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.

The Des Moines Register released its statewide poll of the Democratic Senate race on June 4. Judge led the field with 42 percent support among respondents, followed by Hogg at 25 percent, “not sure” at 15 percent, Bob Krause at 6 percent, and Tom Fiegen at 5 percent. Judge’s lead is well outside the margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. (Selzer & Co interviewed 542 Iowa adults “who say they will definitely vote or have already voted absentee in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate this month.”)

Jason Noble wrote in the Register’s lead story on the poll,

Essential to Judge’s lead in the race is her name recognition across the state. Sixty-five percent of respondents say they know enough about her to form an opinion, compared with 43 percent for Hogg and less than 30 percent for candidates Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen. […]

Half of poll respondents report a favorable opinion of Judge, compared to 15 percent with an unfavorable view. Hogg, too, is widely liked (37 percent have a favorable opinion, against 6 percent who see him unfavorably) but lags Judge largely because a majority of Democratic primary voters simply don’t know who he is.

“If Hogg had a few months and a million bucks, he could start to change some of that,” said Tom Perron, a Democratic strategist from Minnesota who has advised several Senate candidates across the country. “But especially in a primary, name ID is what drives people who don’t know much about the candidates or haven’t been paying much attention to politics.”

Judge is also seen as the best bet to defeat Grassley. A 34 percent plurality of respondents says she provides the best chance to prevail in November, compared with 22 percent for Hogg and 5 percent or less for Fiegen and Krause.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on June 2 that Remington Research Group surveyed 1,361 likely Democratic primary voters between May 31 and June 1 on behalf of Burlington radio station KBUR-AM 1490. Among that poll’s respondents, 37 percent supported Judge, followed by Hogg at 31 percent, 23 percent undecided, Fiegen at 6 percent, and Krause at 3 percent. Although the pollster doesn’t have Selzer’s track record in Iowa, it’s one more data point supporting the widespread belief that Judge is ahead in the Senate primary.

Another hint that Judge and her strategists have been confident about her chances to win the nomination: the campaign went up on television several weeks after early voting began and just two weeks before the primary. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which supports her candidacy, hasn’t spent money on radio or television spots yet.

I’m voting for Hogg, partly for environmental reasons discussed here and here, and also because I appreciate his good judgment on other issues. He was one of very few Iowa lawmakers to vote against the costly and ineffective 2013 commercial property tax cut, for instance.

Though clearly the underdog, Hogg has a path to victory on Tuesday. Identifying likely voters is a challenge for pollsters, especially for primary elections, in which fewer voters participate. If turnout is relatively low statewide but high in potential Hogg strongholds, he could outperform his poll numbers. He has lived in Linn County for most of his adult life and has represented part of Cedar Rapids in the legislature for fourteen years. Former Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon will be working hard to turn out Linn County Democrats in the hope of winning her primary against Pat Murphy in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Hogg grew up in Johnson County, where a hot six-way race for three county supervisor slots will bring out a lot of Democrats. A competitive county supervisor campaign is happening in Scott County as well. UPDATE: John Deeth mentioned a contested Democratic primary for sheriff in Dubuque County, another local race that could help Hogg indirectly.

Hogg would benefit from a strong GOTV effort by the major labor unions that have endorsed him. He also needs as few progressive Democrats as possible to waste their votes on Krause or Fiegen.

Judge hasn’t run a great campaign so far. As Kathie Obradovich discussed here, she didn’t deliver strong performances in either of the Democratic debates.

One of the reasons is Judge’s continued inability to lay to rest her role as lieutenant governor in Gov. Chet Culver’s veto of a 2008 expansion of collective bargaining. Last week, Judge accused Hogg, a state senator from Cedar Rapids, of being misinformed about labor leaders’ efforts to negotiate a compromise with Culver on the bill. “I don’t believe that there was a lot of back and forth in negotiation on that particular piece of legislation,” she said on IPTV.

Iowa Federation of Labor President Ken Sagar disputed that account this week, saying he personally met with Judge and others to try to hammer out an agreement on the bill […]

On Wednesday [June 1], Judge expressed regret for the situation, something I hadn’t heard from her before. “We regret, I regret very much the circumstances around that piece of legislation,” she said. “And I wish we could go back and negotiate a good piece of legislation together, but you know we can’t.”

It’s certainly true that there’s no going back in time, which is why Judge should have been ready to slam dunk the second part of the question about what she’ll do to help organized labor.

Lots of factors other than campaign quality determine election outcomes. Aside from name recognition, money plays a huge role in shaping our political discourse.

Only 27 percent of respondents in the Register’s poll said their minds are made up on the Senate race. A staggering 72 percent said they “could still be persuaded” to support a different candidate. Fortunately for Judge, Hogg was not able to raise the funds for a statewide paid media campaign before the primary. For most of the time Hogg, Krause, and Fiegen have been campaigning, Grassley was not considered potentially vulnerable. Within days of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Democrats in Washington were recruiting Judge, who soon floated a trial balloon.

Playing not to lose isn’t an inspiring game plan, but it may have been good enough to give the front-runner a chance to prove she’s “the Judge Chuck Grassley can’t ignore.”

Any comments about the Senate race are welcome in this thread.

P.S. The Des Moines Register’s editorial board endorsed Hogg this weekend, saying,

On paper, Judge would seem to be the candidate to beat. She has served two terms in the Iowa Senate, eight years as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture and four years as lieutenant governor. And yet the most striking aspect of her campaign has been its lack of substance.

