Republicans got some bad news on Monday as a poll in a key Senate race revealed that one of their ‘rock stars’ is quickly losing steam and is now trailing against her Democratic opponent. In the open Iowa Senate race, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) is now leading Republican State Senator Joni Ernst by five points. Loras College released their poll on Monday. In early August, the polling institute showed Ernst up by six points with her likability numbers climbing. Now, she is scoring a net negative favorability rating with voters while Braley has a net positive.
The GOP is hoping to switch this seat red in their effort to overtake the Senate from Democrats. Current Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is retiring at the end of his term. As Iowa is considered one of the more purple states in the Union, and President Obama’s approval rating has been hovering in the low- to mid-forties for over a year now, Republicans felt like this Senate seat could easily be won due to the party not having to deal with a popular incumbent. Republicans settled on Joni Ernst as the candidate after a couple of lowbrow campaign ads of hers brought her national exposure. She eventually won the GOP primary running away.
However, the honeymoon period has already faded with Ernst. Besides noticing the endorsement from the politically toxic Sarah Palin, voters are also getting more of a sense of just how extreme and out-of-touch Ernst the politician really is. While there is a certain appeal to a tough-talking woman claiming to castrate Washington politicians and shooting Obamacare ads with her pistol early on in a campaign, that type of rhetoric and behavior wears thin the closer you get to an election. Voters start getting concerned that a candidate might just be a loon who won’t take the job seriously. This is especially true in Senate elections, which are statewide rather than being confined to a city or district.
Ernst’s decline with voters can also be attributed to an energized effort by the Braley camp to emphasize her voting history and her at times insane comments. Ernst will have to answer for her statement earlier this year where she said that President Obama needs to be impeached. The comments were highlighted in July when Republicans were doing their best to squelch impeachment talk as they realized it reflected very poorly on the party and put off voters. Also, getting endorsed by Palin and appearing on stage with her will lead to unfavorable comparisons between the two women. This is especially true since Ernst is basically using the Palin playbook by framing herself as a folksy, nonintellectual, conservative woman from the ‘real’ America.
Obviously, with the election eight weeks away, there is still quite a bit of time for Ernst to reverse course and gain on Braley. A five-point lead is not insurmountable, and Braley is still a somewhat unknown commodity to a number of Iowans, even with him being a sitting Congressman. However, the trend line is not looking good for Ernst right now. As we are seeing in other swing state races, voters are showing that they aren’t really interested in embracing far-right candidates with extremist positions. Will Ernst be like Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Cory Gardner in Colorado and try to make a hard left turn in order to appeal to moderates?
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).