Iowa Poll: Ernst 43% v. Braley 44% in tight senate race

[An earlier posting of the article reversed the percentages in the Ernst v. Braley race. This is a corrected version.]

The Iowa Tea Party favorite is in a dead heat against her Democratic opponent in the Hawkeye State Senate seat, according to a Human Events/Gravis poll of 1,179 registered voters conducted in the third week in July.

State Sen. Joni K. Ernst, who serves as a lieutenant colonel commanding a battalion in the Iowa National Guard, trails by one-point Rep. Bruce L. Braley, said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, the Florida-based research firm that conducted the poll.

Ernst is currently on her two weeks of extended battle training, once called annual training, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.

“Ernst’s 43 percent against Braley’s 44 percent put them well within the poll’s 3 percent margin of error,” he said. Thirteen percent responded to the automated-IVR telephone poll that they were undecided.

Ernst made national headlines with a commercial featuring her castrating a pig as she talked about cutting pork spending on Capitol Hill.

Braley was endorsed by former congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and her retired astronaut husband Capt. Mark E. Kelly. The couple have become major figures in the movement to restrict gun rights.

Professor Steffen Schmidt, who teaches political science at Iowa State University, said “Good elections are always close contests between real contenders who are well-greased with funding to get put their message and take down their opponent. The Iowa Senate race is shaping up to be such a hard fought contest.”

Schmidt, who is known as “Dr. Politics” in the state, said if Ernst wins it will be because of her endorsements from Sarah Palin and W. Mitt Romney and turnout.

“Off-year elections here have less passion, lower turnout,” he said. “But, conservatives are more excited because of Obama.”

In the poll, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of President Barack Obama, compared to 43 percent, who approved of the president.

Schmidt said in midterm elections Iowa is more traditional, more conservative than in presidential years.

“In the end the outcome of 2014 in Iowa will depend largely on one factor: turnout,” he said. “Great poll numbers have failed to predict elections on Iowa when one contender failed to find and mobilize voters for absentee, early and Election Day.”

For Democrats, there is the addition problem that Harkin cannot move the needle, he said. “Harkin is history. There is no legacy. He has no coattails. Now, Braley has to show he’s da man!”

Jennifer Jacobs, the chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register, said the Senate race is a dead heat.

“Ernst probably has the momentum given her primary win, and strong fundraising,” she said. “Harkin endorsed Braley but otherwise has been fairly quiet.”

Major analysts moved the race from likely-Democrat to lean-Democrat to tossup now, she said.

“It appears Iowa has moved ahead of Michigan, Colorado, New Hampshire and several other states on the target list – that gives the impression that Ernst has the momentum,” Jacobs said.

“That said, Braley is sitting on a lot of cash on hand and has done a thorough job of painting Ernst as ‘extreme,’ although it remains to be seen if Iowans believe that,” she said. “I think this race is going to remain tight, and continue to be one of the hottest in the country.”

Kaplan said Republican Gov. Terry E. Branstad leads his challenger state Sen. Jack G. Hatch. “Branstad leads Hatch with 50 percent to 42 percent.”

In the race for Secretary of State, Republican former Cedar Rapids mayor Paul Pate is neck-and-neck with Democrat Brad Anderson with both polling 38 percent, he said. Anderson led President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in the state. Anderson is the co-founder of the “My Digital Manager” video search and share application.

In the race for Treasurer, Democrat incumbent Michael L. Fitzgerald leads his GOP challenger economics professor and retired Air Force colonel Samuel Clovis, 50 percent to 34 percent.