IA-01: Republicans really are writing off Rod Blum (updated)

With just seven weeks remaining before election day, “No Republican organization has put money toward TV ads that could benefit” U.S. Representative Rod Blum in Iowa’s first Congressional district, Barbara Rodriguez and Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register on September 17. Their analysis of television air time data from Kantar Media showed that groups supporting Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer “have spent or reserved more than $1.2 million for airing political ads” in IA-01. Blum’s campaign has placed $129,000 in television ad buys, and no GOP-aligned groups have indicated plans to advertise in the district.

In many battleground Congressional races, candidates run mostly positive tv ads, while outside groups pay for the hatchet jobs. That normal division of labor won’t be available to Blum. He will have to cover the cost of any negative ads about Finkenauer from his own campaign funds, leaving less money to make an case for himself on the air.

Outside spending in IA-01 topped $5.2 million during the 2016 election cycle. Expenditures benefiting Blum made up a little more than half the total. The National Republican Congressional Committee (the main campaign arm of U.S. House Republicans) spent more than $1.5 million and the 501(c)4 organization American Action Network nearly $700,000 against Democratic nominee Monica Vernon. In contrast, the only organization to report spending on Blum’s behalf in 2018 is the House Freedom Fund, which chipped in a little more than $31,000. Groups opposing Blum have already spent more than three quarters of a million dollars in the district.

The spending patterns indicate a growing sense among Washington politicos that Blum’s seat cannot be saved, in light of national trends and a House Ethics Committee investigation. This month, every major election forecaster downgraded Blum’s chances for winning a third term. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the IA-01 race from toss-up to lean Democrat. Inside Elections/Roll Call moved it from toss-up to tilt Democratic. In early September, FiveThirtyEight.com’s House forecast called IA-01 a lean Democrat race, giving Finkenauer a 5 in 7 chance of winning. As of September 17, the site labeled this district “likely Democrat,” with a 14 in 15 chance of victory for Finkenauer.

Finkenauer has released three television commercials so far (I’ve enclosed the videos below), but her campaign has spent only $28,000 on television air time, according to the review by Rodriguez and Pfannenstiel. Meanwhile, other groups supporting the Democrat will spend more than $1 million. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is responsible for about half of the air time purchased or reserved to boost Finkenauer’s chances this fall, though the DCCC may scale back its advertising plans somewhat. The super-PAC Change Now, Inc has reported more than $566,000 in spending against Blum, and the House Majority PAC just under $159,000.

Blum’s campaign has released four television commercials in recent weeks; scroll down to watch. The latest spot, a testimonial by a man with disabilities whom Blum assisted, was by far the most successful in my opinion.

Any comments about the IA-01 race are welcome in this thread. Libertarian Troy Hageman will also be on the ballot here. The 20 counties in the district (map) contain 162,660 active registered Democrats, 139,913 Republicans, and 186,753 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

Final note: Bleeding Heartland discussed here a few factors that favor Blum. For those reasons, Democrats should not take this race for granted.

The first Abby Finkenauer ad, “Dinner table,” focused on her family:

Union member Tom Townsend was featured in the second Finkenauer ad, “Tom”:

In her campaign’s third spot, “Caller ID,” Finkenauer recalled learning the union rep’s name as a child, because when that person called their family’s home phone, it meant her father had a job.

The first part of Blum’s opening ad, “Dirt Floor,” is identical to his introductory television commercial from the 2014 campaign.

The same opening segment appears in another Blum ad, “Respect.”

In “Teamwork in Washington,” Blum says, “Let’s stop fighting and start working together.” His plan: “pro-growth, pro-business policies,” “boost our economy with lower taxes and less red tape,” “protect Iowa jobs by securing the border and stopping illegal immigration,” and “reform Washington by passing term limits and cutting politicians’ pay.”

The latest Blum ad, “Jake,” is a testimonial by Jake Hesselman, who was having problems with Social Security.

SEPTEMBER 20 UPDATE: A New York Times poll of this race showed Finkenauer ahead of Blum by 52 percent to 37 percent, outside the survey’s margin of error.

Finkenauer’s campaign released a new commercial called “Trust.” In the spot, she promised to protect Social Security and Medicare and let Medicare negotiate lower prescription drug prices. She also bashed Blum’s vote for a bill that would have allowed insurance companies to charge older people higher premiums, which AARP denounced as an “age tax.”

Blum’s campaign has released three new spots this week. Two are hits on Finkenauer. Here’s “No apology,” highlighting votes Finkenauer missed in the Iowa House and the fact that she hasn’t passed any bills (unstated: because she’s been in the minority party). The alleged ethics violation relates to Finkenauer’s failure to report a change of employment within 30 days of starting a new job. She said she was unaware of that new reporting requirement on Iowa House disclosure forms.

“Radical” alleges that Finkenauer wants to eliminate private health insurance–a false charge. I’ve seen Finkenauer speak many times and have never heard her advocate for single-payer health care, often called “Medicare for All.” Last month I asked her campaign manager Kane Miller about her stand on hat issue and received this reply:

Abby has always supported and worked to improve health care for Iowans, and believes a strong private insurance market with affordable plans that cover those with pre-existing conditions as well as preventive care such as cancer screenings is essential. She has been clear in supporting the addition of a public option, such as a Medicare buy-in for people under 65, as the best way to make healthcare more affordable.

In any event, here’s the deceptive Blum ad.

The last new Blum spot, “Floodwall,” focuses on his efforts to obtain federal funding for a flood wall in Cedar Rapids. The commercial doesn’t mention that $41 million of the $117 million in federal funds will be a low-interest loan rather than a grant.

SEPTEMBER 24 UPDATE: According to the “Medium Buying” Twitter account, the DCCC “has now canceled all remaining TV spending” in the Cedar Rapids market. Democratic strategists must feel very confident about this race.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, a large number of competitive Iowa House districts are located within the IA-01 counties. If Blum loses this race, one wonders how many Republican state lawmakers will lose their seats as well.

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  • My Anecdotal Evidence

    I think Blum is pretty toast. I live in CR, but in the very most northern part and I live in the Linn Mar School District. This time in 2016 there was no Monica Vernon signs at all in this area. However, this time around there is quite a bit of Abby Finkenauer signs. I’m not sure she outnumbers Blum where I’m at, but I’m in the Republican part of CR. South of Collins Rd. Abby is probably 3/4 of the political yard signs. ..The energy is totally with the Dems this time. In 2016, I honestly think most people were disgusted with both choices at the top of the ticket and the only people who were somewhat passionate were the Trump supporters and it makes sense that got Blum across the line.