Davenport, IA, Oct. 29, 2014 – I drove over to the Hillary Clinton appearance in support of Democrat Bruce Braley’s race for Tom Harkin’s soon-to-be-vacated Senate seat this evening at the Davenport (IA) River Center. I was surprised to see NO Braley signs along River Drive on my way to the venue, but a lot of Joni Ernst signs. At first, I thought, “It’s because this is a pricey neighborhood and primarily Republicans live here.” However, as I exited the building after the rally, I spoke with an African-American voter from a neighborhood far removed from those I had just driven by. She told me that they had seen no signs in their neighborhood, either, leading me to believe that the influx of outside money allowed the Republican challenger to literally blanket this county far removed from Ernst’s home base of Red Oak, Iowa—which is in the very southwest corner of the state, while Davenport is literally the opposite side of the state, on the Illinois border.
This Senate race is one of the most hotly-contested in the nation. The Democrats stand to potentially lose control of the Senate, something they want to avoid at all costs. This contest also pits two candidates against one another who are in stark contrast to each other.
Joni Ernst is an out-and-out Tea Party Conservative whose bus doesn’t even bear the word “Republican.” She is trying to become the first woman Iowa has ever elected to the Senate. That has earned her the support of some millennials and campus-age females, even though they are, in essence, voting against their own self-interest because of Ernst’s stances against access to contraception in any form. With Ernst’s avowed plan to promote a federal bill supporting “personhood,” young women of childbearing age would not have access to abortion or contraceptive services, even in the case of rape or incest, and such essential services as mammograms might not be provided. She was pleased to be publicly endorsed by Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who was John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
Joni Ernst grew up in Montgomery County, Iowa in Red Oak, Iowa, and served as a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa National Guard and also served in Kuwait. She is a mother and grandmother, married to Gail, who is Career Army; she has served as Montgomery County Auditor. She has campaigned primarily as an anti-Washington D.C. candidate, but her controversial positions on trying to pass a federal “personhood” amendment that would deny women the right to abortion and contraception services, , even in cases of rape or incest, is noteworthy.
Ernst also failed to show up for the local newspaper’s (Quad City Times) round of editorial questions, which means she apparently has no need of endorsement by the Davenport-based newspaper, because she has far wealthier backers, the billionaire Koch Brothers. Clinton, in commenting on this, said, “Only one of the candidates answers your questions? She doesn’t show up for editorial board vetting? I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Braley, from Brooklyn, Iowa, has fought for such causes as veterans’ rights, environmental action, renewable energy, a raise in the minimum wage and equal pay for equal work. He first ran for Congress in 2006. He was re-elected in 2008, 2010 and 2012. His hard-luck story of a young boy whose father was injured in a grain elevator accident, (forcing his mother to go back to college and earn her teachers’ certificate so she could work to support the family) resonated with voters. (Braley’s mother still substitute teaches at age 85). He worked his way through college and attended law school at Iowa, ending up in Waterloo, where he and his wife still live. The Braleys have three grown children and live in Waterloo, Iowa, which is the northeast corner of the state and near where I grew up (20 miles away).
However, the single biggest issue in the Midwestern states that “Meet the Press’s” Chuck Todd is visiting by bus, (primarily Iowa, Wisconsin and Kansas) is Washington gridlock. Iowans are sick of the infighting in Congress and the Senate and want both parties to work together to move the country forward. Anyone running on that platform has an edge, and that gives Ernst the nod over Braley, even if her idea of a woman’s place is something out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The prevailing mood is: punish the Democrats without rewarding the Republicans, because Republicans aren’t trusted as agents of change.
In Iowa—the “first in the nation” caucus state—the polls show a dead heat between Ernst and Braley or a slight lead for the challenger (44% to 44% on Sunday and slight movement in the 3 days since). Out of 7 sitting Senators, only 2 incumbents have a favorable rating, according to the “Meet the Press” Sunday morning (Oct. 26) poll results. To a certain extent, I agree with Rob Ortman (R/Ohio) who said on “Meet the Press,” “This is a national election. People are looking for a change.” Being in office is not a “plus” this election season; it is a negative. Therefore, Democrats are fighting an uphill battle, as President Obama’s approval ratings are only 36% in Iowa and not above 40% in any of the contested states.
Complicating the race is the infusion of outside cash. It is estimated that these mid-term elections might cost as much as $44 a vote, with Republicans outspending Democrats $5 for every $1. That is because outside billionaires (like the Koch brothers, who are worth $41.9 billion apiece) are pouring money in through PACs. Also, the Republicans have taken a page out of the Democratic playbook of 2008 and 2012, using early voting to their advantage.
Over $200,145,000 has been spent, to date, according to the Des Moines Register, which identified a list of contributors to each candidate as follows:
For Bruce Braley (D):
1) Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
2) Bruce Braley
3) NextGen Climate Action
4) Sierra Club
5) League of Conservative Voters
6) Vote Veterans Action Fund
7) Environmental Defense Action Fund
8) International Association of Firefighters
9) American Wind Energy Association
10) Planned Parenthood Votes
11) Service Employees International Union COPE
12) AFSCME People
For Joni Ernst, (R):
1) American Crossroads
2) National Republican Senatorial Committee
3) Joni Ernst
4) Freedom Partners Action Fund
5) Crossroad GPS
6) United States Chamber of Commerce
7) Priorities for Iowa
8) American Chemistry Council
10) National Republican Senate Committee
11) Conservative War Chest
Hillary Clinton’s appearance was full of references to her new granddaughter, Charlotte, and the birthdays that Braley and Clinton had either recently celebrated (hers, October 27th) and Braley’s the next day (October 30th). She commented on Joni Ernst’s failure to answer questions saying, “In Iowa people do not get away without answering questions—except for those that are far in the future.” This was most certainly a coy reference to her potential run for president in 2016. (Buttons touting “Hillary for President” were being sold outside the venue.)
It is 6 days until the election. My drive (along River Drive) that showed no signs for Braley concerned me. Another thing that concerned me was the general lack of a large crowd (only approximately 250 folks) and the fact that the crowd was primarily old. That is never a good sign. It signals that the mid-term election isn’t of much interest to the generation that swept Barack Obama to victory, and it is these voters, plus minority voters (what few exist in Iowa) that Braley needs to turn out in order to win.
Hillary made some brave pronouncements on behalf of Braley, one of which was, “He tries to find common ground, but he’s not afraid to stand his ground.” Said Hillary of Braley’s female opponent, “It’s not enough to be a woman; you have to be committed to expanding rights and opportunities for womanhood.” Clinton added, “It’s almost hard to believe these are some of the issues in this campaign…I think it’s amazing that we’re still debating this in the 21st century.” Another great Clinton quote: “Fear is the last resort of those who run out of ideas and out of hope,” in referencing the many negative ads that have been launched at Braley.
I feel concerned for Braley’s odds, given the mood of the country, which is anti-incumbent(s). Still, he seems the better choice in terms of his political policies. If a voter is in favor of saving the planet, equal pay for equal work, women’s rights, veterans’ rights and a middle-of-the-road approach, it would seem that he would be the better choice. As the woman introducing the pair said, “We can win this race. We can win this race. I’ve done this a lot of times and I can feel it.”
I do believe that woman was sincere, and I do believe Bruce Braley can (potentially) win this race.