Late last week, the American Future Fund released its polling results in Iowa’s First, Second, and Third Congressional Districts. While the head-to-head results favored each of the incumbent Democrats, a closer examination of the polling results shows that the three Iowa Republican congressional challengers have reasons to be optimistic.
First Congressional District
In recent weeks, incumbent Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley has been taken to task for defending the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. The American Future Fund recently ran a television ad about Braley’s support of the mosque, to which Braley responded with his own television ad. Braley’s quick response to the AFF ad is a sign that his own polling might not show him to be as safe as most people believe he is.
Braley leads his relatively unknown Republican candidate, Ben Lange, by 11 points or, 50 percent to 39 percent. However, when voters are asked whether they believe that Braley deserves re-election or whether it’s time to give someone else a shot, 39 percent want to give him another term, while 44 percent want to give someone else a chance.
Though the mainstream media has been quick to write off Lange, the poll shows that Republicans should have hope in the First District. Even though the District has a Democrat voter registration advantage, the generic ballot shows Republicans doing well in the district. Democrats lead the general ballot in the district by just over one percent – 43.3 percent of voters would prefer to vote for the Democrat, while 42.1 percent favor the Republican. That’s not bad considering that Democrats have a 33 percent to 24 percent registered voter advantage in the district.
Democrats being pessimistic about their chances this fall may also help Iowa’s Republican congressional challengers. When you look at only those who are certain to vote, Braley only leads Lange 47.1 percent to 42.7 percent, which is amazing since Lange is only known by 25 percent of those surveyed. Lange’s eleven-point deficit is the largest of any GOP congressional challenger, but the First District is in play in what is likely to be a great year for Republicans.
Second Congressional District
Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ second attempt against Democrat Congressman Dave Loebsack looks to be far more competitive than her 2008 bid. Miller-Meeks is a relentless campaigner and has proved that she can go on the offense in counties where Democrats typically win by large margins. Still, despite winning seven of the Second District’s 15 counties in 2008, knocking off Loebsack will be an up-hill battle.
In a head-to-head poll, Congressman Loebsack leads Miller-Meeks 47 percent to 39 percent. When you look at only those who are certain to vote, Loebsack leads Miller-Meeks 47.7 percent to 41 percent. The Second District is where Democrats have the largest advantage when it comes to registered voters, but with Miller-Meeks having closed the race to only eight points, she has managed to make her race with Loebsack competitive.
The best proof that Miller-Meeks is a factor in this race comes from the incumbent himself. Unlike Braley, Loebsack is now running a positive TV ad across the district stressing his humble upbringing and his desire to create jobs. While his ad is what you would expect from an incumbent, his support of extending the Bush tax cuts signals something else.
On Sunday, the Quad City Times reported, “U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack is rethinking his position on ending the Bush tax cuts and might be willing to consider a Republican proposal to extend them for two years. As a challenger in 2006, Loebsack called for repealing those tax breaks. Now, seeking a third term from Iowa’s 2nd District, Loebsack told The Gazette editorial board today that he is having second thoughts.”
Loebsack’s dash to the right on the Bush tax cuts indicates that he is nervous about his re-election bid. In this environment, he should be. Miller-Meeks’ hopes were dashed early on election night in 2008. The first results that came in were from Johnson County. Miller-Meeks lost Johnson County by nearly 25,000 votes. Without President Obama on the ballot, Loebsack will not be able to build huge margins this time around, which gives Miller-Meeks a better shot at upsetting Loebsack.
Third Congressional District
Democrat incumbent, Congressman Leonard Boswell and the Iowa Democratic Party have been attacking Brad Zaun for a month now. Seeing an incumbent go after a challenger so aggressively out of the gate shows just how competitive the Third Congressional seat really is. Boswell is also trying to keep the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee interested in the race.
The poll shows that Boswell’s attacks on Zaun have worked in lowering the challenger’s numbers. A couple of weeks ago, a third party poll showed Zaun up ten points, but now Zaun finds himself trailing Boswell 39 percent to 48 percent. While Zaun’s numbers have dipped, Boswell and Iowa Democrats shouldn’t begin planning the re-election party any time soon.
While Zaun has been damaged, he’s still standing. It’s also going to be difficult for Boswell and the Democrats to keep pushing their personal attack on Zaun without looking heartless. What should be of great concern to Boswell is that 49 percent of those surveyed would rather give someone else a shot at representing them, while 42 percent feel that Boswell deserves re-election.
The generic ballot also favors Republicans slightly in the District, and Zaun only trails Boswell by six points among people who are certain to vote. While it’s not the ten point lead Zaun may have had a few weeks ago, only being down six points following a multi-week full-frontal attack by your opponent is nothing to get upset about.
There are also a couple things that all three of these races having going for them that the traditional news media has overlooked. The top three issues in each of these polls are nearly the same. Jobs and the economy were the top issues in each of the three polls, and these concerns broke the 50 percent threshold in all three districts. Healthcare was the second biggest concern among respondents, followed by federal spending.
Those are three issues with which Republican candidates will make hay all across the country this year. They are also three issues that incumbent Democrats will struggle with, because they have done nothing productive that they are can tell voters about.
Finally, the poll showed that the Republican challengers had something their Democrat opponents didn’t have – a strong team of Republican candidates at the top of the ballot. Terry Branstad and Senator Chuck Grassley broke the 50 percent threshold in each of the three districts in head-to-head matchups with their Democrat opponents.
With an incredible issue set, a strong statewide With an incredible issue set, a strong statewide team at the top of the ballot, and people looking to give someone else an opportunity to represent them in congress, the three Republican congressional challengers would be wise to sprint to the finish. While defeating an incumbent is never an easy task, this looks like the best year for Republicans to do it.
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