Who Will Rise to the Top of the GOP Field in Iowa?

 In January, 2013 US Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa announced he would not seek re-election in 2014 and would retire when his fifth term ended. Back then, this was not welcome news to a party that was already facing a tough landscape in the next election cycle.

A year later, his retirement is even more important in determining the control of the upper chamber as Republican positioning has only gotten stronger even without Iowa in the mix. As a solid purple state, Iowa is clearly in the mix even if many have penciled in the Democratic candidate as a likely winner. The Iowa match-up will be one to watch down the stretch.

2014elections_small11 Who Will Rise to the Top of the GOP Field in Iowa?

2014 US Senate Election in Iowa

Key Toss-up State Features No Incumbent

In January, 2013 US Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa announced he would not seek re-election in 2014 and would retire when his fifth term ended. Back then, this was not welcome news to a party that was already facing a tough landscape in the next election cycle. A year later, his retirement is even more important in determining the control of the upper chamber as Republican positioning has only gotten stronger even without Iowa in the mix. As a solid purple state, Iowa is clearly in the mix even if many have penciled in the Democratic candidate as a likely winner. The Iowa match-up will be one to watch down the stretch.

The Democratic Candidate

The field has been cleared for 4-term Congressman Bruce Braley. In his last three congressional elections, Braley had two blowouts victories when on the ballot with President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and one close 2-point win in 2010. Braley is pro-abortion and voted for Obamacare. A Public Policy Polling survey put his statewide favorable rating at 31%, while 25% gave him an unfavorable rating. Though 44% of Iowan’s had no opinion of him, Braley is by far the most well-known candidate in the race. However, he may have made a Mitt “47%” Romney mistake during a private fundraiser with trial lawyers in Texas. There, he mocked current – and quite popular – GOP Senator Chuck Grassley as a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school” and Braley noted that he was the one who could help trial lawyers. This might not play out so well back at home.

The Republican Candidates

Sizing up the Republican field is difficult as the field is crowded with lesser-known candidates. Around 75% of general election and Republican primary voters do not know much about the candidates. But as endorsements fly and money starts to roll in, that will all change. So where is the buzz so far? With nearly $4M in the bank, Bruce Braley has been able to load up on funds – with plenty from trail lawyers – as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. On the Republican side, Joni Ernst has raised the most money through 2013 (not including self-financing) and pulled in the endorsements of both Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. She released a quite humorous campaign commercial where she related what she would do in Washington to her time growing up in Iowa. Ernst is a state senator and a Lt. Colonel in the National Guard, and she was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Mark Jacobs is a successful businessman who has came a close second to Ernst in the money race, but has also poured in significant resources himself. This money advantage has helped his name identification and has given him early – though slight – leads in some primary polls. According to his campaign website, Jacobs also founded a non-profit to help improve public education. Rounding out the top of the field are Matthew Whitaker, a former Bush-appointed US Attorney and Sam Clovis, a former Air Force 2nd Lt., radio talk show host, and educator.

Early Outlook

So far, Braley has led in the general election polls, but still tops out in the low 40% range. We guess this has mostly to do with name identification, where more than 50% of Iowans have at least some opinion of Braley. At the same time, up to 80% of voters have no idea who the Republican candidates are. That will all change as the campaign progresses, and it’s impossible to guess how that plays out. Helping the eventual Republican candidates is that Obamacare will be on the table. Braley voted for it, and it has been a disaster

While President Obama won re-election in 2012 by 5 points, Republicans had a good year in 2010 when they won both the US Senate seat by a landslide and the gubernatorial election by 10 points. The US House Delegation is split 2-2. Highlighting the swing-state status of the states, the GOP has a slight majority in the Iowa State House while Democrats have a slight majority in the Iowa Senate. The question now is: which republican will emerge?