Congressman Leonard Boswell has been in his share of close campaigns. The 76 year old, seven-term member of congress won his seat when he beat Mike Mahaffey by just one percent in 1996. Since then, Boswell has survived two strong challenges from Des Moines attorney Stan Thompson, and another one by Jeff Lamberti in 2006.
Once again, Leonard Boswell is in for another tough race this fall, but this time, his opponent has something none of Boswell’s previous challengers had at their disposal – an outstanding political environment that could make 1994 look like a mediocre year for Republicans.
The other benefit that none of Boswell’s previous opponents have had is numerous polls that show Boswell trailing in the race. A recent poll conducted by Ayres, McHenry, & Associates shows Boswell trailing his Republican challenger, Brad Zaun, by 10 points. Zaun leads Boswell 51 percent to 41 percent.
The results of the poll give us some insight as to why the Boswell campaign felt compelled to attack Zaun on his position on ethanol a week and a half ago. Typically, incumbents begin their ad campaigns with a strong positive message, so when the Boswell campaign attacked Zaun out of the gate, it raised some eyebrows.
The polling results that were released yesterday paint a much worse picture for Boswell than just being down ten points to Zaun. Besides Zaun’s lead over Boswell, here are the important things you need to know about this poll.
1. The poll was taken between August 16th and August 18th, the same time that Boswell unleashed his attack ad on Zaun. While the attack wouldn’t have had time to penetrate, it could have had some impact on the results.
2. The poll shows us how much trouble Boswell is really in. Only 31 percent believe that Boswell deserves to be re-elected, while 62 percent want to give someone else a shot.
3. The generic ballot is horrible for Democrats in the district. When asked whether or not they would prefer their next congressman to be a Republican or Democrat, 43 percent said Republican, while 30% said Democrat. Nineteen percent said it would depend on who the candidates are. A 13 percent advantage for the Republicans in the District is a huge swing from previous contests. In 2006, the generic ballot favored Democrats by six to seven points.
4. Zaun is ten points ahead of Boswell, and almost 30 percent of those surveyed don’t even know who Zaun is. Seventeen percent have no opinion of Zaun. That’s bad news for Boswell and a sign that voters have had enough and want someone new to represent them.
5. Boswell’s favorable and unfavorable numbers are poor for a 14-year incumbent. Forty-six percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 45 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. Boswell’s high unfavorable numbers signal that voters disapprove of the job that he’s done as their congressman.
6. When you look at the crosstabs of the poll, a couple of things really jump out. First, Zaun leads Boswell 53 percent to 40 percent with people who are absolutely going to vote this fall. While Boswell narrows the gap with likely voters, Zaun clearly has the support of people who are revved up for this fall’s election. That kind of voter enthusiasm is like gold to political campaigns.
7. Zaun leads Boswell in a number demographics. He leads Boswell by 20 percent with men and has a one-point lead over him with women. More importantly, Zaun has a 12-point lead over Boswell with independent voters.
This third party poll is fantastic news for Zaun’s campaign, but it also means that Boswell will continue to attack him throughout the fall. Boswell’s first attack was aimed at cutting into Zaun’s lead over Boswell in the rural parts of the district. With the disclosure of Zaun’s personal issues, Boswell is now obviously trying to gain support of female voters. Zaun should expect these types of attacks to continue.
It’s becoming clear that the only way Leonard Boswell can win re-election is if he makes the entire race about Zaun. While he has already landed a couple of blows on Zaun, the polling numbers suggest that it will take a prolonged attack to move the race back into his favor.
The problem that Boswell faces is that Zaun is not going to be a sitting target. Boswell’s voting record gives Zaun ample ammunition for the fall campaign. Unlike Boswell, Zaun’s chances of winning will improve if the focus of the race is on Boswell’s record and current issues.
Any incumbent who has to come out of the gate with an attack ad is in serious trouble, but these polling numbers show just how bad of shape Boswell is really in. While Governor Culver gets most of the media attention for being the Iowa Democrat with the most to lose, Congressman Boswell finds himself in a similar situation.
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