Tags: Barack Obama | Iowa Senate race | midterm elections | Joni Ernst | Bruce Braley

Changing Demographics Make Iowa Senate Race Tough to Call

Changing Demographics Make Iowa Senate Race Tough to Call
Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst, left, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D- Iowa. (David Greedy/Getty Images)

By    |   Tuesday, 21 October 2014 11:28 AM

With just two weeks to go until the midterm elections, Iowa's Senate race is extremely close, and the state's dramatic demographic changes over the last few years have political prognosticators questioning which way the "new Iowa" will vote.

Some areas, mostly rural, are seeing shrinking population while others, mostly urban, have population explosions. In some counties, schools are closing down while in others, new schools are being constructed at breakneck speed and school districts are hustling to hire Spanish-speaking teachers.

Republican candidate Joni Ernst, 44, who has emphasized her rural roots, is running about 2 percent to 2.5 percent ahead of her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, 56, who is appealing more to the newly population-intensive urban areas in the state, in the race for the seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, The New York Times reports.

Sam Wang, of the Princeton Election Consortium, still considers the race too close to call.
"Anything closer than 3 percent could surprise people. So: Ernst very slightly favored, but could go either way still," Wang told the Des Moines Register.

Iowa has a 92 percent white population but is home to 180,000 Latinos in small towns near farming areas, but the question is, will they vote and, if so, how?

Both political parties are well aware of the importance of Iowa in Republican efforts to take control of the Senate and have hurled money at the race.

The Register reports that Ernst is ahead in fundraising with over 50 "outside" political groups participating in the contest. Ernst has benefited from American Crossroads ($4.2 million) the Koch Brothers' Freedom Partner Action Fund ($3.1 million) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($4 million) and Braley has picked up campaign funds from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($6.9 million) the Senate Majority PAC ($3.6 million) and environmental activist billionaire Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate Action ($3.3 million), the Register reports.

An Iowa State study found that Iowa's urban areas grew 13.3 percent between 2000-2013 while rural areas shrank 3.6 percent, the Times reports, but these changes offer few clues as to the Senate race outcome.

The Times notes population growth in "suburbs whose politics can be harder to categorize — a mixture of millennial generation religious conservatives, baby boomer libertarians and Generation X liberals," and David A. Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Southern Illinois University, characterized the suburbs as "not red state or a blue state. There are a lot of pastels in there."

Real Clear Politics' poll average gives Ernst a 2.5 percent lead over Braley.

The Huffington post poll shows Ernst leading Braley by 2.2 percent, at 47.2 percent to 45 percent.

Overall, 53 percent of Iowans see Braley's association with President Barack Obama to be a disadvantage, the Register noted.

The University of Denver's pollster Floyd Ciruli told the Times, "I would prefer to be Ernst than Braley because she is benefiting from the national trend that appears to be lifting all Republicans."

However, he added, "A lead of two points is similar to the Broncos being ahead by six points in the last two minutes with a team like Seattle and the Broncos are kicking off. Under no conditions would you want to leave your seat."

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With just two weeks to go until the midterm elections, Iowa's first Senate race in 30 years is extremely close, and the state's dramatic demographic changes over the last few years have political prognosticators questioning which way the "new Iowa" will vote.
Iowa Senate race, midterm elections, Joni Ernst, Bruce Braley
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2014-28-21
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 11:28 AM
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