Government

Blum poll puts him within 1 point of challenger Finkenauer

'It's familiar territory,' incumbent says

U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (center), R-Iowa, talks with World War II veterans Clifford Higgins (left) and Bob Clark during lunch Thursday at the Freedom Foundation, 609 Center Point Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids. He said a poll by his campaign shows the race tightening between him and Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
U.S. Rep. Rod Blum (center), R-Iowa, talks with World War II veterans Clifford Higgins (left) and Bob Clark during lunch Thursday at the Freedom Foundation, 609 Center Point Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids. He said a poll by his campaign shows the race tightening between him and Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Less than four weeks before the Nov. 6 election, U.S. Rep. Rod Blum is where he usually is — trailing in the polls.

Polls in the 20-county northeast Iowa 1st Congressional District have shown him trailing Democratic challenger state Rep. Abby Finkenauer by as much as 15 percentage points.

Although neither campaign thinks the margin is that wide in the district that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 4 percentage points in 2016, Blum acknowledges his underdog role.

“It’s familiar territory,” he said Thursday during a visit to Freedom Foundation Veterans Center in Cedar Rapids. “It’s kind of the way the last two (elections) have gone. We were behind early on and then we would catch up and get momentum at the right time.”

A new poll for the Blum campaign suggests that’s the case again this fall.

That poll found the race is a statistical dead heat, with Finkenauer at 44 percent and Blum at 43 percent with 8 percent of voters undecided. The poll was conducted by the Polling Company, which the Blum campaign has used in previous campaigns, has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

The Finkenauer campaign was not surprised that Blum was trailing.

“It’s clear Congressman Blum’s ethics scandal, vote to strip protections from Iowans with pre-existing conditions, and vote to cut taxes for millionaires while putting Social Security at risk have taken their toll,” spokeswoman Kate Waters said. “If he says he’s losing, we take him at his word.”

According to recent reports, national GOP resources have not been deployed in the 1st District race as Republicans try to hold their House majority. The Congressional Leadership Fund, for example, hasn’t run any ads in the district, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political advertising, and Blum has been the only one running ads supporting his candidacy since Labor Day.

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Blum recalled that in 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee didn’t get involved in his open-seat race until the very end. The same was true two years ago. In 2014, former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy led Blum late in the summer before falling behind in October. Blum won that race 51 percent to 49 percent. In 2016, Cedar Rapids City Ccouncil member Monica Vernon was ahead in November before falling behind in the final week of the race. He won 54 percent to 46 percent.

“So this seems to be playing itself out again,” Blum said. “It doesn’t surprise me, but with this newest poll, I think they are re-evaluating this race.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 3 and 4 among 400 registered voters — 36 percent Democrats, 34 percent Republicans and 30 percent other using voter registrations statistics and historic turnout models. Actual voter registration in the district is 28 percent Republican, 33 percent Democrat and 39 percent other.

The sample as 47 percent male and 53 percent female and designed to reflect the district’s age, race and geography.

Before serving chili and cornbread to the 40-plus veterans and families at the Freedom Foundation, Blum thanked them for their service and talked about his family’s service in the military. His father served in the Navy in World War II and his brother, Gary, served three tours in Vietnam as a Marine.

“We come from a family of military service,” he said. “I’m serving my country now in the Congress. Thank you for sending me there.”

He also praised the Freedom Foundation for the work it does to support veterans and their families “without a single dollar, without government being involved, veterans helping veterans.”

“Without you, we wouldn’t have our freedom,” Blum said. “Thank you for your service. You make a difference.”

debate

Blum and Finkenauer will debate at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the CBS 2 studio in Cedar Rapids.

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The debate will be broadcast live on KGAN (Channel 2) and KXEL-AM radio (1540) and streamed online at cbs2iowa.com, facebook.com/kgancbs2 and KXEL.com.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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