Eddie Mauro and Cindy Axne are locked in a statistical tie for the lead in Democrats’ 3rd District race, the Des Moines Register’s poll released this afternoon found. Mauro comes in at 27% support, while Axne has 26%. Pete D’Alessandro polls at 11%. Another 36% of likely Democratic primary voters remain undecided and a full 82% of respondents say they could still change their minds.
That sets up a very uncertain finale to the primary in the 3rd District, a seat that Democrats very much hope to seriously contest in the general election. Republican incumbent David Young has handily won his first two races and travels extensively around his 16-county district, but changing voting trends in the Des Moines suburbs could yet flip this swing seat.
The poll results may be a big surprise to activists and Democrats who have been watching the 3rd District. Mauro, who got trounced in a primary against State Representative Jo Oldson in 2016, was largely dismissed by the political insider crowd when he joined the congressional race. But as Starting Line has often pointed out, he is going to get a major boost thanks to heavy turnout on Des Moines’ South Side thanks to the competitive supervisor race. And he’s worked the primary hard, raising a significant amount of money and putting together a serious campaign.
Indeed, if you’re confused by these results, I’d suggest this: Ann Selzer oftentimes does a very good job of figuring out a more accurate universe of who is actually going to vote, as opposed to likely primary-goers. That’s important in this race due to the outsized impact the Matt McCoy/Johnny Mauro supervisor race is having on turnout. Roughly half of the entire 3rd District’s early votes are being generated in that South Side/South of Grand race.
Many speculate that Axne will benefit greatly from being the only woman in a Democratic primary in a year when the party would like to lift up more female candidates. That may still well be the case, especially if most voters remain relatively unattached to any specific candidate. 26% isn’t a bad place to be in with those dynamics, but some may still think she’d have a decent lead at this point. EMILY’s List endorsed her after Theresa Greenfield had to exit the race, and she may get some more national assistance before the primary ends.
Axne’s campaign also appears to have tested negative messages against both Mauro and D’Alessandro (and herself for that matter), so they ought to be well-prepared if they feel the need to knock down either Mauro or D’Alessandro in the final weeks.
The most surprising part of the poll may well be D’Alessandro’s poor showing. I typically prefer to just let polls stand as they are and let the readers decide, but I do question this part of it. D’Alessandro has a unique mix of support from both former Bernie Sanders activists (he was a top adviser to Sanders himself) and insider Democrats who have worked with D’Alessandro on past campaigns and trust him. He has Sanders’ full support, is running ads with the senator in it and has staked out a clear spot on the progressive wing of the party in his race. I’d think he’d be higher than 11% at this point, even if I might not think he’s in the lead.
However, Mauro has also pitched himself as a progressive candidate on issues like healthcare and the minimum wage. A national reporter who came out to cover the race back in February found little differences between the candidates in terms of who sounded like a progressive. If you didn’t know that D’Alessandro was the Sanders-sanctioned candidate, you might hear Mauro’s issues and be convinced to back him.
And it’s very difficult to get the old Sanders coalition back together. Sanders’ success in the Iowa Caucus was not simply a result of nearly half the party turning to more progressive stances. It was an alliance of leftist activists, young voters who rarely vote, some libertarians and more. Convincing those folks to come out to vote in a congressional primary isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
The spending in the race may also be a factor. Mauro has been up on TV since mid-April. D’Alessandro went on TV in the second week of May. Axne aired ads beginning the first week of May.
The poll has no one getting to 35% yet, but a contested convention is not a serious possibility here. Those remaining undecided voters will choose someone, and it would take a very bizarre situation where all three essentially tied at 33% each to force a convention. In any case, the 3rd District nomination is still up in the air with a little over two weeks to go.
by Pat Rynard