The Devastating Iowa Gaffe That Changed Nothing

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 21 2014 3:19 PM

The Devastating Iowa Gaffe That Changed Nothing

Do you remember Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley's killer gaffe? You must. Earlier this year Braley told a room of trial lawyers/possible donors to his Senate campaign that a Republican takeover of the upper house would give the Judiciary Committee to Sen. Chuck Grassley, a "farmer from Iowa" who didn't even go to law school. By general agreement, even according to Nate Silver, it was the rare gaffe that mattered. One group spent a quarter of a million dollars to air the quote on TV. All of that came as Joni Ernst, a Republican who had heretofore not impressed the strategists who didn't work for her, ran an ad that portrayed her as a folksy, hog-castrating farmer.

Bruce Braley led Ernst by 6 points in February at 41/35 and he continues to lead by 6 points now at 45/39, with the undecided pool shrinking some as Ernst has become better known. Braley has leads of 6-9 points against the other Republican contenders as well- it's 42/36 over Jacobs, 43/36 over Whitaker, and 43/34 over Clovis. Braley's average lead of 7 points over the Republican field is identical to what it was on our last poll.
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If you dig into the internals, it's a little bleaker for Braley. Only a little. He once enjoyed a net 6-point favorable rating, but it's fallen to a 29–29 positive-negative split. Ernst's problem is that she's gotten better-known, but not more popular—a 9–12 positive-negative split is now a 27–32 split.

Why didn't Braley implode? Anybody's guess, but there does seem to be an epidemic of oppo that thrills partisans and makes no sense to the swing electorate. Take the story now leading Drudge.

The link goes to a write-around of a Miami Herald story, about how America Rising (which also made the Braley gaffe famous) captured video of Rep. Joe Garcia explaining why it wasn't enough to secure the border by sending more guards.

"Two of the safest cities in America, two of them are on the border with Mexico," he said. "And of course, the reason is we’ve proved that Communism works. If you give everybody a good, government job, there’s no crime."

He laughed, and anyone with a child's understanding of English or a basic knowledge of the immigration debate got his point. Sure, you can always hire more guards, or you can try to fix the root problem. If you don't already hate Democrats, this makes no sense as a "gaffe." If you're the sort of person who hoards survival seeds, you're outraged.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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