The Des Moines Register published the findings of its latest Iowa Poll this weekend. The poll showed that Governor Terry Branstad is highly regarded by Iowans and is in strong position to be re-elected to an unprecedented sixth term.
Branstad’s only opposition to speak of at the moment is State Senator Jack Hatch, who Branstad trounces 55 percent to 27 percent. The poll also showed that a majority of Iowans, 58 percent, approved of the job Branstad has done as governor, and 56 percent think that the state is headed in the right direction.
For months, the Des Moines Register has kept alive the notion that former Iowa Governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack would take on Branstad in 2014 to get his old job back. Vilsack finally put an end to the speculation last week when he said wouldn’t run for governor in 2014.
What the folks at the Register don’t seem realize is that the decision to mount a political comeback is based on odds and opportunity, not ambition and a sense of duty. Governor Chet Culver was a wounded animal in 2009 and 2010, and while a strong argument could be made about how beatable he was, it wasn’t until the polls showed Branstad actually leading Culver that his political comeback gained steam.
The Register’s Iowa poll also gave Branstad higher favorability marks than Vilsack. Fifty-four percent of Iowans said that they had a very favorable or mostly favorable opinion of Branstad, while only 48 percent of had a similar view of Vilsack. For as much as it seemed that the Register wanted Vilsack to challenge Branstad, there was little basis for challenging Branstad, and the polls bear that out.
Even armed with their own polling data, the Register still contends that there is time for a Democrat candidate to make it a race. The Register points to Vilsack’s 2008 campaign as an example of how a little-known legislator won the primary and the general election. The only problem is that the 1998 race and the 2014 race are different in one major way – in 1998 there was no incumbent governor running for re-election.
The Register also believes that Branstad’s strength in the polls is a result of the recently concluded legislative session that they and other media outlets deemed as a “historic” success. I’m not too sure about that. Democrats beat up on Branstad throughout the legislative session, but especially on the Medicaid issue. I suspect that Branstad’s numbers would only increase as the news from the legislative session dissipates.
If there is any time that Hatch’s name ID should be good, it’s right after the legislative session, but his poll numbers are dismal. As many Iowans, nine percent, have a favorable opinion of him as they do an unfavorable opinion. Worse yet, 82 percent of Iowans don’t know enough about him to even have an opinion.
It would be one thing if Hatch could raise enough money to mount a serious campaign against Branstad, but the odds of that happening are slim. The compromise on the health reform bill, which ended up expanding Medicaid spending, might give some Republicans an upset stomach, but it took the best argument that Hatch could make against Branstad away from him.
In many ways, the 2014 gubernatorial campaign in Iowa looks like it’s over before it ever really began. That’s bad news for Iowa Democrats, but especially Congressman Bruce Braley. Braley needs a strong Democrat ticket for his U.S. Senate campaign, and left unchallenged, Branstad is likely to spend his time and campaign money on helping elect other Iowa Republicans. That could be a major boost to whomever the Republicans nominate for the open U.S. Senate seat.
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