A new Iowa poll has some interesting results. The Loras College poll of 600 GOP primary voters shows that the strongest Senate contenders, Joni Ernst (24 percent) and Mark Jacobs (27.8 percent), enjoy strong favorable opinions, but that the vast majority of voters are still unaware of who they are or are unable to form an opinion. Neither has negatives above 4 percent. In a head-to-head, they are in a statistical dead heat (18.1 percent for Ernst, 18.8 for Jacobs.) The winner will go up against the beleaguered Bruce Braley, who insulted Iowa’s farmers and the state’s popular Republican senator, Chuck Grassley.
Meanwhile, in the 2016 GOP pre-caucus jostling, mostly driven by name identification, the 2008 winner, Mike Huckabee, leads (14.7 percent) with Jeb Bush (10.7 percent) close behind. A plurality, almost 24 percent, is undecided.
It may surprise political pundits, but GOP primary voters don’t know a lot about candidates months or years before the election, despite a great deal of chatter about them from the political class. It takes more than a few catchy commercials (Ernst introduced herself as having worked castrating pigs on a farm) or harangues by radio talk show hosts (e.g. regarding Jeb Bush’s empathy for illegal immigrants) to break through the media haze, particularly so early in the game.
While donors, campaign operatives and some pundits may feel “everyone” knows all about these candidates, even the most involved voters aren’t yet paying a whole lot of attention. Many younger voters don’t remember when Jeb Bush was governor and may not recall that much about Huckabee. That means that candidates, if they are savvy and energetic, can introduce themselves to voters and shape initial opinion. The well is not poisoned for Jeb Bush. Candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (6.2 percent) haven’t begun to sell themselves in earnest. They and all the others will have to spend the time again and again getting to know Iowa caucus-goers before opinions are formed. That is why relative newcomers are already trekking to New Hampshire and Iowa; it is only the beginning of the long courtship.