Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Why is the Iowa Senate Race Being Written Off as Not Competitive?

According to the Cook Political Report, the Iowa Senate race is "Solid R".  Larry Sabato's crystal ball says the Senate race is "Safe R."  Politico indicates it is a "Solid R."

Admiral Michael Franken
I don't get it.  Yes, the incumbent Charles Grassley is a fixture in Iowa politics.  He served eight terms in the Iowa House of Representatives, before being elected to the U.S. House for three terms.  From there, Grassley moved on to the Senate where he has served seven six-year terms.  Last year, he announced that he would be running for an eight term in 2022.

Grassley will be 89 years old on Election Day.  If he serves out the full six year term, he will be 95 years old.  According to actuarial tables, an 89 year old man is only expected to live 5.5 more years.

I don't understand why the pundits are so sure this race won't be competitive.  One of the biggest knocks on President Joe Biden, even among Democrats, is his age.  And, at 79, he is ten years younger than Grassley.  I'm pretty sure that many Iowa voters, even Republicans, are going to have misgivings pulling the lever for Grassley knowing the odds are he won't live out his term.  

Rural Iowa though has become more Republican over the years, causing the state to shed its battleground status.  Iowa Democrats though took a pass on the more liberal former Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer to nominate Michael Franken.   Franken's background is quite impressive.:

Franken was born in Sioux County, Iowa. He was one of nine children. During his youth, Franken worked alongside his father at the Lebanon Farm Shop, working with farm equipment and trucks. When he was 17 years old, Franken began working at Sioux Preme Packing Company to pay for college. He also worked as bar manager, math tutor, bouncer, and as a law firm’s civil engineer. Franken earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree from the College of Physics at the Naval Postgraduate School and professional studies at MIT, UVA’s Darden School of Business, and the Brookings Institute.

Franken was a member of the U.S. Navy. He retired from military service as a three-star admiral in 2017.

Franken worked in a variety of positions in Washington, D.C. He was the first military officer on Senator Ted Kennedy’s staff. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Defense.

There have only between two polls done in Iowa that feature a matchup between Grassley and Franklin.  In a Change Research poll released on April 11th, Grassley led Franken 45-42.  In another Change Research poll, this one released on July 4th, Grassley's lead was nearly identical 49-44. 

The results should be taken with a grain of salt.  Change Research is run by a former Democratic operative and conducts all of its polls online.  However, while online polls have historically been derided as inaccurate, during the 2020 election cycle, they proved themselves as accurate as phone polls, formerly the gold standard for polling accuracy.

Assuming that the polls are accurate, they suggest that Grassley may have a problem. Grassley was below 50% in both polls.  Incumbents who poll below 50% are said to be in trouble because undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent.  This is even more true when the incumbent is extremely known to the voters.  The April poll had 13% undecided while those voters registered at 11% in the July poll.

The Democrats have a three star admiral running against a Republican who will be turning 89 before the next election.  The ads write themselves.  Assuming Franken is able to raise the money, he could well make this a competitive race.  I don't know why the experts are writing it off.

OOP's short takes:
  • I have twice unsubscribed from Trump emails, the latest time about a week ago.  Despite my effort to get off the Trump campaign mailing list, on Tuesday, I received 12 emails from Trump wanting money. 
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham failed in his effort to quash a criminal court subpoena from the Georgia grand jury investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the election results in that state.  That was expected.  Quashing a criminal subpoena is extremely I'm sure his attorneys told him.  Now Graham has a dilemma.  He may well be called upon to answer questions that could implicate him in a crime.  That would leave him with no choice but to claim the 5th.  Not a good look for a sitting U.S. Senator.
  • An analyst with FiveThirtyEight looked at 6 pre-Dobbs and 6 post-Dobbs generic congressional ballot polls and concluded that there was a 3 point swing in favor of Democrats.. A couple more post-Dobbs generic ballot polls just came in so I did an 8 pre and 8 post poll comparison.  That analysis shows a swing of 1.7 in favor of the Republicans.   A caveat though - those two new polls were very favorable for Republicans, showing the GOP with 8 point leads on the generic congressional ballot.  In short, it's too early to know what effect Dobbs reversing Roe will have on the election.  My guess is the decision is going to be helpful to Democrats, but fall far short of the political earthquake they were hoping for.

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