Early polls indicate Scholten just might have a chance

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Polls aren’t a whole lot of use at this point in telling us who will win in November. They tell us that Fred Hubbell and Kim Reynolds are in a dead heat for governor. Fair enough. It seems that way, with a ton of money crashing the TV set. And a couple recent polls put JD Scholten, D-Sioux City, within shooting distance of Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron. Democrats and others worn out from one-party rule should not fall to irrational exuberance, but …

Both of the polls in the Fourth District race show Scholten within 10 percentage points of King, a 16-year incumbent. Both show about 15% of voters undecided. Each has a margin of error in the range of 5% — which means that Scholten might be nowhere close to King. But the results are remarkably similar. And they tend to comport with more familiar surveys, such as an Iowa Poll that showed more than 60% of Fourth District voters approve of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. That is, district voters might not be as monolithic for King as they are just well-trained Republican loyalists.

Something different is occurring this time around.

First, Scholten is raising more funds than King. The incumbent has elevated his image to the point that progressive donors are willing to pay to get rid of him. They are beginning to understand that allowing King a free pass inhibits strategies for the 2020 presidential cycle. Scholten’s main problem is name identification — nearly 90% of voters have heard of King and few have heard of the young man from Sioux City. But Scholten has the money to buy ads and has been rolling them out. We have not seen that — ever — from a Democratic challenger to King this early in the campaign, if at all.

Second, Scholten is outworking King. He has been in Storm Lake three or four times. Scholten packed them into Plaza Mexico on a noon workday for a July whistlestop in his colorful used Winnebago camper. We haven’t seen much of that over the past 20 years, either. (We used to joke that the BV County Democrats could hold their convention in a phone booth. Democrat Hubbell attracted 70 people on a recent lovely Sunday afternoon to come into a hot room and hear his appeal for sound fiscal management in the governor’s office.)

Third, rock-ribbed Republicans don’t like what the party is selling. Our retired businessmen friends like tax cuts and fewer regulations, but they don’t like racism, tariffs that depress soybean prices or playing chicken with North Korea — and they cannot stand Trump’s house of corruption and dishonesty. These are honest men who believe in accounting and facts. Our friends know who is shopping in the stores downtown, and they are brown and our friends are happy they are spending money here. They have family members who are struggling with mental health problems and Medicaid, and they are worried about funding for schools and how we treat public employees. They voted for Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad, and would vote for HR Gross if he were still alive, but they are fed up with King and Trump, and they feel pretty good about no-nonsense Hubbell. They know who he is. And, a lot of our Republican friends are concerned about water quality and soil degradation and know what the GOP is selling. They are concerned about funding levels at Iowa State.

We had our hopes up when Christie Vilsack ran. Surprisingly, she did not get the Washington support she deserved. Jim Mowrer put in one tremendous debate but otherwise didn’t show up. Scholten beat a good field of Democrats who have become his enthusiastic supporters by visiting early and often. And he keeps on coming — there he was at Buena Vista University Tuesday night trying to sign up young voters to the cause.

There is no division among the ranks at the Iowa level. The Berniecrats will turn out for Hubbell, from the way it sounds. You simply do not hear as much dissent as normal. Scholten has a Latina field rep in Storm Lake organizing our new neighbors to register and vote — another first for a congressional campaign, thanks to largely grassroots fundraising.

Still, Scholten has to carry three-fourths of the Independent vote to swing this thing. So don’t get your hopes up. If King needs the money the spigots can gush plenty overnight. He knows how to work the country churches. You might not see him but the turnout machine is ready. The gun manufacturers are with him. So is Breitbart News and its noise machine. But the signs say that it is not inevitable. Northwest Iowa is not more conservative today than it was in 1974 when Rep. Wiley Mayne fell to Berkley Bedell over Mayne’s support for Richard Nixon. Bedell outworked Mayne, and pointed out that he was honest and earned his living the hard way. JD Scholten, a former semi-pro pitcher, is taking Bedell’s signal and has paced through the early innings without a mark. King is afraid to debate him. He should be. Either way, he loses. If King debates he finds an opponent who can go for the throat. If he doesn’t Scholten can say he is afraid, and that King is hiding behind Trump’s lies and corruption.

The same goes for Reynolds. Her campaign chairman is Steve King. She is tied at the hip to Trump. Our Republican friends don’t like it. Democrats are likely to turn out in record numbers for the midterm elections, if the primaries were any indication. And those most-important Independents don’t necessarily agree with King on his signature plank: running off immigrants and denying them basic rights. His seeming strength might be his weakness, if the polls are right.