In the last week of March, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) created controversy when saying in what he thought was a private meeting of sympathetic Texas trial attorneys, that the Democrats losing Iowa and the Senate majority would result in a “farmer from Iowa who hasn’t even been to law school” becoming the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Immediately, two outside organizations went on the attack with ads disparaging the mis-stepping congressman, complete with video of his comments. Now, the drivers at the Senate Majority PAC, obviously understanding that the comments and subsequent earned and paid media coverage have badly damaged Braley within the all-important Iowa agriculture community, launched a new ad buy to attempt to restore the congressman’s tarnished image.
The ad, featuring two clearly legitimate Iowa farmers probably from Braley’s home region of Waterloo since they claim to know he and his family, deals in a bit of subterfuge. Several times the script infers that “other people” are saying negative things about Braley and damaging his standing within the ag community. The ad ends with the local supporters saying they “know Bruce” and that “he’s got our back,” after saying they look at his actions and not what “people say.”
The problem for Braley is that “people” didn’t make the negative comments about Sen. Chuck Grassley (the “Iowa farmer who hasn’t even been to law school”) and being an Iowa farmer. The comment came from Rep. Braley himself, and we can expect to be reminded of it for a long time to come.
The Senate Majority PAC taking to the airwaves this quickly tells us that the subsequent news coverage and attack media launched against the consensus Democratic Senatorial candidate have inflicted major political damage to his campaign efforts. What we don’t know is the amount of time needed to repair harm, but their restoration effort has clearly begun.
The Little Rock-based Opinion Research Associates (April 1-8; 400 AR registered voters) just released a new poll giving Sen. Mark Pryor (D) a significant 48-38 percent lead over Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4), and the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s political director screamed in response.
Through most of February, Sen. Pryor had consistently trailed Rep. Cotton in margins between four and six percentage points. Toward the latter part of that month and into March, the incumbent began clawing back to even status, and then beyond. The last Hendrix College/Talk Business poll (April 3-4; 1,068 registered Arkansas voters), for example, projected the senator to a three-point, 46-43 percent advantage. Though ORA is not a well-known federal race pollster, Hendrix College/TB is, and the latter has developed an accurate track record from surveying Arkansas voters.
In response to the new ORA survey, Ward Baker, the NRSC political director, in a released statement called the conclusions “hogwash.” He pointed out that the sampling subset skewed Democratic by a minimum of seven points over what exit polling and other surveys have routinely detected. He also criticized the long sampling period (eight days), especially when the total respondent universe was low, at just 400 people. He said correctly extrapolating the ORA findings brings the race back to within the margin of error.
Both sides are attempting to sell extreme conclusions. While the NRSC argument that the ORA poll skews Democratic is correct, and the race is closer than their numbers maintain, the overall data from this and other polls suggest that momentum is turning in Pryor’s favor.
While both candidates will likely see periods when they are consistently leading – Cotton in the early part of the year; Pryor now – reality suggests that both men have a strong chance to win and the late political winds will likely dictate the final result. While Cotton will likely benefit from a voter backlash against Washington, Pryor should get a boost from a strong Democratic governor’s campaign that will go a long way to defining the turnout model.
Expect this race to continue see-sawing all the way to November.