WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a key U.S. Senate race unfolds in Iowa, President Barack Obama’s declining job approval rating may be one factor making it such a close battle. Obama’s approval rating among Iowans for the first half of the year stood at 38%, five percentage points below the national average and the lowest rating Gallup has measured in Iowa during his presidency. The Senate race pits current Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley against Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst. Several polls show a close race — perhaps closer than many analysts would expect, given Ernst’s relatively unknown background as a new state senator versus Braley’s background as a four-term U.S. Representative.
Perhaps more than any state other than Obama’s home state of Illinois, Iowa has been important to the president’s political career. His win in the 2008 Iowa caucus transformed him from a decided underdog to a contender for the Democratic nomination. He would go on to win this key swing state’s Electoral College votes twice, in the 2008 and 2012 general elections.
But despite the integral role the Hawkeye State has played in Obama’s political career, Iowans could cause Obama a severe second-term setback if they elect a Republican to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. A GOP victory would help increase the chances for Republicans to take control of the Senate, hindering Obama’s agenda for his remaining two years in office.
Further complicating matters for Braley is the surge in Republican identification in Iowa since 2008, as measured by self-reported party affiliation and independents who report “leaning” toward the GOP. While the percentage of national adults identifying as or leaning Republican was two percentage points higher in the first half of 2014 than in 2008 (39% vs. 37%, respectively), it was six points higher among Iowans (40% vs. 34%).
Meanwhile, in the first half of 2014, 41% of Iowans said they identify as or lean Democratic — slightly below the national average of 43%. Put simply, Iowa was more Democratic than the rest of the nation in 2008; it is now less Democratic than the rest of the nation.
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