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By now, you’ve likely seen Iowa Democrat and trial lawyer Bruce Braley’s spectacularly condescending gaffe at a Texas fundraiser, in which he told fellow leftwing donors, as the Washington Post noted last Wednesday, “you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” That is, if Braley doesn’t win his bid in November to replace retiring fellow Democrat Tom Harkin:
With a single quote made public Tuesday, Braley, a candidate for U.S. Senate, exposed himself to attacks that he was insulting farmers and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), people no Hawkeye State politician should ever cross.
“If you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Braley said at a Texas fundraiser in January. The conservative group America Rising released video of his comments.
The “next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee” Braley was referencing: Grassley, a long-serving senator who is very well-liked. How popular is he? A recent survey from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling found Grassley to be the most popular statewide politician in Iowa, with a 51 percent approval rating and a 32 percent disapproval rating. Grassley’s approval rating was 62 percent in a 2013 Des Moines Register poll.
The second part of Braley’s quote that could come back to bite him is the part about Grassley being a farmer, which Republicans are portraying as, well, a slight to farmers.
According to the Des Moines Register today, the spin from Braley’s camp is that he knew he was being recorded, and he totally meant to insult Iowa’s farmers. Totally:
Braley’s campaign strategists say the candidate knew he was being videotaped at the private fundraiser when he made the remark that has the political world buzzing, describing Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” They think the GOP is seriously overhyping the videotape, and that it will backfire.
“I think they’re overplaying it like they overplayed Obamacare,” Jeff Link, a senior adviser for Braley’s campaign, told The Des Moines Register. “When most voters hear ‘Obamacare,’ they essentially tune it out because it’s become the proxy for negativity.”
Republicans admit they’re milking this controversy, employing everything from bumper stickers and Burma Shave-style signs to robocalls and TV advertising campaigns to damage Braley’s bid to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.
The GOP’s headlong rush to capitalize on the incident stems in part because Braley has looked so dominant. Just two days before the video was widely publicized, statistical guru Nate Silver gave Braley a 75 percent chance to win the race.
“This gaffe shows the extent to which the perception of a race can change on the drop of a dime,” said Brad Dayspring, a strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The spin from Camp Braley is eerily reminiscent of Obama’s “I totally meant to say that” reaction to his own Bitter Clingers Kinsleyesque gaffe at a fundraiser in 2008, which Braley’s John Lobb-in-mouth moment very much resembles.
Well, maybe at a swank Dem fundraiser in California—and, if that’s not “everybody,” who is? This was an even more revealing remark than the original bitter-clingers crack. It deserves to be as celebrated as the famous response to the 1972 election results by a bewildered Pauline Kael, doyenne of the New Yorker, that nobody she knew voted for Nixon. Just as “everybody” knows “we can’t just keep driving our SUVs, eating whatever we want, keeping our homes at 72 degrees,” so nobody we know voted for Nixon and everybody we know agrees that those crackers are embittered fundamentalist gun-nut bigots. Oh, c’mon, I said something everybody knows is true.
Will Braley’s similar spin work as well for him? That’s up to the voters of Iowa to decide — will they replace phony Vietnam War vet Tom Harkin with another Democrat with a similar level of condescension and questionable relationship to the truth? Braley’s certainly counting on it.
(Both early Simpsons reference and phrase “Scrotal Torque” in headline inspired by Jonah Goldberg, needless to say.)