Bruce Braley has served in Congress for the past six years. During that time he has represented 23 of the state’s 99 counties. That’s nowhere near the 56 counties that Congressman Tom Latham or the 53 counties that Congressman Steve King has represented over the years. Still, an argument can be made that Braley has represented a more populated part of the state.
Despite having represented three of the five most populous counties in Iowa, recent polls show that Braley is still relatively unknown. The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll shows that Braley is unknown to 57 percent of Iowans. A Quinnipiac University poll from late May also showed that 57 percent of Iowans didn’t know enough about Braley to have an opinion of him.
One also shouldn’t forget that Braley has been campaigning across the state for the past four months. For most of that time, he has been Sen. Tom Harkin’s heir-apparent and the presumptive Democrat nominee. Yet, it appears that neither his campaigning, nor the fact that he’s been uncontested in Democrat circles has helped him in the polls.
The Iowa media has often overstated the geographical advantage that an eastern Iowa candidate may have over his or her opponents in the general election. In 2006, Republicans believed that Jim Nussle’s eastern Iowa roots would help him defeat Chet Culver in the gubernatorial campaign. Not only did Culver win, he also carried most of Nussle’s congressional district.
In an attempt to try to put Braley’s current name ID struggles in perspective, I tracked down the earliest poll I could find from Nussle’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign. I found a November of 2005 Rasmussen poll that showed that only 14 percent of respondents didn’t know enough about Nussle to have an opinion of him.
Nussle also had a 49 percent favorable rating compared to a 37 percent unfavorable number. Nussle’s +12 favorable number is slightly worse than Braley’s +15 in the Register’s poll, but fact that only 29 percent of Iowans have a favorable opinion of Braley should be a concern for Iowa Democrats.
Sure, the Republican candidates are basically unknown, but they will have a yearlong high profile primary to make themselves known to Iowans. Braley doesn’t have a primary fight to help him earn media attention. Democrats should also worry about outside groups attacking Braley in the early stages of the campaign. If a group does that effectively, his negative numbers could skyrocket and at the same time make it difficult for himself to portray him self in a positive manner.
Braley may look like the odds on favorite in the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Iowa, but his polls numbers suggest otherwise. After serving six years in Congress and campaigning around the state for the past four months, one would have thought that Braley’s name ID would be higher. Like the GOP field, Braley is barely known, and that’s good news for Iowa Republicans.
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