Iowa's most endangered U.S. House incumbent and some of his high-profile policy positions remain unpopular among voters in the first Congressional district, according to a new survey. Two-term Representative Rod Blum has trailed named challengers in Democratic polls taken before news broke about his shady internet company.
Adding to the incumbent's troubles, many competitive Iowa House races will take place within the 20 counties that make up IA-01. Recent special legislative elections suggest that GOTV campaigns for down-ballot candidates could drive Democratic turnout significantly higher than the level seen in 2014, when Blum was first elected.
Since early last year, Blum's district has been seen as the Iowa Congressional district most likely to flip in 2018. It's the only one of our state's three GOP-held U.S. House seats where Democrats hold a voter registration advantage: 155,800 active registered Democrats, 139,554 Republicans, and 190,378 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State's office. Two leading national election forecasters see IA-01 as a toss-up race. The latest news supports that assessment.
APPROVAL RATING IN THE DANGER ZONE
Here are full results from the latest Public Policy Polling survey in IA-01, commissioned by the advocacy organization Progress Iowa.
A job approval number below 50 percent is a warning sign for any incumbent. Blum is sitting at 34 percent approve/54 percent disapprove among voters sampled on March 27 and 28. Note the question order: respondents were asked whether they approve of Blum's work before hearing about important Congressional votes or controversies involving the incumbent. So Blum can't blame "priming" effects for his dismal rating.
The new poll doesn't look like an outlier. A survey PPP conducted in February for the Democratic-aligned Patriot Majority PAC measured Blum's approval at 37 percent. PPP polls from last October and November found that just 33 percent of IA-01 voters approved of how Blum is doing his job.
In addition, 53 percent of respondents in the latest PPP poll said they oppose the tax plan Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed last year, and 52 percent disapprove of Blum's vote for that plan. Just 31 percent said they support the tax plan, and 35 percent support Blum's vote on the policy. A PPP survey from November found IA-01 voters opposed the House GOP tax bill by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin.
Meanwhile, the new poll indicates that 58 percent disapprove of GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and 52 percent said they oppose Blum's vote to repeal that law. Some 63 percent of respondents said Blum should release his tax returns, 57 percent said it was not acceptable that the incumbent hasn't held a town-hall meeting in more than 300 days, and 59 percent said it wasn't acceptable for Blum to have not disclosed his ownership of an internet company.
Note: Blum has distanced himself from that firm, Tin Moon, and has sought to frame the controversy as a minor disclosure oversight. Democrats should make sure IA-01 voters understand Blum's failure to list the asset is only part of the story. Tin Moon's unethical business practices--touting false testimonials and fake customers, offering to help bury news about FDA warning letters--represent even bigger ethical lapses.
TRAILING A NAMED OPPONENT
On April 3, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced topline numbers from internal polls in twelve House districts. The figures would be more valuable if the DCCC revealed full results, the name of the pollster, and who paid for the survey. But for what it's worth, the IA-01 poll found a small generic ballot advantage for a Democrat. Abby Finkenauer, the DCCC's preferred candidate, led Blum head to head by 47 percent to 41 percent. The survey was in the field on February 13 and 14, more than a week before the Associated Press first reported on Blum's internet company.
When PPP surveyed IA-01 voters in mid-February on behalf of Patriot Majority PAC, they found Finkenauer ahead of Blum by a statistically insignificant 43 percent to 42 percent. That's still a bad showing for an incumbent, but not as dire as the numbers the DCCC just released.
It would be interesting to know whether Finkenauer performs better or about the same against Blum as other Democrats seeking the nomination in IA-01. Thomas Heckroth's campaign commissioned a PPP poll in early November, which found both he and Finkenauer led Blum by one point. The next IA-01 poll by PPP (for the Not One Penny coalition in late November) found a generic Democrat eight points ahead of Blum.
Finkenauer is the front-runner for the June 5 primary, with support from many labor unions and EMILY's List as well as the DCCC. Last month, her campaign released partial results from an internal poll by GBA Strategies, showing 29 percent of likely Democratic primary voters support her, with her nearest competitor at 10 percent. The memo noted,
After voters hear balanced positive profile statements from Finkenauer and Heckroth, the race starts to take more form, but Finkenauer's lead persists. At this point, she leads 41-22 percent with the other two candidates combining for another 14 percent.
Finkenauer's campaign declined my request for more details from their internal poll, including the question wording. The survey was in the field from March 1 to March 4, before Heckroth began running positive television commercials to raise his name ID. Heckroth appears to be the only other competitor with a realistic chance to win the primary; he has many well-known supporters around the district and enough money to be on the air before June. The other two Democratic candidates, George Ramsey III and Courtney Rowe, don't have the funding for district-wide paid advertising.
UPDATE: I should have mentioned that the Ramsey campaign released partial results from an internal poll in January showing Ramsey leading Blum by 48 percent to 42 percent and a generic Democrat ahead of a generic Republican for Congress by 45 percent to 36 percent. The same poll by Thirty-Ninth Street Strategies showed Blum's approval rating at 42 percent (47 percent of respondents disapprove) and his favorability at 41 percent (44 percent view him unfavorably).
A DISTRICT WITH MANY DOWN-TICKET BATTLEGROUNDS
Democratic turnout has exceeded expectations in several recent special elections to fill Iowa legislative seats, so it's worth noting that many of this year's hard-fought state House races will occur in the IA-01 counties. Seven of the "15 districts that will determine control of the Iowa House," according to Josh Hughes, are in Blum's territory:
House district 51: Democrat Tim Knutson will face GOP State Representative Jane Bloomingdale
House district 55: Democrat Kayla Koether will face GOP State Representative Michael Bergan:
House district 56: the winner of a Democratic primary will face a GOP nominee to be determined later (open seat)
House district 57: the winner of a Democratic primary will face GOP State Representative Shannon Lundgren
House district 60: Democrat Dave Williams will face GOP State Representative Walt Rogers
House district 67: Democrat Eric Gjerde will face GOP State Representative Ashley Hinson
House district 68: the winner of a Democratic primary will face Republican Randy Ray (open seat)
I would add to that list House district 95, where Democrat Christian Andrews is challenging GOP State Representative Louis Zumbach.
Republicans have the incumbency advantage in most of those seats and may outspend Democrats in many of them. However, Democrats may have a more highly engaged volunteer base this fall, which should help with GOTV.
Statewide, registered Democrats participated in Iowa's 2014 midterm at a much lower rate than did their GOP counterparts (56.7 percent turnout for Democrats, 68.2 percent for Republicans). More balanced participation this year by voters aligned with the major parties would be very bad news for Blum.
Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread.