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July 14th, 2009

Voter Remorse: Rematch of Culver vs. Nussle would be too Close to Call

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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BudgetLast week, TheIowaRepublican.com poll showed that 53% of Iowans are ready to give someone else the opportunity to lead the state as Iowa’s Governor, while only 36% of those surveyed feel that Governor Chet Culver deserves to be re-elected. Today we delve a little deeper into the voters’ dissatisfaction with Iowa’s current governor, Chet Culver.

Question: If you could go back to 2006 and vote in the election again, knowing what you know today, would you vote for Jim Nussle, the Republican candidate or Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate this time?

General Election Voters
Nussle: 45%
Culver: 46%
Neither: 2%
Don’t Know: 6%

In November of 2006, Chet Culver defeated Nussle with 54% of the vote. Now, just two and a half years into his first term, Culver’s winning margin has evaporated over the opponent that he beat by 10 points. It is also important to note that Nussle served as President Bush’s Budget Director from the summer of 2007 to the end of Bush’s term earlier this year. Nussle has been out of the public eye in Iowa since losing to Culver, yet he’s statistically tied with the Governor.

Even though Nussle lost to Governor Culver and has been invisible to most Iowans since the last gubernatorial race concluded, Nussle has a better favorability rating than Governor Culver. If you are wondering where the majority of people who regret giving their vote Culver in 2006 are from, you need to look no further than Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

Nussle represented the 1st Congressional District in Congress for 16 years. In that District, Nussle destroys Culver in a head to head matchup. Nussle would win with 52.9% of the vote compared to Governor Culver’s 42.3%, basically flipping the results from the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Remember, Nussle only won two counties in the 1st district in 2006 – Delaware and Butler counties. Culver was able to beat Nussle in his own district by over 35,000 votes. Culver’s eastern Iowa success against Nussle was the key to his victory in 2006. If any Republican is going to knock off Culver in 2010, the key ingredient is eastern Iowa.

The only strength that Governor Culver has as a candidate is based in eastern Iowa, but even in that region’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts, a majority of Iowans are ready for a change in leadership. The following is how Governor Culver preformed by congressional district when people were asked if he deserves to be re-elected or if someone else should be given the opportunity to lead the state.

1st CD Deserve Re-Election: 41.5% – Someone Else: 49.8%
2nd CD Deserve Re-Election: 42.8% – Someone Else: 52.3%
3rd CD Deserve Re-Election: 35.5% – Someone Else: 47.3%
4th CD Deserve Re-Election: 33.3% – Someone Else: 58.6%
5th CD Deserve Re-Election: 27.5% – Someone Else: 55.4%

Nussle’s favorability is the highest in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. In fact, 59.5% of those surveyed in the district gave Nussle a strongly favorable or somewhat favorable rating. Governor Culver, on the other hand, was 11 points lower in favorability in the 1st district with a 48.4% rating. Nussle is strong in his old congressional district, but his favorability rating across the state, while better than Culver’s statewide numbers, has plenty of room for improvement.

Nussle’s General Election Favorability Numbers

36% Favorable
25% Unfavorable

Nussle Favorability by Congressional District

1st CD: 59.5% Favorable – 22.5% Unfavorable
2nd CD: 31.3% Favorable – 34.1% Unfavorable
3rd CD: 32.9% Favorable – 25.3% Unfavorable
4th CD: 38.7% Favorable – 26.1% Unfavorable
5th CD: 17.0% Favorable – 13.8% Unfavorable

Nussle’s weakness is in western Iowa, where 40.5% of those surveyed were not aware of him. One could easily then conclude that, if Nussle’s name ID was higher outside of the 1st congressional district, he would beat Governor Culver outright.

The 2010 campaign for Governor is going to be a job review for Governor Culver. Just as we mentioned last week, overall, Iowans like Governor Culver as a person, but they are not satisfied with the job he has done leading the state. Just compare his job approval ratings by congressional district to how he does on the re-elect question.

Culver’s job approval(JA) and favorability(FAV) numbers by congressional district:

1st CD: 52% (JA) – 48.4% (FAV)
2nd CD: 57.8% (JA) – 51.5% (FAV)
3rd CD: 52.4% (JA) – 49.5% (FAV)
4th CD: 50.8% (JA) – 45.0% (FAV)
5th CD: 51.2% (JA) – 47.3% (FAV)

Governor Culver’s new political team may be encouraged by those numbers, but when respondents were asked if he deserves to be re-elected, his numbers plummet.

Culver’s deserves to be re-elected numbers by congressional district:

1st CD: 41.5%
2nd CD: 42.8%
3rd CD: 35.5%
4th CD: 33.3%
5th CD: 27.5%

Those numbers are dismal for an incumbent Governor. Iowans are known for their hospitality and kindness. We would rather wave and say hello to a stranger than admit that we don’t know who they are. It seems as though Iowans have a similar approach when it comes to Governor Culver. When asked if they like him, a majority of Iowans say yes. When asked if they approve of the job he’s done as governor, a majority of Iowans say yes. But when asked if Governor Culver deserves to be re-elected they overwhelmingly say no, and a number of them clearly regret voting for Culver in 2006.

Bob Haus, a longtime GOP strategist told TheIowaRepublican.com, “For incumbents, there is an old political adage: “WYSIWYG,” meaning ‘What You See Is What You Get.’ And what Culver’s camp is seeing ought to give them heartburn. Not only do voters want to see a new Chief Executive, they’re also showing buyer’s remorse from their 2006 decision. Those around Governor Culver know his numbers are anemic, and they’re desperately seeking an antidote.”

Governor Culver also knows that he is in trouble. How else would one explain his recent hiring of Teresa Villmain, Tom Harkin’s deputy campaign manager for his first U.S. Senate race in 1984 and the Iowa Director for the Dukakis presidential campaign in the 1988 caucuses, and John Frew who worked for Culver’s father and was also part of Tom Harkin’s first U.S. Senate race in 1984.

While both bring considerable knowledge and experience to Culver’s re-election campaign, neither of them will be able to un-do the agenda that Culver has promoted as Governor of Iowa. They also will not be able to magically erase Iowa’s $1 billion dollar budget shortfall before next year, a problem that Culver has personally created and chosen to ignore.

The current hot-button issues also help Iowa Republicans in next year’s elections. Now, Republican primary voters must decide who is best suited to take on Governor Culver and expose his weaknesses across the state, while specifically going on the attack in eastern Iowa. The polling numbers prove that our gubernatorial candidate doesn’t need a 60% plus approval rating, and he doesn’t need to be well known across the entire state to defeat Governor Culver. We need a competent candidate who Iowans can relate to and trust. We also need that candidate to be able to perform well in voter-rich eastern Iowa.

If we nominate the right person, Chet Culver will be the first sitting governor to lose re-election since 1962.


About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and TheIowaRepublican.com as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, TheIowaRepublcian.com. Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.




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