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Little change in Iowa governor race; Branstad up 47-38 percent

Hatch slow in building recognition among voters

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Republican Gov. Terry Branstad maintains his lead over Democratic challenger Sen. Jack Hatch in a Quinnipiac University Poll, but also continues to capture the support of less than 50 percent of those surveyed — often seen as a sign of trouble for incumbents.

Branstad leads Hatch 47 to 38 percent, according to the poll released this morning largely based on capturing the support of a majority of men — 51 to 32 percent, according to the independent poll. Quinnipiac found women divided with 44 percent backing Hatch and 43 supporting a sixth term for Branstad.

As in three earlier polls on the gubernatorial race, Quinnipiac found a majority of Iowa voters approve of the job Branstad is doing, but less certain — 48 to 45 percent — that he deserves re-election.

The upshot, according to Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, is that Branstad has not sealed the deal with Iowa voters who have elected him five times.

“Branstad’s 11-point lead in March now stands at nine points. Pollsters call that two-point change ‘statistically insignificant,’ but the incumbent no longer has a ‘double-digit’ lead,’” Brown said.

However, the poll is not all bad news for the governor — he gets a 48 to 38 percent favorability rating, and it’s not all good news for Hatch.

“Disappointing from State Sen. Jack Hatch’s point of view is how little headway he is making in introducing himself to Iowa voters,” Brown said. “Three months ago, 74 percent of Iowans didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion. Now it’s 64 percent.”

If that pace continues through the campaign, Brown added, “it will be difficult to win.”

While the fact that more people say they will vote for him than have an opinion is a sign of support from the Democratic base, Brown said the Des Moines lawmaker and businessman trails by double-digits among independent voters, who make up about 40 percent of registered voters in Iowa.

The June 12-16 poll of 1,277 registered voters conducted by live interviewers calling landlines and cellphones found little change in the race since December. Then Branstad led 49 to 33 percent. He was ahead 46 to 35 percent in mid-March.

The question mark continues to be whether an incumbent governor polling under 50 percent can salvage re-election. Political handicappers say a five-term governor should be polling higher, especially against a challenger who two-thirds of voters don’t know enough about to have an opinion of him.

In 2010, Gov. Chet Culver’s difficulty hitting 50 percent was widely seen as a sign of the first-term Democrat’s weakness against Branstad.

“Gov. Branstad has two big things going for him: Iowans like him personally and they like his performance,” Brown said. “They think he is honest and that he understands their problems and an astounding 70 percent say he is a strong leader.

“That’s a pretty good report card for someone who has been in office for almost 20 years,” he said. “The fact that Iowans are divided on whether Branstad deserves another term probably reflects some hesitation because of his lengthy tenure.”

Branstad also benefits from what most Iowans see as a good economy, according to Brown. Three out of four say they are very or somewhat satisfied with the way things are going in Iowa and a similar number rate the economy as good or excellent.

A total of 21 percent of Iowa voters say the economy and jobs are the most important issue in deciding how they will vote for governor. Iowa’s economy is “excellent” or “good,” 76 percent of voters say. Of that group, 73 percent give Branstad “a lot” or “some” of the credit.

“History doesn’t bring to mind many governors or presidents who lost a re-election while riding satisfaction and economic numbers that good,” Brown said.

Quinnipiac also found the governor gets good character grades, while the challenger remains unknown. Voters said:

• Branstad is honest and trustworthy, 55 to 35 percent; 54 percent are undecided on Hatch.

• Branstad cares about their needs and problems, 54 to 40 percent; 48 percent are undecided on Hatch.

• Branstad has strong leadership qualities, 70 to 27 percent; 54 percent are undecided on the challenger.

The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.7 percent.

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