Branstad, Hatch to face off in second debate


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A GOP kingmaker looking to continue on Iowa’s gubernatorial ladder and a state senator who trails him in several state and national polls will come face-to-face in their second debate on Saturday.
The setting inside a southeastern Iowa middle school is a far cry from their previous political discussions, which occurred in August at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Still, political analysts say it could be a critical tipping point heading into the November election.

In 2014, 36 gubernatorial races are taking place across the United States. If elected in November, five-term Gov. Terry Branstad would become the longest-serving governor in American history.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, is just one of a large handful of national Democrats looking to change leadership.

In Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, Democrats have placed targets on the backs of Republican leaders.

Although campaign spending and poll numbers in those states have been varied, in Iowa, the outlook has been clearer.

On Wednesday, a Quinnipiac University poll of 1,167 likely voters suggests Branstad leads Hatch with a 60 percent of likely voters and a margin 23 points. In comparison, Hatch garnered just 37 percent of those sampled.

“We still have seven weeks until Election Day, but barring what would be one of the largest turnarounds in American political history … Branstad is on the road to the history books,” Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Peter Brown said in a statement. “Sen. Jack Hatch obviously has a long, long way to go.”

The poll, conducted Sept. 10 through Monday, has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
Branstad also rated well on questions of honesty, care for voter’s needs, and leadership qualities. The results suggest Hatch’s campaign strategy has not taken hold — he’s devoted substantial energy to defining the incumbent as untrustworthy and mired in controversy.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan this month, Hatch remained generally positive, lamenting that the race has been “volatile.”

At the end of the most recent reporting period, the Branstad Reynolds campaign had nearly $4.7 million in cash on hand, compared with $241,859 for the Hatch-Vernon ticket, according to the Disclosure Board.

Hatch told the DI he didn’t anticipate spending more than $400,000 on his bid for Terrace Hill.

“We knew this was an uphill battle,” he said in a roundtable setting, before citing former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s 1998 gubernatorial race against Republican Jim Lightfoot. “It’s not unusual to have these things switch dramatically.”

Christopher Budzisz, an associate professor of politics at Loras College, said the Saturday debate is a showcase opportunity for Hatch.

In a debate setting, the sheer amount of money opposing candidates have raised doesn’t play as critical role of separating the challengers, he said. Rather it’s their rhetoric.

For Hatch, that means creating a base of young and urban voters, Budzisz, also the director of the Loras College Poll, said.

With time running short and early voting about to get underway, Hatch will need to change the campaign dynamics to make the race competitive, said Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political science.

“You can barely find an Iowan that hasn’t heard of Terry Branstad; everybody knows who he is,” Budzisz said.

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