Governor Chet Culver might want to begin the process of moving some of his things out of Terrace Hill and vacating his office in the State Capitol. There is no kind way to spin the results of the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll. The results are devastating to his re-election effort. The poll shows that Culver trails Terry Branstad by 19 points with only five weeks until Election Day. Branstad leads Culver 52 percent to 33 percent.
The Register’s poll mirrors what every other poll has shown over the past fifteen months. Iowans have soured on Culver and don’t believe that he has the ability to turn things around. Out of the fifteen Iowa gubernatorial polls that have been taken since July of 2009, Culver has broken 40 percent just once. Culver received 41 percent in a Research 2000 poll that was been proven to be skewed.
Culver and the Democratic Governors Association have tried to weaken Branstad to no avail. They first ran almost a million dollars worth of ads against him during the Republican primary. Branstad won that race by a comfortable ten-point margin and garnered over 50 percent of the vote in the three-person race.
After the primary, Culver tried to continue the attacks that Branstad’s chief primary candidate, Bob Vander Plaats levied against him. Culver even intentionally mentioned Vander Plaats and former State Auditor Dick Johnson by name in the first gubernatorial debate earlier this month. Johnson has been critical of Branstad’s management of the state’s finances dating back to the early nineties.
Culver’s attacks on Branstad have fallen flat. They are unsuccessful because the attacks, while they have some validity, are not effective because Culver lacks credibility when it comes to financial stewardship. Culver’s reckless 10 percent across-the-board cut last fall has forced local government to increase property taxes. The public is too aware of Culver’s own budget problems to even listen to his attacks on Branstad.
Earlier this month, Culver’s campaign team seemed to switch gears, trying a new approach. Culver ran a television ad featuring himself and Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge. The two of them admit to making mistakes, but pledge to do better if voters give them another chance. Obviously, the voters have seen enough.
Culver’s campaign team also tried to re-create the “Big Lug” ad of 2006. The original ad featured Culver’s wife, Mari Culver, affectionally referring to Culver as the “big lug” and then proceeding to kiss him. The ad worked in 2006, but the 2010 version, which featured his two young children, doesn’t seem to have helped Culver with his image.
Another reason why Culver has not been able to turn his campaign around is that he’s not made himself available to voters. Outside of traveling the state to promote his unpopular I-Jobs program, Culver has not held any town hall meeting or even many campaign events. Meanwhile, Terry Branstad holds multiple campaign events every week, and so does his running mate.
The Register’s poll results also will likely put an end to the DGA making massive contributions to Culver’s campaign. With Culver’s inability to move his own poll numbers, the DGA cannot continue to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into a race that seems to be already lost. Those dollars can be better used in states like Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, or California where the gubernatorial races are more competitive.
Culver’s pitiful polling numbers don’t just project trouble for his campaign, but they could doom other Democrats on the ballot as well. With Culver and Roxanne Colin, who also trails her Republican opponent in the polls, at the top of the Democratic ticket, their poor performance on Election Day will put the re-election efforts of other Democrats in jeopardy.
The Culver/Conlin effect could make a huge difference in state legislative races, but it could be even more noticeable in the statewide Secretary of State, State Treasurer, and Attorney General races. Furthermore, Congressmen Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack won their seats in 2006, a phenomenal year for Democrats. Culver and Conlin could become a drag on their re-election campaigns as well.
With only five weeks to go until Election Day, Democrats must begin to prepare for what looks like a disastrous election cycle. It’s unlikely that Culver can do anything to salvage his re-election campaign. Iowa Democrats must now focus on minimizing their losses this November. If they don’t, Culver might take a whole bunch of incumbent Democrats with him.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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