A poll commissioned by Mark Jacobs’ U.S. Senate campaign shows the former CEO of Reliant Energy opening up a lead over his GOP opponents. The poll, which was conducted by telephone from February 12-13th, shows Jacobs garnering 22 percent of the primary vote while his three major Republican opponents combine for just 25 percent. Fifty percent of the primary electorate remains undecided.
The poll also gives Jacobs a slight edge over Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley. Jacobs leads Braley 42 to 41 percent. Considering that Braley is much better known across the state than Jacobs, the fact that Jacobs leads Braley in a poll shows just how vulnerable Braley is in the general election. Braley is known by 67 percent of Iowa voters, but only 31 percent of voters have favorable opinion of him, and 20 percent have an unfavorable view of the eastern Iowa congressman.
The poll also validates Jacobs’ campaign strategy. Since December 17th, the Jacobs campaign has been running radio and TV ads across the state in an effort to raise voters’ awareness of the political newcomer. In a contest where none of the Republican candidates are household names or even known across the state, Jacobs ability to advertise on TV and radio has given his candidacy a major boost.
Not only does Jacobs lead his Republican opponents by double-digit margins, he also enjoys the best favorability rating of the four major candidates. Jacobs is known by 34 percent of likely voters. He has a 13 percent favorable rating, and a 4 percent unfavorable rating. Matt Whitaker is known by 27 percent of Iowa, he enjoys a 10 percent statewide favorable number and only 3 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him.
State Senator Joni Ernst and Sam Clovis have similar numbers. 24 percent of voters know Ernst, while Clovis is known by 20 percent. Eight percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Ernst, while 3 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her. Clovis has a six percent favorable number compared to a three percent unfavorable number.
The sample GOP primary ballot bears troublesome news for Jacobs’ opponents. Jacobs leads the pack with 22 percent, followed by Ernst with 11 percent, Whitaker with 8 percent, and Clovis with 6 percent. While 50 percent of likely voters remain undecided, only Jacobs currently has the resources to message to those undecided voters through television ads. With the primary just over three months away, Jacobs’ opponents need to find away to broadcast their message to a wider audience than Facebook followers and local county GOP activists if they want to be victorious in the June 3rd primary.
The 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary had a turnout of nearly 230,000 voters, and a large percentage of those voters don’t attend local GOP functions or events. A presidential caucus is about half the size of a primary, so hardcore conservative activists play a large role in determining the outcome of the caucuses. A primary election puts a greater emphasis on paid voter contact, and thus far only Jacobs has shown the ability to fund a multi-faceted campaign that reaches out to all potential primary voters.
The Jacobs campaign’s poll also sheds some light on Bob Vander Plaats poll numbers. The polling memo states, “Of voters who might have backed conservative icon Bob Vander Plaats had he joined the race, the plurality of them now choose Jacobs: Jacobs, 25 percent; Ernst, 12%; Whitaker, 10%; Clovis, 5%; other candidate, 5%; and, undecided, 43%.”
That might surprise a lot of people, but Vander Plaats’ strength as a primary candidate was his high name ID, not necessarily his beliefs and positions on issues. With no Vander Plaats in the race, a significant amount of voters who backed him are now supporting the other candidate that they know.
The poll comes at an important time in the GOP race. With Vander Plaats out, the field of candidates is now set. Some of the Republican candidates have been running since May, meaning they have spent the past 10 months campaigning across the state. The candidates made some great inroads with Iowa activists, but they still have not raised their profile enough to be known across the state. Even worse, some of them are stuck in single digits.
The poll was commissioned by the Jacobs campaign and conducted by David Hill of Hill Research Consultants. Hill has done work in Iowa for years. He currently serves as Governor Terry Branstad’s pollster.
The poll provides us with a snapshot of where the race stood last week. While it’s clear that Jacobs’ TV ads are working, a clear challenger really hasn’t emerged. Ernst enjoys the private support of Governor Branstad and the public support of Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, yet her campaign continues to struggle. Whitaker is well liked, but hasn’t been able put all the pieces of a statewide campaign together yet. If he was able to do that, he would likely surpass Ernst in the polls.
If there is one candidate that is likely under-represented in the poll, it’s Sam Clovis. The Clovis campaign has focused on organizing the grassroots, and while that’s not going to help get him widely known across the state, it will be noticeable on primary night. A lot of Clovis’ support is rural or consolidated in northwest Iowa. A statewide poll would have problems identifying areas where he may enjoy deep support.
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