It Happened in January, So Why Did the Bruce Braley “Farmer” Gaffe Come Out Yesterday?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 26 2014 10:01 AM

It Happened in January, So Why Did the Bruce Braley “Farmer” Gaffe Come Out Yesterday?

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Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, votes at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on Sept. 27, 2012, in Waterloo, Iowa, likely without committing a gaffe.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

By general agreement, from Iowa political reporting legend David Yepsen to the lowliest content aggregator, Rep. Bruce Braley gaffed horribly when he insulted Chuck Grassley. Braley, who's been attacked for his "trial lawyer" backing and background ever since his first 2006 race (voters say they hate trial lawyers, despite electing tons of them), told an audience of lawyer-donors in Corpus Christi, Texas, that if Republicans won the Senate the next Judiciary chairman would be "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law." Braley has apologized, and while Jaime Fuller points out that only 5 percent of Iowans are farmers, Braley was obviously wounded.

His fault, but I'm struck by the time lag between the recording of the video and its release. The fundraiser happened on Jan. 23. The clip was released by America Rising on March 25. Nothing strange about that—the Mitt Romney "47 percent" video was recorded in May 2012 and leaked to David Corn in August. Still, the timing of the video was oddly perfect for Jodi Ernst, a state senator backed by Mitt Romney and working with Romney adviser David Kochel. Less than a day earlier, Ernst has released an instantly viral ad introducing herself to voters as a hog-castrating, pork-hating farmer-politician. Craig Robinson reports that the ad buy was tiny.

For as much attention as the ad has received, the Ernst campaign isn’t putting much money behind the spot.  Ernst is spending just $7,012 to air the ad on Fox News from March 27th through April 9th.  By comparison, [a rival] campaign is spending $209,875.00 over a similar time frame.  His ad includes statewide cable as well as network TV in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Sioux City media markets.
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The timing was a dream—Ernst, who was already getting free media (from this site, among other places), was in the right place to start denouncing Braley's now-revealed anti-farmer agenda. While she was getting lightly mocked by The Tonight Show and blogs, she was standing strong with the embattled Iowan farmer.

America Rising is by no means working for Ernst. "We don't do primaries," the PAC's executive director Tim Miller reminded me in an email. I'd still suggest that the lesson of this incident isn't that Braley sunk himself. He didn't help himself, sure. The lesson is that the Ernst campaign, heretofore ignored by Washington, knows exactly what it's doing.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.