The same Democrats who were once feeling confident about Rep. Bruce Braley winning a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa are now worried if Braley might not turn out to be the biggest bust in what looks to be an extremely difficult political year for them.
His numbers have been falling ever since he described popular GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school” at a fund raising event.
First impressions can mean a lot and given that Braley wasn’t well known beyond his home district before the gaffe, this one seems to have left a mark.
Polls find the race is now a toss-up: The most recent, from NBC/Marist, found Braley and Ernst tied at 43 percent each. Other recent public polling has given a slight edge to either Braley or Ernst–a far cry from the consistent high-single-digit leads Braley was commanding earlier this year.
“This race did a 180 when [Braley] stubbed his toe on that ‘farmer’ comment,” said former Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen. “He may have mortally wounded himself with that, because he wasn’t well-known to a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, Republican Joni Ernst is showing some fund raising chops of her own and, at the very least, the DSCC is already being forced to spend money in Iowa. That’s not a good sign for Braley.
All three top political prognosticators–The Cook Political Report, The Rothenberg Political Report and Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball”–have shifted the race toward Republicans in recent weeks and now rate it as a pure toss-up.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put $500,000 behind an ad hitting Ernst last week, a sign national Democrats have become increasingly concerned about the race.
And the hits,as they say, just keep coming.
Republicans also seized on a story about Braley and his wife complaining to the local homeowners association about a neighbor’s chickens running free, a story that helps fit into the GOP portrayal of Braley as an elitist trial lawyer.
Another report this week found he had missed the majority of Veterans Affairs Department oversight hearings in 2011 and 2012.