Any will-he-or-won’t-he speculation on Pat Murphy running again for the 1st District was largely put to rest yesterday when he released a poll he sponsored that showed him ahead of Monica Vernon 43% to 34%, with Gary Kroeger capturing 12%. Obviously any candidate-sponsored poll should be taken with a grain of salt, but the results are certainly encouraging news for Murphy. In a press release this morning, Murphy said he’ll make his decision on whether to run next week.
“I think this poll is very encouraging – if I were going to run, I’d take a pretty seriously look at these numbers,” said Lauren Spangler of Myers Research, who conducted the poll, to Starting Line yesterday. For the accuracy of the polling she points to the 1st District primary poll they took in 2014, which saw Murphy at 36% and Vernon at 17%, the two finishing on Election Day at 36% and 23%. Their tracking poll showed a very close race with Blum at the end, where Murphy lost 50%-48%.
“I’ve had very encouraging conversations with Democrats in the First District,” said Murphy in the press release. “And the poll confirms a lot of what I’m hearing from people who live in the district.”
One number that stands out is the mere 12% undecided, which seems sort of low for a race still very early in the campaigning. “I think that’s pretty telling – there’s a certain chunk that’s up for grabs, but this race isn’t all that different from where it will probably end up,” Spangler noted.
Something that could change is the entrance into the race of another candidate, most likely Swati Dandekar, which Spangler says would only eat away at Vernon’s Linn County support. “Should another candidate from Linn County enter this contest and peel votes away from Vernon there, her base among primary voters is likely to crumble,” the polling firm argued in their memo.
Still, it may not be uniformly positive news for Murphy. As Democratic sources supportive of Vernon’s candidacy pointed out in conversations with Starting Line, Murphy communicated on TV for months after the 2014 primary, whereas voters haven’t seen any paid messaging from Vernon since June of 2014. And despite all that, Murphy only gained 7% over his 2014 primary total, while Vernon is up 11% (although Murphy’s people would say that’s due to an absence of another Linn County person). They also suggest that Vernon’s considerable lead in endorsements and financial support will allow her to greatly outspend Murphy, changing those numbers over the course of the campaign. Vernon raised nearly $300,000 in the 1st quarter, almost as much as Murphy raised in the entire pre-election year of 2013.
And that support is only growing. Starting Line hears from Vernon sources that you’ll be seeing a donation from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s leadership PAC in Vernon’s upcoming financial report. With Pelosi’ financial support and the earlier endorsements of a considerable number of members of Congress, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the DCCC has essentially all but endorsed Vernon for the 1st. National Democrats, with the very early support by EMILY’s List, have clearly indicated they see Vernon as the stronger general election match up against Rod Blum, and plan on playing heavily in the racce. Vernon has also added more Iowa names to her list recently with Attorney General Tom Miller, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald and former Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy’s support may be particularly stinging to Murphy, as he served as Murphy’s #2 in the House. Several others who backed Murphy are with Vernon now, including Senator Pam Jochum and Teamsters 238.
While the Murphy-sponsored poll has mixed or bad results for Vernon, it actually – oddly enough – looks pretty good for the person in 3rd place, Gary Kroeger. Consider: Kroeger has never run for office before, was virtually unknown outside of his Waterloo home and hasn’t done any paid advertising yet. Just the campaigning he’s done in person, in the press and online has gotten him to 12% already, a little under four months into his campaign. That’s not bad, and shows he’s impressing the people he’s meeting.
Personally, I question just how solid these numbers are for everyone. While Murphy’s polling firm was very accurate for the primary last time around, this campaign is going to be considerably different. For one, of course, is the considerable amount of support that Vernon starts with this time that she didn’t enjoy in 2014, both locally and nationally. That indicates some sort of change on the ground, and will greatly help Vernon raise money for the primary.
But the other big difference will be how the candidates campaign in 2016. In the 2014 primary, the five sides were hesitant to really criticize each other, fearing backlash to attacks would hurt them as much as who they hit. That won’t be the case this time. Already the candidates have been unafraid to offer sharp comparisons between them and announced or potential opponents. Murphy’s polling firm noted that his lead grows to 57% to 35% when matched up one-on-one with Vernon and after reading negative statements about both. Of course, Kroeger and Vernon will have plenty they can throw Murphy’s way, likely focusing on how he has already lost to Blum before.
The 2016 primary for the Democratic-leaning 1st District is likely to be a volatile one, poll swings or not, but Murphy begins in the lead in this poll, and that’s a nice place to be.
by Pat Rynard