The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bruce Braley is not Iowa ‘nice’

In recent years, you could always count on the Republicans to put up people who would say things that were memorably nutty (“I’m not a witch“) or awful, making “47 percent” and “legitimate rape” into political death sentences. This time around, however, the primary process seems to be weeding out the gaffe-prone, not-ready-for-primetime conservatives while solid incumbents (e.g. Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell) and classy challengers (e.g. Ed Gillespie, Scott Brown, Rep. Tom Cotton) make races competitive and the party’s message more reasonable. Democrats, however, have been bitten by the gaffe bug in Iowa, which wasn’t really on anyone’s radar screen until Democrat Bruce Braley, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Iowa, decided to slam Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for being a farmer, not a lawyer. (You can’t make this up.)

A singular gaffe is not always fatal. But sometimes — and it sure was with a string of Republicans — it serves as a window into the candidate’s flawed intellect or character. That’s what seems to be happening with Braley. The trial lawyer seems intent on making his career as honorable as farming, which is a losing proposition in Iowa. But he keeps trying! The latest effort at damage control, the GOP group America Rising is happy to point out, seems to compound the image of arrogance. “One of my highest honors as a lawyer was being invited into the home of my clients to share a meal. To me, it was no different than putting up hay all day in Poweshiek County and sitting down to dinner at noon with the farm family I was helping that day,” he told the Des Moines Register. It’s not his profession but his cringe-worthy self-regard that plays so poorly in “nice” Iowa.

Republicans can sense blood in the water. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is engaged, spreading the gospel of trial-lawyer arrogance. One of the most promising Republican challengers, Joni Ernst, has gotten the backing of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony group and is getting help from freshman Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). Fischer, according to an e-mail from the ShePAC group, will campaign with Ernst in Iowa on April 27. The first ad from Ernst, an Iraq War vet and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, shows her beaming with pride about her work “castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.” That makes for a vivid contrast with the preening trial lawyer.

If the Republicans take the Senate, it may be because their voters were savvy enough to dump their own gaffe-laden and target-rich candidates (e.g. Milton WolfChris McDaniels, Greg Bannon) and take advantage of addled Democrats like Braley.