Then Braley headed to his hometown of Waterloo, Clinton still in tow, for his birthday party, the annual Bruce, Blues and BBQ hootenanny in an old rock and roll ballroom. The senior Senator, Tom Harkin, was there for what felt like a ceremonial passing of the torch. Harkin, the retiring progressive, holds his own annual fundraiser, the steak fry, which has become the preeminent Democratic event here in Iowa.
“This is the next steak fry,” he said in an interview.
The Braley team’s internal polls showed them tied with their Republican opponent Joni Ernst, and this event-filled day could give them the momentum they needed.
But partway through Clinton’s speech, the Des Moines Register dropped their own final poll of the election. Ernst had opened up a 7-point advantage.
“This race looks like it’s decided,” J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll for the Register, said in the article announcing the results.
Murmurs spread through the press area of the Electric Park Ballroom, an old rock and roll joint surrounded by nothing, right as the news hit just after 7 pm. The rest of his team saw the news almost right away -- it was exploding on Twitter -- but the birthday boy was on stage—sitting on a high top stool and smiling— as it happened.
“This race is close,” Clinton said, unaware of the new poll results.
Clinton ended his speech to wild applause, and the guests, the vast majority of them not the type to check Twitter while a former president was talking, filed out of the building. Braley stood briefly chatting with guests before being quickly ushered out of the building. Harkin’s handler said he wouldn’t be doing interviews.
“I don’t watch the polls,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan said when asked. Then he admitted he does. “It’s disappointing to see. But that’s not the number we are seeing on the ground.”