With nearly three-and-a-half months before Republican voters pick a U.S. Senate candidate, Mark Jacobs is claiming to lead the six-person field – even claiming a “small” lead over the likely Democratic nominee.
Jacobs’ campaign released a Hill Research Consultants poll Monday that found the former energy company executive leading state Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak 22 percent to 11 percent in the race for the GOP nomination. Businessman and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and college professor Sam Clovis polled 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Businessman Scott Schaben and attorney Paul Lunde, both of Ames, also are seeking the nomination.
Jacobs also has a “too close to call” lead – 42 percent to 41 percent – over U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term Democrat from Waterloo, in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, according to Hill.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent for the poll that had a base sample of 500 Iowans likely to vote in November 2014 general election. That was supplemented with interviews with 300 additional Republicans. All interviews were conducted by telephone Feb. 12-13, including at least 30 percent on cellphones.
The numbers aren’t as positive as the Jacobs’ campaign is saying, according to Ernst's polling firm.
The so-called Jacobs lead is the product of a $600,000-plus statewide media blitz that shows a candidate “failing to gain traction among Iowa Republicans,” said Ed Goeas, president of The Tarrance Group. Under Iowa law, a candidate needs 35 percent of the primary election vote, not 22 percent, to gain the party’s nomination.
“As the old saying goes, you can’t buy Iowa voters and you can’t buy Iowa values,” Goeas said. “Jacobs may continue to spend his personal wealth in an attempt to buy support, but the closer voters look at this race and his credentials, particularly when others start their own paid media program, he may find himself in a deep downward spiral.”
Brian Dumas of the Jacobs campaign called the results significant, especially the fact the West Des Moines Republican has a 40 percent to 38 percent advantage over Braley among independent voters despite Braley having nearly twice the name recognition of Jacobs.
Jacobs “will doubtless fare better” if he can improve his name recognition, Hill said, because among voters who “know” both candidate the Republican leads 52 percent to 35 percent.
A lead in February is meaningless, according to Braley spokesman Jeff Giertz.
“By the time the election comes around in November, Iowa votes will be well-aware of the clear contrast between Bruce, who is fighting to raise the minimum wage and protect Social Security and Medicare, and his Republican opponent who is siding with out-of-state oil billionaires at every turn against an increase an increase in the minimum wage and against Iowa families,” Giertz said.
However, Dumas believes the poll results confirm that Jacobs’ background as a business problem-solver and his focus on job creation is what people are looking for in their next U.S. senator.
What the poll confirms is that Jacobs spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV and radio and, of course, he has more name ID than the rest of us,” said Chuck Laudner of the Clovis campaign.
“I wouldn’t have had to spend a lot of money on a poll to tell you that,” he said. “Even if I had $1 million I wouldn’t spend it on TV over the Christmas holidays.”
Among the Republican field, Jacobs leads in name recognition and favorability, according to Hill. He was known by 34 percent of the 800 Iowans likely to vote in the November general election and was viewed favorably by 13 percent.
While Jacobs’ advertising may have given him a name ID bump, Laudner said “there’s another tier of voters who haven’t engaged yet.”
“Undecided is winning,” he said.
Jason Klindt of the Whitaker campaign called the poll “simply a snapshot in time.”
“Whitaker is the most electable conservative in the race,” he said.