In listening to her speak, one gets the sense her campaign didn’t spring from deeply held convictions or from a sense of duty, but from the urging of party leaders, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. […]

It’s a perception that was underscored by Judge’s campaign website, which for several weeks didn’t have a single word devoted to issues. It was simply a vehicle through which online donations could be collected.

With the primary election just a few days away, Judge, 72, can readily name the issues that are of the greatest concern to Iowans, but her plans to address them are, at times, so vague as to be almost nonexistent. […]

Hogg, on the other hand, is extraordinarily well versed on state and federal issues and isn’t shy about delivering answers that may not sit well with certain factions of the party. It’s telling, too, that he announced his campaign last September — long before confirmation hearings were an issue and Grassley was deemed vulnerable.

The Quad-City Times editors endorsed Judge on June 1, saying,

Patty Judge is the only candidate in the Democratic field with a shot at ousting U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in November. Democrats should tick Judge’s name on Tuesday, if they have any interest in actually challenging the six-term Republican. […]

Hogg’s campaign is too narrow and divisive to take on a behemoth such as Grassley, who has made sport of crushing city-dwelling Democrats. His local victories over entrenched Republicans wouldn’t translate to a statewide election. And, frankly, Judge can speak to a breadth of issues that escape Hogg. […]

Judge can’t be labeled a big-city liberal. She can’t be considered hostile to agriculture. Grassley’s go-to attacks against past Democratic challengers just won’t stick. His campaign will need a new line of attack against her.

Unlike her three competitors, people know Judge. The other three would waste the summer on a pricey name-recognition tour. […]

But the fact is, among the Democratic field, the GOP machine is already focused solely on Judge. She is, after all, the only potential threat.

No question, Republicans including Grassley himself started trying out their talking points against Judge within days of her campaign launch. They have rarely bothered to criticize Hogg and have said almost nothing about Fiegen or Krause.

UPDATE: Here’s another example of Judge playing not to lose. Have you heard a more generic script for a Democratic candidate robocall than what our household received around 6 pm on Sunday, June 5?

This is Patty Judge. I’m calling to ask for your support in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary. I’m running because Washington is broken, and Chuck Grassley has become part of the problem. Let’s give working families a fair shot by raising the minimum wage, making education affordable and strengthening Social Security. I hope I can count on your vote Tuesday. Together I know we can defeat Chuck Grassley in November. Thank you.

Male voice: Paid for and authorized by Patty Judge for Iowa, 515-240-0997.

JUNE 6 UPDATE: Apparently Judge’s campaign adviser Jeff Link confirmed to Pat Rynard that they scheduled few public events “because they didn’t want trackers from Republican organizations videotaping what she said to use for attacks.”

Perhaps the most confusing tactic from the Judge campaign is their television ads. When she announced her candidacy, she declared she was “The one Judge Grassley can’t ignore.”

That’s a hell of an awesome line and appeared to form the basis of her run. And it would likely rally Democrats to her better than any issue or biography piece – Democrats in Iowa right now are absolutely furious with Grassley. We want someone who’s going to take it to him and make him pay in the election for his obstruction.

Instead, Judge’s first ad was about her leadership during the 2008 floods. That’s nice, but it’s hardly the topic of the moment. Her second ad talked in a generic manner about corporate tax breaks. Okay, that’s fine, but again, it’s not what’s driving the interest in this race. […]

At every event [Hogg] leads off with recounting how many days it’s been since President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. His focus is targeted at the right place, he just needs some help in fundraising.

Here’s that second Judge television ad, “Enough”:

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  • Won't be shocked when Patty loses

    I’m also a believer that Rob Hogg offers a much better chance to defeat Grassley. I have a hard time swallowing this poll’s findings because in recent days I’ve made hundreds of calls myself as a volunteer on Sen. Hogg’s behalf to Iowa Dems who are likely to vote in the primary. Results we’re finding are much different, with the largest group undecided, followed by preference for Rob at least 2:1 over Patty. She’s not giving much of an effort, just mailing it in, assuming her name recognition is a. positive and b. enough to win easily.

  • Unhappy

    I am an unhappy Democrat tonight. I’m unhappy because the DSCC saw fit to muck around in our state and completely blow any chance we had to take out Grassley. There aren’t many certainties in life, but here is one: Patty Judge has NO CHANCE of beating Chuck Grassley. None. Hogg provided a contrast to Grassley in terms of youth, energy and issues. All gone now. What we will have is a choice between two candidates who have stayed on the scene way too long. I’m not very happy with the IDP right now, either, and I’m not even a Bernie guy, but that’s a whole other story.

  • Judge not

    Patty Judge has been focusing on the general election. That doesn’t sit well with this Democrat.

    I would like to see her engaged with the issues and energized for the election. Instead, she delivers lackluster speeches and lazy, inaccurate pronouncements about other candidates. And by focusing her campaign on Grassley, she is telling heart-and-soul Iowa Dem primary voters that she doesn’t care enough to address the issues that animate us the most.

    Rob Hogg has articulated his policy positions that shows a thoughtful, engaged approach. His nonstop statewide, in-person campaign shows a remarkable grasp of state and national issues. His endorsements from colleagues and others indicate a depth of support that arises from a belief in the candidate.

    By way of contrast, Judge’s support stems from the fact that she is not Chuck Grassley.

    I’m voting for Rob Hogg and urge others to do so as well.