By Craig Robinson
Even before Senator Tom Harkin announced his retirement plans, conservative activists around the state were itching for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate to immerge. Now that Harkin is not seeking re-election, the quest for a Republican candidate has been sent into hyper-drive.
The desire of activists to identify a candidate and begin the campaign is understandable. However, the reality of the situation is that it’s going to take a little time before things sort themselves out. Large statewide campaigns are best when not built overnight or on they fly. Regardless of who the candidate is, it’s important that their campaign is functioning and already up and running when the candidate announces.
This is a crazy time in Iowa, and it’s about to get even crazier. Iowans are about to be inundated with polls trying to figure out how the potential candidates stack up against each other. It took less than four days after Harkin’s retirement announcement for one organization, Harper Polling, to survey the state. Harper is the conservative counterweight to the more established Public Policy Polling group that has Democrat ties. PPP announced that they would be surveying the state over the weekend.
Both Harper and Public Policy Polling use IVR (Interactive Voice Response) surveys to avoid the high cost of conducting a more traditional survey of the state with live operators doing the screening and interviewing. These robo-polls are cheap, fast, and provide larger sample sizes than traditional polls. The downside is that IVR polls do not include cell phone users and there is no way to guarantee that you are surveying a person who is registered or likely to vote and not minor, or even a visitor to the residence they are calling.
Still, IVR polls should not be discarded, and as is the case with every poll, there is something that can be learned or confirmed by looking at the data.
The following is the breakdown of the Harper Poll in Iowa from January 30, 2013.
Republican Primary Ballot Test
If the Republican primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for: Tom Latham, Steve King, Brad Zaun, or Bob Vander Plaats?
King: 35.35 percent
Latham: 21.72 percent
Vander Plaats: 19.70 percent
Zaun: 3.03 percent
Undecided: 20.20 percent
Note: The pollster then added Drew Ivers’ name to the mix and the results shifted. Zaun’s support doubled, King lost five points, and Latham gained about five points. This type of erratic movement is why many people are suspect of IVR polls. Adding another name to the list shouldn’t cause someone with three percent to double their support. The result of this question creates a lot of red flags about the entire poll.
King vs. Latham Primary Ballot Test
If the Republican primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for: Steve King or Tom Latham?
King: 46 percent
Latham: 29 percent
Undecided: 25 percent
King’s 46 percent in a head-to-head with Latham is impressive, but we are unlikely to ever see a primary battler between the two western Iowa congressmen. While King’s 46 percent seems to indicate that he’s in the drivers seat, the poll still shows that 54 percent of the primary electorate is not with King.
As the conservative stalwart in the state, King is well known among conservative activists. King’s involvement in conservative politics has also given him ample reasons to travel to every corner of the state. Whether its campaigning for Republican candidates in Burlington, hosting his Conservative Principles Conference in Des Moines, or attending events in northeast Iowa, King has done a good job of creating a statewide presence.
Latham, on the other hand, is more reserved. While he has represented 56 of Iowa’s 99 counties during his tenure in Congress, Latham rarely travels outside of his district, and thus, not as many activists and voters have gotten to know him in eastern Iowa. Latham’s temperament and folksy demeanor is what many pundits think would make him an appealing statewide candidate. There is a good chance that Latham would be able to close the gap between himself and King in a primary campaign by simply raising his statewide name I.D.
Democrat Primary Ballot Test
If the Democratic primary election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for: Brad Anderson, Bruce Braley, or Kevin McCarthy?
Anderson: 3.83 percent
Braley: 49.73 percent
McCarthy: 3.83 percent
Undecided: 42.62 percent
The validity of the entire poll is called to question based on the odd list of Democrat candidates they polled. Brad Anderson has announced that he is running for Secretary of State, not U.S. Senate. Names like former Governors Chet Culver and Tom Vilsack are missing, as is former First Lady of Iowa Christie Vilsack. Of course Braley looks strong when compared to inferior competition, but it’s a real shame that Harper didn’t think to include some of the most obvious Democrats in the poll. Again, this is what you get when you rush to survey after a major development.
General Election King vs. Braley
If the election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for: Bruce Braley or Steve King?
Braley: 39.08 percent
King: 33.52 percent
Undecided: 27.39 percent
General Election Latham vs. Braley
If the election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for Bruce Braley or Tom Latham?
Braley: 32.83 percent
Latham: 36.08 percent
Undecided: 31.09 percent
General Election Vander Plaats vs. Braley
If the election for U.S. Senator were held today, who would you vote for Bruce Braley or Bob Vander Plaats?
Braley: 41.46 percent
Vander Plaats: 26.10 percent
Undecided: 32.44 percent
While King was the strongest candidate in the primary, it’s Latham who emerges as the best general election candidate. The perception that Latham is the candidate who can win in November would also likely give him a boost in a primary contest whether that’s against King or someone else.
In many ways this poll confirms what many pundits and political insiders suspected. King is a strong primary candidate but weakens a bit in the general election. Latham on the other hand is the opposite. Since nobody really believes that Latham and King will primary each other, should Latham face a primary from someone besides King, he would likely crush his competition.
As I’ve indicated throughout this piece, I’m not a big fan of this poll, but it is what it is. Besides the general election matchups, the other thing that should be taken away from this poll is that Latham and King are in the driver’s seat as far as Republicans go.
Brad Zaun is pretty well known following his 2010 congressional run, and yet he didn’t break the five percent threshold. That’s a pretty good indicator that the lesser-known people considering a run will have a huge hill to climb if King or Latham is in the race.
This poll gives us an early snapshot of the 2014 U.S. Senate race, which is fun, but unfortunately that snapshot wasn’t taken with a very good camera. In the days and weeks ahead, we will inevitably see more polling numbers. Hopefully some of them will be a little more thorough.
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