By Craig Robinson
The afterglow of President Obama’s re-election victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa apparently has Democrats feeling bullish about the 2014 mid-term elections. On Thursday, Brad Anderson, Obama’s Iowa campaign manager, announced his plans to challenge Secretary of State Matt Schultz. On Sunday, the Des Moines Register reported that Congressman Bruce Braley is seriously considering a challenge to Republican Governor Terry Branstad.
The idea of Braley seeking statewide office is nothing new, however many people viewed him as the Democrat heir apparent to Senator Tom Harkin instead of a gubernatorial candidate. In recent weeks, Senator Harkin has begun raising money for his 2014 re-election campaign, which may be the reason why the ambitious Braley is kicking the tires on a gubernatorial campaign.
It’s easy to see why a ticket that includes Harkin and Braley on the top ballot in 2014 would be appealing to Democrats. Republicans had a strong statewide ticket in 2010 that featured Senator Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad on the top of the ballot. That powerful ticket not only saw an incumbent governor lose for the first time since the 1960’s, but it also helped Republicans unseat a first-term incumbent Secretary of State and make substantial gains in the Iowa legislature.
While the potential 2014 Democrat ticket looks to be structured in a similar way to the successful 2010 Republican ticket, there are major differences that will make it difficult for Iowa Democrats to replicate the mid-term success that Republicans experienced in 2010.
The main difference is that Grassley and Branstad are mainstream candidates that appeal to more people than just registered Republicans and conservative leaning independents. They are both viewed as reasonable people who do things that are in the best interest of the state, not just their political party. Harkin and Braley are both unabashed liberals, but maybe that’s what Democrats want at the top of the ticket.
In the last election, President Obama proved that you could win by focusing on issues that appeal to the base. The Obama campaign also did an outstanding job of turning out low propensity voters who they believed would be favorable to giving the President second term. The 2012 Obama campaign has provided Iowa Democrats a road map to be successful, but no matter how good things look on paper, recycling the Obama strategy is not going to be easy.
The first obstacle Iowa Democrats will have to overcome is raising the necessary money to implement an Obama-like turn out program. As has been reported, the Obama campaign invested heavily in data collection and turnout. Investing in data is an easy decision in a billion dollar campaign, but it’s not quite as easy when you are spending eight to ten million on an Iowa campaign. The Obama campaign was also able to invest early in its turnout machine. Braley or any other Democrat will not be able to make a substantial investment early in the campaign.
Another obstacle is that is that no matter how much attention a mid-term election receives, turnout will always be lower than it was in the presidential cycle. That means turning out those low propensity voters is more difficult and less likely. And while Senator Harkin is well known, he’s not as popular as President Obama. As for Braley, he’s relatively well known in the northeast quadrant of the state, but as Bob Vander Plaats and Chet Culver learned, running against the Branstad brand is incredibly difficult. Branstad is a well-known entity, which makes him less susceptible to negative and misleading attacks.
Historically, mid-term elections following the re-election of a president are usually not favorable to party that controls the White House. While Republicans have seemed lost since the President was re-elected and their ranks appear to be divided, the political environment can change as quickly as we saw in 2009. Just like President Obama and his agenda united Republicans in 2010, Harkin and Braley on the same ballot would probably do more to unite Republicans than anything else.
Braley is probably one of the best candidates that the Democrats could recruit to run against Branstad, but just like Roxanne Conlin and Christie Vilsack were viewed as outstanding recruits to take on incumbent Republicans, no matter what the media says, Braley will be a long shot to unseat Branstad.
A Braley candidacy would also give Republicans a great opportunity to pick up his seat in Congress. An open congressional seat in the 1st Congressional District would likely produce a long list of qualified Republican candidates, which would create a lot of Republican activity in the district.
It will be interesting to see how serious Braley is about running against Branstad. He’s a fighter, and the labor unions and abortion industry will love him, but that only gets a candidate so far. If Braley runs and is unsuccessful, his life as an elected official will likely be over. Time will tell if Braley is willing to give up his seat in Congress for a long shot campaign against Branstad. As we have come to learn, a lot of people talk about running for office, but few actually follow through and actually do it. Time will tell.
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