In four months, Iowa Republicans will select their candidate to run against Governor Chet Culver this fall. The last time a sitting governor was voted out of office was in 1962 when Governor Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes. The TIR/Concordia Group poll shows that Governor Culver has a real chance to enter the history books as the first Governor in modern history to be rejected by the voters of Iowa.
Governor Culver has struggled in every public poll that has been conducted over the past year. Culver’s polling numbers were lackluster in the TIR/Concordia Group poll, the Iowa First Foundation poll, and even the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll. Each of these polls showed Culver losing in a head-to-head matchup with former Governor Terry Branstad. All three polls also showed Culver in serious trouble a year or more before he stands for re-election.
In July of last year, the TIR/Concordia Group poll showed that 53% of Iowans wanted a new governor. This year, the poll shows Culver is in even worse position. When asked if Culver preformed his job as Governor well enough to deserve re-election, 65% of those surveyed said no, while only 28% said that he deserved re-election.
Culver’s numbers in 2009 were bad enough that it should have raised red flags with his political advisors. Yet, while 59% of those polled in July of 2009 wanted a new governor, Culver was able to beat all of his announced Republican opponents in head-to-head matchups. The only Republican to defeat Culver in a head-to-head was former Governor Terry Branstad who was not in race at that time.
Not only did Branstad beat Culver, he beat him by a sizable margin, 16 points. At the time, Democrats in the state took issue with the poll’s findings. When the Iowa First Foundation Poll showed a similar result, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman sent out a press release warning Iowans to watch out for partisan polls. Kiernan said, “This is an interesting little gimmick…you conduct a partisan poll… whose sole purpose is to get Republicans elected, then you ask loaded questions to get your desired results.”
The only problem for Kiernan and Iowa Democrats is that the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll confirmed the findings of the TIR/Concordia Group and Iowa First Foundation polls. In November, the Register’s poll showed Branstad defeating Culver by 24 points, and Bob Vander Plaats topped Culver by 8 points.
In the 2010 TIR/Concordia Group poll, we decided to test the generic gubernatorial ballot. The generic ballot provides us the percentage of voters who say they intend to vote for either the Republican or the Democratic candidate for governor. Generic ballots typically present an accurate picture of the current political environment. For example, in 1994, generic ballots showed Congressional Republicans being supported by a majority of Americans, indicating that Republican would make major gains, which they ultimately did.
In the generic gubernatorial ballot, 43% of those surveyed indicated that they would vote for the Republican candidate, while only 27% would vote for the Democrat. Nine percent said neither, 20% were undecided, and one percent refused to answer.
That number spells bad news for Culver and the Democrats. Like the Register’s Iowa Poll last November, both Branstad and Vander Plaats beat Governor Culver in head-to-head matchups, but the generic ballot question indicates that any Republican would beat him in a head-to-head poll at this time.
With just ten months before the general election, Governor Culver finds himself in a difficult predicament. Not only does he need to change how he is perceived by most voters in the state, but he also has to deal with a $1 billion budget gap, high unemployment, and a sluggish economy.
While a number of political operatives and members of the media have weighed in on Governor Culver’s re-election effort, they have focused more on current events, scandals, and fundraising numbers. All of those things are tangible and will have an impact on whether or not he is re-elected, but Culver’s biggest enemy is time.
It is becoming apparent that people have already made up their minds on Governor Culver. The difficult process of balancing the state budget, which might require additional cuts, isn’t going to do anything to change people’s mind. It doesn’t matter how much money Culver can raise for his campaign or whether or not the economy starts to rebound. Culver needs more time to turn his political fortunes around, but time is the only thing that campaigns can’t buy.
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