DES MOINES | State Sen. Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs are in a virtual tie for the lead in the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, but nearly half of Iowa GOP voters have yet to pick a candidate in the five-way race.
The inaugural Loras College Poll of 600 likely Iowa GOP primary voters found Jacobs and Ernst capturing 18.8 and 18.1 percent of the support, respectively. The other candidates were in single digits: Sam Clovis 7.3 percent, Matt Whitaker 4 percent and Scott Schaben 3.5 percent.
The Jacobs campaign took the poll as a sign that support for the former energy company chief executive indicates “Iowans are looking for a proven business leader who has the know-how and fortitude to balance the budget and create an environment where jobs can grow.”
However, the most important finding may be that almost half of voters remain undecided, according to Christopher Budzisz, associate professor of politics and director of the Loras College Poll.
“I could have saved them a lot of time if they had just called me,” said Clovis campaign manager Chuck Laudner. He predicted that as Republican primary voters pay more attention to the race the candidates will gain on “undecided.”
“Everyone started with low name ID, so we knew it would break late,” he said.
The poll, said Whitaker spokesman Jason Klindt, tell him what he already knew: “This race is wide open.”
The results mirror what the Ernst campaign is seeing on the ground, spokesman Derek Flowers said.
“A steady, upward climb … despite being massively outspent by her self-funding opponent,” Flowers said, referring to Jacobs.
Jacobs’ media advertising has given him significantly higher name recognition than any other candidate at 65 percent, while Ernst, who also is running television ads, is the next highest at 48 percent, Budzisz said. Favorable opinion of the two candidates, however, is much closer with Jacobs at 28 percent and Ernst at 24 percent.
“The low name identification for many of the candidates at this stage of the race shows that money matters in politics,” Budzisz said. “Before a voter commits to a candidate they want to know the candidate and generally have a favorable opinion of him or her. Getting known can be an expensive process when running statewide for the first time.”
Although it may look like a two-person race, Budzisz predicted the next seven weeks will likely be exciting for GOP primary voters and all the candidates.
“With nearly half of the voters surveyed saying they were undecided, there is still a lot of work to be done by all the campaigns before the June 3 primary,” he said.
Ads may help a candidate build name ID, but the grassroots work -- door-knocking, meet-and-greets, central committee meetings and get-out-the-vote efforts -- were the groundwork for a final push to winning the June 3 primary, Laudner said.
No other poll matters, Laudner said. “No one wants to win January.”
The poll, conducted April 7 and 8 using telephone interviews, including landlines and cell phones, has a margin of error of 4 percent.
Those sampled included only people who voted in the 2010 Republican primary and 2012 general election. In addition, the survey was balanced using historical voting patterns for age, gender and geography
The poll did not find a gender gap between the top two candidates, Budzisz said. In contrast to conventional wisdom, Jacobs polled slightly ahead of Ernst among female voters in ballot preference.
He also noted that geography matters. Ernst has a substantial lead in the 3rd District, where she lives, which accounts for almost half of her vote statewide. Likewise, Clovis is tied with Jacobs in the 4th District, where Clovis’ radio program was heard.
Budzisz noted that if no candidate garners 35 percent of the vote or more, the nomination will be decided by party convention.