Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is on a trajectory for a historic sixth term. He easily won his primary. He is outraising his Democratic opponent State Senator Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines). He has a significant war chest built up reporting at the end of the last period $4.6 million cash on hand. Hatch reported just shy of $242,000 at the end of last filing period.
Branstad and his running mate Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds seem like a sure thing according to conventional wisdom. This election is theirs to win or lose.
Hatch has been uninspiring. Looking at the lack of participation at the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention and Hatch’s inability to draw a crowd on the stump it’s clear that he does not mount much of a challenge to Branstad.
It is very hard to unseat an incumbent governor in Iowa, and it has only happened once in my lifetime when Branstad decided to run for a 5th term and unseated former Governor Chet Culver.
Governor Branstad’s greatest threat is not Jack Hatch.
Branstad has consistently polled under 50%. His Real Clear Politics polling average over Hatch is just 10 points. Not exactly a commanding lead for a five-term incumbent governor.
The most recent Quinnipiac poll has Branstad up 47% to 38%. Only 48% said he deserves reelection with 45% saying he doesn’t. He had an 11 point lead over Hatch in March, but now it has shrunk so he no longer leads by double digits. In this poll Branstad gets a boost from men – 51% to 32%, but Hatch leads among women – 44% to 43%.
15% of Republicans also state that they would vote for somebody else (1%), vote for Hatch (5%), wouldn’t vote (2%) or were not sure (7%). 12% of Democrats said they would vote for Branstad. Among independents who have more registered voters than Democrats or Republicans Branstad leads 46% to 34%. 20% of independent voters said they would vote for someone else (1%), would not vote (4%) or were uncertain (15%).
The Loras Poll gave Branstad a 14% lead, but was weighted toward Republicans polling fewer independents than Democrats and Republicans which is not reflective of the Iowa electorate. Public Policy Polling was weighted toward Democrats even though Republicans currently lead voter registrations between the two. Rasmussen polling was pretty much in line with the Quinnipiac polling showing a nine-point lead. Quinnipiac, Loras and Rassmussen are the three most recent polls having been done in June. Loras and Rassmussen had a margin of error of 4% +/-. Quinnipiac’s margin of error was 2.7% +/- and had a sample size of 1277 voters compared to Loras having 600 and Rasmussen polling 750.
All this to say is that I believe Quinnipiac likely has the best snapshot of Iowa’s electorate having 40% of the sample being independent which is weighted properly when you look at voter registration.
It’s also telling that the Republican Governors Association is spending so much money in Iowa. Since the primary they have already run four different ads attacking Hatch. It seems like overkill for an incumbent governor who has over $4 million in the bank.
Again Hatch is not Branstad’s greatest threat.
The threat to Branstad lies in the 15% of Republicans who say they will not vote for him or are undecided. It’s also in the 15% of Independents who are undecided.
Meaning Branstad has made himself vulnerable.
A small, yet significant number of conservatives are turned off by the Branstad administration’s involvement in the leadership change within the Republican Party. Couple that with with a growing state budget, and his administration’s
allowing taxpayer funding for abortion (Update: scratch that apparently this is a little more complicated) his base is not solidified.
Not as it should be anyway.
I also believe that Branstad’s support of the Common Core State Standards also make him vulnerable to his base. This could be the most underrated impact issue. Personally I have heard conservatives beyond the liberty branch express interest in Libertarian candidate Dr. Lee Hieb. Hieb has been courting Common Core opponents making that one of her top issues. She has also been a strong critic of Branstad’s handling of Obamacare when setting up a state exchange. Considering her background as an orthopedic surgeon she is very credible on that subject.
She’s a bright, energetic and articulate candidate. Hieb has great potential to peel traditional Republican voters away from Branstad, and she’s been given more media attention from conservative outlets than libertarian candidates preceding her. If she is successful in being able to take part in a debate between Branstad and Hatch that would elevate her status even more. Also Jonathan Narcisse is running as an independent. He also has the ability to do that same. I believe it is likely both candidates would draw more Republican and independent voters than Democratic ones.
Based on recent polling it is conceivable that Hieb and Narcisse could pull enough voters away from Branstad to give Jack Hatch a victory. They wouldn’t need to pick off that many, especially if the undecided vote goes to candidates other than Branstad.
Branstad can’t take any vote for granted and needs to work to earn every one through real action, not rhetoric. Hatch won’t beat him, but it is possible for Branstad to beat himself by neglecting and not winning over his base.
Governor Branstad’s greatest threat is himself coupled with a dynamic third party candidate.