The polls say it’s close

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

You would think that Democrats will win in a walk if you’d been where I have over the past couple weeks: Cedar Rapids, St. Paul, Madison, Iowa City and Des Moines. The progressives in the city are mad as hell, fired up and ready to go. They are bound to vote. But what about Dyersville and Sac City?

Too bad I missed it, but JD Scholten had them packed in with Julian Castro of Texas last week at Better Day Café. The biggest crowd since Bernie came to town. Scholten did a similar thing this summer with Eric Swalwell of California. And recently with Cory Booker. Scholten was at Council Bluffs with ag secretary candidate Tim Gannon getting a fair amount of ink talking back to Trump on trade.

The beans languished along Hwy. 20 as big flakes fell west of Waterloo. The big man in overalls and a beard and a Buick at the Grundy Center pit stop was anxious to get home to Le Mars where he heard two inches of snow blanketed his corn. All he saw in between were windshield wipers and corn whipped by wind and rain. He might be hoping this will drive prices up because Trump won’t balance the budget in Le Mars this year.

That has to have an impact on the psyche of the rural Midwest that has given way to Trump and King and tariffs.

I managed to hear 15 minutes of the debate between Kim Reynolds and Fred Hubbell. She was on the attack. Her voice does not sound like Susan Stamberg reassuring a PBS audience. She was shrill. Hubbell talked calmly and soberly with numbers about Medicaid, just keep focused on the numbers and the business will work. He should be up by 10 with all that money of his Reynolds is complaining about, she a Farm Bureau totem, but this is a margin of error race yet. Old pros Mike Tramontina and John Norris in Des Moines believe Hubbell will be fine. But I had a tingle in my tummy as tornado sirens herded us to the basement of the Drake library.

The local Facebook polls will tell you that Trump is doing pretty well among the average people. Nothing scientific. The yard signs outside town say the same. It’s been raining so long you could think that Steve King will be just fine, as Trump declared. That you don’t even need to vote because King will win so easily. You could think so.

But if 2016 taught us anything is that elections are predictable as October Iowa weather.

Rod Blum released an internal poll showing a dead heat in his District 1 congressional race against Abby Finkenauer. They’re from Dubuque. It went big for Trump last time around. But the DC folks think Finkenauer is statistically safe. That’s the problem with statistics. At Peosta, the signs were all about Blum. Trump was there not so long ago and got a warm welcome despite tariffs that are hurting John Deere and Caterpillar. People in Waterloo are nervous.

A friend from Ottumwa, registered Republican, is voting for Hubbell. She says Wapello County will go blue after going double digits for Trump. She is a former local newspaper editor/publisher. She visits with everyone. They’re concerned about mental health and Medicaid. And lousy corn prices. But if they can’t get the corn out they can get crop insurance, and they can get a disaster payment, and prices might rise and what corn they have will be worth more. So they are still riding with Trump. What goes down must go up, they figure.

What does a big crowd for Scholten mean?

Are women that upset? Will Latinos register and vote?

If they’re in the thick of finally getting at that corn, and they’re in a bad mood, will those Trump farmers bother to vote for a congressman who brings them no bacon?

Those are the questions that polls cannot answer.

Steve O’Bannon is working his tail off knocking on doors for himself for county supervisor, and for Hubbell and Scholten. Supervisor Tom Huseman, a Republican, has no opponent. Dale Arends is running as an independent, and Kelly Snyder is running as a Republican, potentially splitting that ticket. Huseman doesn’t have to canvass as hard as he would with an opponent, which could cool local turnout.

Teachers from here to Sheboygan are in a rage. Public employee unions are being forced to recertify this year because of Reynolds, which could backfire in that it is forcing unions to re-organize and re-energize their membership to be sure to vote in the general election.

You can feel the rage in a library meeting room in Iowa City. My friend in Ottumwa says people are angry there, too, or disconsolate. Trump’s approval rating, meanwhile, is rising. All the signs point to a blue wave yet it doesn’t feel like it beyond the city limits. But I thought Mike Gronstal certainly would have been the Iowa Senate majority leader last session. He was at home in Council Bluffs after having been defeated by low turnout among Democrats and the gun lobby. The polls tell me that all the races — even King v. Scholten — are close. That the undecideds are many. That neither King nor Reynolds is campaigning here. That this is a turnout election that the polls cannot fully capture ahead of time. You would think … but then you might think again.