By Craig Robinson
Congressman Bruce Braley is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. Braley’s decision to announce that he will run for the Senate less than two weeks after Senator Tom Harkin shocked everyone with the news that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election was a shrewd move.
How shrewd was it? Well, Braley was able to declare his candidacy before any public primary polls of the Democratic field were published. For one reason or another, various pollsters were quick to survey the Republican primary field, but ignored the potential Democrat field.
The first polls out of the gate were conducted by Republican leaning organizations, but the third poll, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a Democrat leaning firm, once again tested the Republican Primary field and a number of general election matchups, but didn’t bother testing the Democrat primary field despite a number of well known possibilities.
On Tuesday, the day the PPP Poll was released, TheIowaRepublican.com inquired as to why the firm didn’t poll the Democratic primary. We simply asked, “How do we know Congressman Braley is the frontrunner if we don’t know if he can beat Tom Vilsack in a primary?” Nobody with PPP responded to our inquiry.
On Thursday night, the Des Moines Register released results from a poll that they had conducted which found that former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who is currently the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, is a more appealing U.S. candidate to Iowa voters than Braley.
The Register’s Iowa Poll confirms what we had suspected all along. While Congressman Braley has been mentioned as the Democrats’ heir apparent to Senator Harkin’s senate seat since he first was elected to Congress in 2006, there are more prominent Democrats that would make for a stronger statewide candidate.
The Register’s poll was good news for another Tom – Congressman Tom Latham. The polls showed that besides Mr. Vilsack, Latham was the most appealing potential U.S. Senate candidate. Many Republicans view Latham as the strongest potential candidate for the general election, but to get there, he would have to win the Republican nomination, which will not be easy to do if Republican Steve King makes a run for the senate.
The timing of the Register’s poll and Braley’s quick campaign announcement makes one wonder if Braley felt compelled to officially enter the race before the results of the Register’s poll were made public. The main advantage for Braley getting into the race this early is that it will either eliminate a serious primary opponent like a Vilsack or clear the field altogether.
The Register seems to be begging for Tom Vilsack to run for the Senate. While there is no doubt that Tom Vilsack is the strongest Democrat option, it’s important to realize that the Register only tested whether or not a person was an appealing candidate. That’s quite different from asking voters whom they would vote for.
All that said, Braley being the first candidate to get in the race makes it much more difficult for a Vilsack or another candidate to primary him. Announcing early has other advantages. While Braley is well known in eastern Iowa, the rest of the state has not yet been introduced to him. An early start gives him ample to time to travel the state, which is difficult for a candidate who is a current member of congress.
While Braley was wise to announce his candidacy when he did, getting in this early also has its drawbacks. The biggest obstacle Braley will have to overcome is fundraising. Running for the U.S. Senate is costly, and unlike a gubernatorial campaign, there are limits to how much a person can contribute in the primary and general election.
Iowa candidates for governor have spent ten to twelve million dollars on their campaigns, but its much easier raising that type of money when people are not limited to giving just $2,600 for the primary, or $5,200 for the entire campaign. By starting now, Braley will be forced to start spending money now on things like staff, consultants, and travel. If he had a lot of money in his congressional account it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but Braley has only $50,000 cash on hand.
Braley was wise to get in early, especially considering the Register poll, but it comes with a price. The 2014 U.S. Senate campaign is underway. Just remember it’s a marathon not a sprint.
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