I rarely call a poll shocking because, well, I have been doing this long enough that almost nothing shocks me anymore.
But the latest numbers out of Iowa – from a new Des Moines Register poll – are truly shocking.
Here they are: Longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is at 46% to Democrat Mike Franken’s 43% among likely voters – a margin-of-error race that the poll at least suggests is very much up for grabs with just a few weeks to go in the midterm campaign.
Now, before I go any further, it’s worth noting here that this poll – like all polls – is a) a snapshot in time and b) could be an outlier in a state that has been trending in the Republicans’ direction in recent elections.
But – and this is a big BUT – the pollster for the Des Moines Register is J. Ann Selzer. And no one – and I mean no one – has been right more often about elections over the past decade and a half than her.
Writing of Selzer in a 2015 profile, Politico put it this way:
“At a time when trust in public polling has eroded after high-profile failures in elections across the country and around the globe, people in Iowa still have faith that one woman can accurately measure where things stand in next year’s volatile caucuses.”
And in early 2016, the New York Times wrote of the Des Moines Register poll:
“[I]t has one of the most impressive track records in polling – nailing the results even when many other polls predict a different outcome.”
Selzer made her name in 2008 when her poll showed Barack Obama in the lead ahead of the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, which he went on to win. And in between then and now, she’s been right time and time again too.
(FiveThirtyEight gives out grades for pollsters based in part on the accuracy of their past performance. Selzer gets an “A+”.)
So, what gives here? Iowa is not a race that either party has said much about to date. The 89-year-old Grassley is an institution in Iowa, and is running for a stunning 8th term next month. (In the Des Moines Register poll, 60% of likely voters said Grassley’s age was a concern, while 34% said his longevity was an asset to Iowa.) He hasn’t won with less than 60% of the vote in a general election in four decades, despite national Democrats occasionally touting a challenger to him.
Franken hasn’t been talked up at all by national Democrats, though he has managed to stay competitive with Grassley in fundraising – and even outraised him in the most recent quarter. From the beginning of July through the end of September, Franken raised $3.6 million and spent $3.4 million, leaving him with $1.3 million on hand. Meanwhile, Grassley, raised $2 million, spent $2.1 million and had $3.9 million in the bank for the final stretch of the race.
The Point: If Grassley is truly endangered, Democrats have another path to retaining their Senate majority this fall. If not, then the poll still causes a little bit of heartburn for Republicans that they don’t need as they try to navigate a very narrow road back to the majority.