Democrat Bruce Braley
What a difference a few weeks makes. It wasn't that long ago that Republicans were privately conceding
that Joni Ernst was a few points behind Democrat Bruce Braley in the Iowa U.S. Senate contest. However, more recent polls
have shown either a very tight race or have given Ernst the lead. And on Saturday night, things came to a head when Selzer & Co., on behalf of the Des Moines Register
, released a survey showing Ernst up 44-38 on Braley
. Frustratingly, though, the Register
did not release crosstabs, making it difficult to peer under the hood.
Please read below the fold for more developments on this race.
But Selzer has a good reputation in Iowa, and this survey in particular seemed to fill Democrats with a little extra dread and Republicans with a little extra enthusiasm. As is our wont at Daily Kos Elections, though, we wanted to see if Selzer's reputation is supported by the facts, so we've taken a closer look at their recent polling. Here are their final polls from October onward in 2010:
• IA-Gov: Selzer: Branstad (R) 50-38; actual: Branstad (R) 53-43; error: +2 R
• IA-Sen: Selzer: Grassley (R) 61-30; actual: Grassley (R) 64-33; error: +0
• CO-Pres: Selzer: Obama (D) 47-43; actual: Obama (D) 51-46; error: +1 R
• IA-Pres: Selzer: Obama (D) 49-45; actual: Obama (D) 52-46; error: +2 R
Overall, this is a very good but very limited recent record. Going back a little further to 2008, Selzer surveyed Indiana
, and Michigan
days before the presidential race, as well as the Indiana gubernatorial contest
. Both Indiana polls and the Michigan one were right on the mark, while they overestimated Obama's margin in Iowa by about 7 points.
Selzer's also regularly polled Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. In 2008 they correctly predicted Obama and Mike Huckabee's victories, but in 2012 they found Rick Santorum 9 points behind Romney just days before he narrowly won the contest. In addition, Selzer conducted a few 2012 national polls for Bloomberg. In June of that year, they raised eyebrows when they found Obama with a 13-point lead over Romney; in their next and final national poll in September, they settled on a much more reasonable 6-point lead for the president. (Obama won by about 4.)
In any case, whether Selzer is right about Ernst's 6-point edge or not, there's little doubt that Braley has lost whatever lead he may have had a few weeks ago. The Braley campaign released a memo shortly after Selzer's poll dropped arguing that they were only losing because the Republicans were outspending them. They wrote that if spending levels were even, they would be tied and could rely on the Democratic ground game to pull off a narrow win.
On Sunday, the DSCC also released a Harstad poll showing Braley and Ernst deadlocked at 42-42 each. Harstad does have a good if limited track record, but it's not a positive sign at all if the best poll the Democrats can muster only shows them tied. Public Policy Polling is set to release a new survey sometime this week, and they indicated on Twitter that they'll show Ernst ahead.
It's unclear what happened in the last few weeks. Neither candidate appears to have said or done anything recently that could have changed the race. It's possible Ernst wasn't actually trailing back then, and the Republicans were simply lowering expectations. The Braley camp may actually have a point about Republican spending swamping them. As the chart below shows, the GOP has dominated the airwaves in Iowa recently:
Spending in the Iowa Senate race
Fortunately, Democrats have more airtime reserved for the final weeks of the contest than the GOP does, which could help even things out. But Braley has only himself to blame for his obstinate refusal
to paint Ernst as the lunatic she is
. If he'd only taken a page from Harry Reid, Braley might not be in this situation, because right now, there's little doubt that a Senate seat that Democrats thought they'd easily keep only a few months ago is in real danger of going to the Republicans.
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