Some Pre-Election Thoughts

IowaPrimaryIt’s difficult to have a conversation with a friend, reporter, or activist without them asking what I think will happen on Tuesday.   I don’t like to make predictions. It’s easy to just say who you think is going to win, but I prefer to take the time to explain why I feel the way I feel about a particular race.

At this stage of the campaign, I think a lot of people are looking for reassurance that their candidate of choice is either going to win or has a chance of winning on election day. I love it when someone asks for my opinion and then looks disappointed when I explain what I think and why. Sorry, but I’m not cheerleader. I don’t look at races like an activist either. My aim is to figure out what is going on, and while I love a good Republican feel-good event like the next guy, I don’t think a partisan pep-rally is necessarily a representative sample of the electorate.

So here is what’s on my mind as Election Day nears.

Republican have not won a close statewide election in a long, LONG time.

Terry Branstad defeated incumbent Democrat Governor Chet Cluver in 2010 by ten points. The race was never close, even though polling showed Branstad with a bigger lead than he had when all the votes were counted.

The last new Republican member of congress is Steve King, who easily won his seat in 2002. King got over 60 percent of the vote. Tom Latham and Greg Ganske were both elected to congress in 1994. That year Latham won an open congressional seat with over 60 percent of the vote, while Ganske knocked off a Democrat incumbent by six points.

To find close Republican victories one has to go all the way back to the early 1980’s when Chuck Grassley knocked of incumbent Democrat U.S. Senator John Culver by seven points, or Terry Branstad’s six point victory over Roxanne Conlin in 1982, or his three point re-election victory in 1986.

Needless to say it’s been a long time since Iowa Republicans have won a big-time statewide election. Had Branstad not mounted his 2010 comeback, it may have been difficult to unseat Culver, despite his horrible record as governor.

So depending on how you look at things, either Republicans are due to win a close one, or their history of not winning close elections may foreshadow Tuesday’s results.

Early voting still favors the Democrats.

Iowa Republicans have made great gains when it comes to early voting, but by no means have they figured out the riddle to an issue that has pained them for so long. Democrats have requested more and returned more absentee ballots than Republicans. Nobody really talks about no-party absentee ballots because it’s impossible to know who they favor with any amount of certainty. That said, I think it’s safe to assume that Democrats have an edge when it comes to no-party absentees, and recent polling also supports that notion.

As of yesterday, Democrats have returned 3,412 more absentee ballots than Republicans. While Republicans had been leading in that department, the margin between the two parties is still negligible in a statewide election. Democrats have also requested 22,408 more absentee ballots than Republicans. In 2010 Democrats had a 28,970 advantage over Republicans. So it’s safe to say that we are on par with where we were at in 2010.

In 2010, Democrats returned 16,835 more absentee ballots than Republicans, so any thing less than that in 2014 is good for Republicans. Still, Democrats have the advantage when it comes to early voting.

There are some major difference between 2010 and 2014.

In 2010, the big news on election night wasn’t that Terry Branstad knocked off an incumbent Democrat, it was that voters threw out three Iowa Supreme Court Justices. The judicial retention elections provided an outlet for socially conservative voters to channel their frustrations. There isn’t anything like that going on this year.

The ever-popular Chuck Grassley was also up for re-election in 2010. While Governor Branstad does have wide appeal, Grassley is even more respected by voters across every spectrum.

Those are two big differences from the 2010 ballot.

Optimistic about Young’s Chances in Third District

David Young’s congressional campaign has been anything but smooth, but I like how things are looking just days before the election. The only thing Democrat Staci Appel has going for her is that her ads are good, otherwise she’s been an awful candidate. Young has scored the endorsement of the Des Moines Register and now the Omaha World Herald. That’s important in an open-seat contest. This is probably going to be a nail-biter on Tuesday night.

If there is one thing that makes me nervous, it’s all the negative mail Iowa Democrats are sending. The picture below is the mail that a registered Republican woman has received in the past two weeks. Yikes.

Anti-Young Mail

Bullish on Blum

I have repeatedly said that I’ve been impressed by Blum as a candidate and the staff he has assembled. Like Young, Blum has been endorsed by the two largest newspapers in the district. What I love is that there is always something going on with the Blum campaign. Of all the congressional candidates running in the state, it’s Blum who has done the best job of getting earned media.

Polls in the Senate Race

We have already had two U.S. Senate polls this week. One poll showed Braley leading by one (Loras), while the other showed Ernst with a four-point lead (Quinnipiac). By the time all things are said and done, we will probably have another three or four polls come out. I was fearful that the polls would show either a tied race or Braley with a tiny lead. The Quinnipiac poll showing Ernst with a lead was important for her campaign. This race is close, but the last thing I want to see happen is the media creating momentum for Braley because he either leads or is tied in the polls.

Speaking of the Loras Poll…

I know Republicans are discrediting the poll because it shows Braley leading by one and Miller-Meeks losing in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

On the Senate race, we all acknowledge that the race is tight. I think there has only been one poll in the general election that showed a candidate ahead by more than the margin of error, but a week later the same organization released a new survey showing the race back within the margin of error. My point is that it’s not out of line to think that Braley could be up a point.

As for Miller-Meeks, I think the race is closer than the Loras poll showed. That said, she is running against an incumbent in the most Democratic district in the state. While she has run for Congress twice before, but half of the current district is new to her. Here’s the deal. If you believe the results of the Loras Poll when it comes to the Fourth District race, where Congressman King is leading Jim Mowrer by 12 points, then I think you have to give some credence to the Second District numbers.

I know Republicans don’t like some of the numbers, and it doesn’t match with Governor Branstad’s “we’re going to win everything” mantra, but I think those numbers make a lot of sense to me.

State Senate Math is Difficult 

Even if it is a wave election, I think it will be difficult for Republicans to win a majority in the chamber. The reason why it’s so difficult is because the three seats they need to hold are difficult to say the least.

In Senate District 7 where Rick Bertrand is seeking re-election, there are 2,464 more registered Democrats than Republicans. In Senate District 41 where Mark Chelgren is seeing re-election there are 2,085 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Senate District 39 is open following Sandy Greiner’s retirement. Republicans have a slim 274-registered voter advantage.

Before Senate Republicans gain seats, they first must hold on to those three. It’s not going to be easy, even with a wave election.