Thursday, July 15, 2010

Anti-Branstad Ads, Anti-Obama Billboard Down

DGA vs. TB: It looks like there's no more doubt about the money behind those ads that attacked Iowa Republican candidate for governor Terry Branstad before the June primary. For those people thinking it was a far right, anti-Branstad group, you thought wrong. It was all Democrats, according to a filing with the IRS, released by the Branstad campaign. The Democratic Governors Association is the only donor listed for the $782,500 in contributions that funded the ads. The Iowa Independent reports the DGA defended its spending on the race and said it wanted to show Branstad's "hypocrisy" on his record. In following that explanation, it seems the DGA has thrown some of its fellow Democrats under the bus when it criticized Branstad by comparing him to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Presidents Obama and Clinton.

Grassley Upgraded: The Cook Report has just upped Republican Senator Chuck Grassley's odds of getting re-elected another notch against his Democratic challenger, Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin. Here's the article explaining that because of serious questions raised because of KCCI-TV's poll on the Grassley-Conlin race, The Cook Report is putting Grassley back over in his previous column:

In late June, we moved this race between GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic attorney Roxanne Conlin from the Solid Republican to the Likely Republican column, and we did so without comment. Given some recent developments that frankly have very little to do with this race, we are moving it back to the Solid Republican column.

So why did we move it in the first place? There were a number of reasons, some of which are still valid. First, Grassley hasn’t had a difficult race in years and that is dangerous for any incumbent. Second, Conlin is very wealthy and can invest some of her own resources into the race, undercutting whatever financial advantage Grassley might have. Third, polling indicated that while Grassley has an advantage in the low teens and is over 50 percent, Conlin was approaching 40 percent before the general election contest really got engaged. The counterweight to these factors was, of course, the political environment that is tilted against Democrats and may be even more so in Iowa where Democratic Gov. Chet Culver is currently trailing Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad.

In assessing the polls, we looked at two things; the last five polls that were taken between late April and mid-June and the overall trend line. Of the five, three surveys were IVR polls and two were taken by Research 2000 for KCCI-TV in Des Moines. As any long-time reader of The Cook Political Report knows, we tend to place a greater weight on polls conducted with live interviews than those that use automated interviews. The two Research 2000 surveys showed the narrowest margin between Grassley and Conlin. The Research 2000 poll (May 3.5 of 600 likely voters) had Grassley ahead by nine points, 49 percent to 40 percent, while a May 31-June 2 survey (600 likely voters) gave Grassley an eight-point advantage, 48 percent to 40 percent. The overall trend line gave Grassley a wider 53-percent to 39-percent lead
, according to

However, just days after we moved the race, Markos Moulitsas, the publisher of Daily Kos, filed a lawsuit against Research 2000, alleging that the polling firm had defrauded him by providing national survey data that was “fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition.” Research 2000 has denied the allegations and has even threatened to file its own lawsuit against Moulitsas. Read more about the lawsuit here.
Daily Kos was perhaps Research 2000’s largest client and was conducting polling in Senate and Governors races in addition to national tracking surveys.
It doesn’t appear that Moulitsas’ lawsuit is a fit of pique, but instead is supported by a statistical analysis of the data. Most polling experts seem to agree that something was amiss in Research 2000’s work. At this point, we made an editorial decision to stop using Research 2000 surveys in the analysis of specific races, though we would keep the surveys that had been taken on the poll charts and add new ones. In reality, there probably won’t be any more Research 2000 polls, at least this cycle. That decision, though, came after changing the rating in Iowa.

In the interest of due diligence, we went back and looked at the most surveys without considering the Research 2000 polls. The most recent polls are all IVR surveys, and all showed Grassley between 53 percent and 57 percent, while Conlin was between 31 percent and 40 percent. Absent the Research 2000 polls, the overall trend line shows Grassley at 54 percent and Conlin at 37 percent
. While one can certainly argue that there isn’t much difference between 13 points, Grassley’s advantage including the Research 2000 polls, and 16 points, his average lead with them, he is closer to a healthier 55 percent.

This is a long explanation leading to a short conclusion: we wouldn’t have moved the race based on IVR polls alone, particularly in a state where other public polling, like the surveys conducted for the Des Moines Register, exist, so without the Research 2000 data, we wouldn’t have made the change. In truth, changing the rating was a close call, with as many reasons for moving it as there were for leaving it in Solid Republican. Moving the race back to the Solid Republican column is the right thing to do.
This does not mean that there isn’t the potential for this race to become more competitive, or that we won’t move it in the future. It just isn’t there now.

The State of Play
So where exactly does this race stand today? Democrats are enthusiastic about Conlin’s candidacy. She won a three-way primary on June 8 with 78 percent of the vote. This is not Conlin’s first bid for office. In 1982, she was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, but fell short in that race, losing an open-seat contest to Republican Terry Branstad, 47 percent to 53 percent.

