blum’s campaign launched an ad called “Dirt Floors,” which counters the image of a privileged rich guy:

My transcript:

Blum’s voice: I grew up in a home with dirt floors, a furnace in the kitchen, and chickens in the attic. [View of Blum standing in front of a home, presumably his childhood home, though it looks quite big to have dirt floors]

Dad drove a truck, and Mom scrubbed floors to earn extra money. [Viewer sees black and white snapshots of Blum with father ad siblings, then with mother and siblings, is visible near bottom of screen]

Blum speaks directly to camera: My parents taught me to study hard, work harder, and never give up.

Male voice-over: Rod Blum earned a college degree, started a family, and helped grow a business from five employees to 325. [Viewer sees footage of Blum walking and holding hands with his wife Karen, adopted son Malcolm, and a daughter (or maybe step-daughter); candidate’s name and website are on screen too; footage of Blum talking with various employees at his business]

Named Iowa entrepreneur of the year. [more footage of him talking with business employees, words Iowa Entrepreneur of the Year are on screen]

Rod Blum for Congress. [footage of Blum with family, looking at camera and smiling]

Blum’s voice: I’m Rod Blum, and I approve this message. [footage of Blum sitting at a table, talking with people]

Not only is this spot a good introduction to Blum’s life, it pre-empts an argument Murphy’s campaign will surely make: that as a wealthy business owner, Blum can’t relate to the economic struggles of the average person in IA-01.

In early May, Blum started running an ad called “With Honors,” focusing on his relationship with his adopted son Malcolm. It’s a great piece, and he would be an idiot not to run it again before November.

My transcript:

Malcolm Stewart speaks directly to the camera: My name is Malcolm, and I grew up in Chicago.

Mom and I moved to Dubuque after my father was killed in a drug deal. [viewer sees snapshot of Malcolm as a young child]

I played basketball for Rod Blum, and when my mom died, Coach Blum took me into his family. [viewer sees photo of Blum coaching Malcolm and other boys on the team; then photo of Malcolm with Blum’s whole family, and the word “FAMILY” in the background of that snapshot]

Malcolm speaks to camera again, now sitting next to Blum: Coach always taught the team that if we work hard and play by the rules, we will have the opportunity to be successful. [Malcolm gestures toward Rod Blum and smiles as he calls him “Coach”; words ROD BLUM Republican for Iowa’s 1st District are on screen]

Blum now starts speaking to camera: And I’m very proud to say that Malcolm recently graduated–with honors–from college. [Blum turns toward Malcolm and nods as he says “with honors,” then looks back at camera.]

I’m Rod Blum, and I approve this message. I’m running for U.S. Congress, because I want to make sure all of our kids have the same opportunity for success that Malcolm did. [Blum puts arm around Malcolm toward end and does a fist-bump with him]

Even if you disagree with Blum on every political issue, you have to admit that only a decent person would take in an orphan under those circumstances. The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald published more background on the story here.

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