Top Democratic, GOP strategists see close Iowa Senate race

Experts cite state’s “purple” politics

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa U.S. Senate race may go down to the wire, according to political consultants to candidates in top Iowa races who both predicted their party’s candidate would be victorious.

Citing Iowa’s “purple” politics, Democratic adviser Jeff Link and Republican consultant Dave Kochel agreed with political handicappers that the race, at least at this point, is a tossup.

“Well, I think it is a close race,” Jeff Link, who is advising U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley’s senatorial campaign, said Friday during taping of Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press. The show can be seen at 7:30 p.m. and noon Sunday on IPTV, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and on www.itpv.org.

He noted that although Iowa voters favored Barack Obama in the last two elections, it replaced a Democratic governor with a Republican, the congressional delegation is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and “red” Republicans share control of the Legislature with “blue” Democrats.

“I think we expected from the get-go that this would be a close race,” Link said. “Joni Ernst really started the general election with wind at her back coming out of the primary, but that seemed to have dissipated and it has settled into a tight race.”

Kochel, who is advising Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst’s senatorial bid, attributed recent polling showing the race to be a virtual dead heat to the political winds that “really benefit Republican candidates, not just in Iowa, but across the country.”

Braley, Kochel added, has “really underperformed” as a candidate — a reference to comments the four-term Democrat made about Sen. Chuck Grassley and reports that he claimed to be a farmer and he and his wife threatened a lawsuit over a neighbor’s therapeutic chickens.

She also benefits from Gov. Terry Branstad, who is 14-0 in elections, being at the top of the ballot and her strong performance in the five-way GOP primary, Kochel said. Ernst took 56 percent of the vote.

“She has surged over the last month-and-a-half and as people have gotten to know her and taken a look at her message and her campaign I think they have found her to be a relatable, likable, strong candidate and that’s why I think we’re moving,” he said.

The race will continue to change as Iowa votes get to know Ernst’s positions on issues like Social Security and minimum wage, Link said. Voters will see through the Braley campaign’s “cynical distortion” of her comments on those topics, Kochel argued.

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