Conlin, 66, started college at the age of 16, graduating from Drake University in three years, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1964, and completing her law degree at Drake in 1966 at the age of 21. She also got a master’s degree in public administration from Drake in 1979. After practicing law for two years, Conlin went to work as the Deputy Industrial Commissioner in Des Moines from 1967 until 1968. In 1969, she became a state Assistant Attorney General, eventually heading up the department’s Civil Rights Section. In the Attorney General’s office, she focused on public corruption cases, and led an effort to pass a first of its kind law to protect rape victims.

In 1977, then-President Jimmy Carter appointed Conlin U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. She prosecuted drug dealers, white collar crimes and public corruption cases. After losing the Governor’s race in 1982, Conlin started her own practice in Des Moines, which is now known as Roxanne Conlin & Associates. The firm handles civil litigation, employment rights, personal injury and constitutional law cases. From 1992 to 1993, Conlin served as the first woman president of the American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association).

Conlin announced her Senate candidacy in October of last year, and began to focus her efforts on Grassley. She believes that voters need to hold the incumbent accountable for his support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for voting for budgets that resulted in deficits, for supporting the privatization of Social Security, and for voting against equal pay for women.

Still, if Conlin has a case to make against Grassley, this may prove to be a hard year to do so given the current political environment. Republicans further argue that Conlin has her own vulnerabilities that they plan to exploit. First is her long career as a trial lawyer, which is not always the most popular brand in the profession. While Conlin will argue that she has devoted her professional life to protecting average citizens from big corporations and government, Republicans undoubtedly will counter that her practice has made her a very wealthy woman through frivolous lawsuits that end up costing consumers and taxpayers. They got some help on this front earlier this month when a consortium of lawyers involved in a class action lawsuit against Microsoft sued Conlin for failing to share the $75 million she earned from the case. Conlin counters that the suit is frivolous because she had dropped out of the consortium before the case was settled and that she is being sued now because she is a candidate for public office.

Republicans will also take issue with Conlin’s opposition to tax breaks for the wealthy when she has been the beneficiary of such tax breaks. Conlin and her husband are part owners of 27 low-income apartment complexes in the Des Moines area that have received $64.2 million in tax breaks over the last 19 years.

Finally, GOP strategists are likely to tie Conlin to President Obama, who is not very popular in the state, and to an even more unpopular Democratic-controlled Senate. They are likely to argue that she will be nothing more than a rubberstamp for the Democratic legislative agenda.

If Republicans were concerned that Grassley was slow to get his campaign up and running, they say that he has proven that he is not taking the race for granted and has put together a solid campaign. As of the May 19 pre-primary FEC report, Grassley had raised $5.9 million for the cycle and had $5.6 million in the bank. As of May 19, Conlin had raised $1.7 million, spent $855,369 and had $870,643 in the bank. She had put nearly $300,000 of her own money into the race, and it will be interesting to see if the June 30 report reveals an additional investment of personal funds.

Both candidates were on the air in the run up to the primary but have been dark since. According to Grassley’s ad:

VARIOUS PEOPLE: “Tightwad. Penny-pincher. He's frugal. Blunt. Straight-talking. One of us.”

ANNOUNCER: “Chuck Grassley visits every county every year to stay in touch. He's a farmer and a senator. He'll do what needs to be done. He's just like Iowa. Chuck Grassley works, and he never forgets he works for us.”

In Conlin’s ad, she says, “I'm Roxanne Conlin. Taking on the special interests has been the cause of my life. Like taking on the big banks, to help family farms at risk of foreclosure. As a prosecutor, I took on corrupt politicians, and corporations who violated the public trust. I'm running for U.S. Senate to take this fight to Washington. Fight for relief on Main Street, not more bailouts for Wall Street. Because the special interests have had their turn. Now, it's our turn.”

Grassley is well-liked, and hasn’t given voters many reasons to replace him. In 2006 and 2008 when the political environment was tilted heavily against Republicans, Grassley may have been vulnerable to charges that he has been in office too long and was part of the problem plaguing Washington. Those arguments are not likely to be successful in the current environment and voters may well see him as part of the solution.

This race has barely started, and Conlin’s profile and personal wealth make it worth watching. For the time being, though, it is in the Solid Republican column.

Billboard Blowup: I wonder what the North Iowa Tea Party is thinking now. First the group put up a billboard in Mason City that compared President Obama to Adolph Hitler. Then, people got ticked off and it took down the billboard after about a week. Now, Democrats are using the billboard as a way to get Democrats fired up and donating. Do you think that's what the tea partiers had in mind?

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