In Iowa, GOP hopes alive to win U.S. Se­nate seat

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

DES MOINES, IOWA | The pend­ing re­tire­ment of long­time Sen. Tom Harkin, a Demo­crat, has given the Iowa GOP its first real shot in three decades at pick­ing up an open Se­nate seat — and Repub­li­cans are hop­ing to ride the grow­ing un­rest over Oba­macare to vic­tory next year over Rep. Bruce L. Bra­ley, the lead­ing Demo­cratic con­tender.

The con­test in this swing state could speak vol­umes about how Oba­macare will play in con­gres­sional races across the na­tion in 2014, when Repub­li­cans hope to cap­ture the six seats they need to win back the Se­nate.

“Repub­li­cans are go­ing to try to make Oba­macare an is­sue in ev­ery race, and of course they will try to tar­get Bruce Bra­ley with such at­tacks, given that he voted for the bill in 2010,” said Kyle Kondik of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Center for Pol­i­tics. “More in­ter­est­ing in Iowa is whether Repub­li­cans will nom­i­nate a good can­di­date there and the na­tional party will spend what it takes to win. There are big ques­tions about both points. While it’s easy to as­sume Oba­macare and the pres­i­dent will be big li­a­bil­i­ties next year, it’s just too soon to know whether that will ac­tu­ally be the way it shakes out.”

What is clear is that Mr. Bra­ley is now try­ing to dis­tance him­self from Oba­macare — the same law that he voted for and said “will do for Amer­ica what we should have done 100 years ago: pro­vide health care for all Amer­i­cans as a mat­ter of right, not as a mat­ter of priv­i­lege.”

Mr. Bra­ley di­aled back that sup­port this month. He was one of 39 Democrats who de­fied the White House by vot­ing for a House bill that would al­low insurance com­pa­nies to keep of­fer­ing poli­cies that oth­er­wise would be can­celed be­cause they don’t meet Oba­macare stan­dards.

“Pres­i­dent Obama promised that Amer­i­cans could keep their health insurance if they liked it, and Iowans think that prom­ise should be hon­ored. That’s why I sup­ported [the] bill,” Mr. Bra­ley said in a state­ment.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Repub­li­can, said Mr. Bra­ley’s vote for Oba­macare, as well as his sup­port for the “cap-and-trade” pro­gram to con­trol green­house-gas emis­sions and his op­po­si­tion to free-trade agree­ments will prove li­a­bil­i­ties in next year’s race.

“I think the Democrats have made huge mis­take,” he said.

Mr. Branstad also may have caused some fu­ture headaches for Mr. Bra­ley by ex­tend­ing a farm bureau insurance pro­gram through 2014 — a move that will de­lay po­ten­tial can­cel­la­tion notices for 70,000 res­i­dents un­til just be­fore the elec­tion.

“I think what’s go­ing to hap­pen is that Bra­ley is go­ing to be caught again with five weeks to go to the elec­tion, try­ing to ex­plain why peo­ple are go­ing to be so hurt­ing when it comes to insurance and their insurance in the state,” Sam Clo­vis, a GOP Se­nate can­di­date and for­mer ra­dio host, told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

When Mr. Harkin an­nounced ear­lier this year that he would not seek re-elec­tion next year to a sixth term, Iowa sud­denly be­came one of the mar­quee races of the 2014 elec­tion. First elected to the Se­nate in 1985, Mr. Harkin has served in the Se­nate longer than any other Demo­crat in Iowa his­tory.

The slate of po­ten­tial GOP can­di­dates grew to six last week when Mark Ja­cobs, the one­time CEO of Re­liant En­ergy Co., en­tered the race. He joins Mr. Clo­vis, state Sen. Joni Ernst, lawyer Paul Lunde, for­mer car sales­man Scott Sch­aben, for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney Matt Whi­taker and David Young, a for­mer aide to GOP Sen. Chuck Grass­ley.

Robert L. Van­der Plaats, the head of the Chris­tian con­ser­va­tive fam­ily leader, is con­sid­er­ing a bid.

Mr. Bra­ley, mean­while, has a clear path to his party’s nom­i­na­tion, giv­ing him the ad­van­tage of fo­cus­ing all of his at­ten­tion on rais­ing money and lay­ing the ground­work for the gen­eral elec­tion.

“He will no doubt be for­mi­da­ble,” said Brian Kennedy, a for­mer state GOP chair­man. “He will be fully funded. He doesn’t have to go through a con­tested pri­mary. The chal­lenge for the Repub­li­can Party will be, No. 1, can we unify af­ter the pri­mary and, No. 2, can we re­ally pin Oba­macare and the rest of the Obama, Pelosi agenda on Bruce Bra­ley.”

But get­ting Repub­li­cans on the same page could be eas­ier said than done, given the in­fight­ing be­tween vet­eran Repub­li­cans and the lead­ers of the state GOP, who have strug­gled to match the fundrais­ing of pre­vi­ous party lead­ers.

A.J. Spiker, the state GOP chair­man, shrugs off the crit­i­cism and says Repub­li­cans will be fine.

“I don’t have much faith in gov­ern­ment any­way, but I am still sur­prised at the level of dis­as­ter that [Oba­macare] is,” Mr. Spiker said. “With 5 mil­lion peo­ple los­ing their health insurance, I think Oba­macare come next year will still be a ma­jor is­sue. I think it does help us against Bruce Bra­ley. Bruce Bra­ley was one of the last peo­ple push­ing and speak­ing for it in the House be­fore its pas­sage. So he owns it.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The GOP hopes to pin Oba­macare on Iowa Rep. Bruce L. Bra­ley, the Demo­cratic can­di­date to re­place Sen. Tom Harkin as the surest way to claim the seat in 2014.

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