WATERLOO, Iowa – Republican Joni Ernst has opened up a strong lead in the critical U.S. Senate race in Iowa, pulling 7 percentage points ahead of Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley in a new Des Moines Register poll – comfortably outside the survey’s margin of error.
For the first time, Enrst has moved above the critical 50% threshold, though just by one point. Braley trails at 44%.
The race, like other tossups, could determine control of the Senate. Ernst has maintained a razor-thin lead for weeks in polls, but this latest survey suggests the race has changed in its closing days.
“This race looks like it’s decided,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer, whose surveys are considered the most reliable in the state.
The poll shows Iowans think Ernst better represents their values and is evening winning Braley’s congressional district. Ernst was initially not seen as major threat to Braley, but her compelling biography – she’s a National Guard commander who was raised on a farm – and skill on the stump have set her up for a potential upset.
More than $60 million has been spent by outside groups alone in the Iowa, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, clogging the state airwaves with negative ads. Everyone in Iowa seems to dislike those ads, but the Register poll shows that the negativity of the race has ultimately hurt Braley more.
“It’s disappointing to see. But that’s not the number we are seeing on the ground,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan, “November fourth is a long way off, we have a lot of doors to knock.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told progressives Saturday that Iowa was one of the most important Senate races in the country.
“Joni Ernst would mean – coming to the United States Senate – that Mitch McConnell would be leader of the United States Senate, who agrees with her on everything,” Reid said on a conference call organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Former President Bill Clinton visited Iowa for two events to fire up Democrats ahead of Tuesday’s election. He held a rally in Des Moines with musician James Taylor, and another in Braley’s native Iowa Saturday evening.
At the second event, retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, who Braley is hoping to replace, urged activists to “ignore the polls” and just make one final push before Tuesday.