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Why Iowa is competitive and New Hampshire isn’t

Iowa and New Hampshire have a lot in common -- they’re early presidential nominating contests, they’re swing states, and President Obama and congressional Republicans are unpopular in both. But there’s an explanation why our new NBC/Marist polls show Iowa’s Senate contest all tied up (with Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst at 43% each), while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) leads likely GOP challenger Scott Brown by eight points, 50%-42%, in New Hampshire. The answer: Shaheen is popular while Brown isn’t, and both Braley and Ernst are polarizing in the Hawkeye State. In New Hampshire, Shaheen has a 52%-39% fav/unfav rating (+13) in the poll, but Brown -- the former senator from next-door Massachusetts -- has just a 40%-39% score (+1). And in Iowa, Braley’s fav/unfav rating is 36%-32% (+4), while Ernst’s is 38%-33% (+5). Bottom line: For all of the national attention his candidacy has received, Scott Brown has a lot of work to do in New Hampshire. Yes, his candidacy has helped Republicans put another race on the board (thus diverting Democratic resources from other contests). But his fav/unfav score reflects the bad start he got off to in the Granite State.

A big gender gap in New Hampshire, and a much smaller one in Iowa

There’s another notable difference between the New Hampshire and Iowa contests: Like in our Colorado and Michigan polls from yesterday, Shaheen is enjoying a substantial lead among female voters (59%-34%), while Brown is ahead with men (51%-42%). But in Iowa, Braley has only an eight-point lead among women (45%-37%), while Ernst is ahead with men (48%-40%). In this current environment, successful Democratic campaigns are going to need to win female voters by double digits; single digits probably won’t cut it. Oh, and one other point about Iowa: It’s shaping up, arguably, to be the nastiest race in the country (in a state where “Iowa Nice” has traditionally been the norm). Iowa voters, put on your flak jackets.

The race to the bottom

A final observation from our new NBC/Marist polls: President Obama is unpopular in both New Hampshire (39% approval rating among voters) and Iowa (37%). Yet once again, congressional Republicans are even more unpopular -- 19% approval rating in New Hampshire, and 21% in Iowa. With less than four months until Election Day, it is truly shaping up to be a race to the bottom. Where does the angry middle go? Do they hold their nose, not vote or protest and support third-party candidates? One thing is for sure, with a climate this negative about all of Washington, every close race is going to be just a little extra nasty. To recap, here are the numbers from the four swing states states we’ve polled this week:

  • Colorado: Obama approval 40%, congressional Republican approval 21%
  • Iowa: Obama approval 37%, congressional GOP approval 21%
  • Michigan: Obama approval 40%, congressional GOP approval 19%
  • New Hampshire: Obama approval 39%, congressional GOP approval 19%.

Heads up: More NBC/Marist polling data coming out tomorrow: Tomorrow morning, we’ll have more NBC/Marist poll numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire -- regarding the 2016 presidential race in those two states.

Hillary does the “Daily Show”

Speaking of 2016, Hillary Clinton appeared on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” last night after more than a month of promoting her new book. She responded to her earlier “dead broke” comment. “That was an inartful use of words, obviously. You know, Bill and I have worked very hard, and we've been successful and really grateful for that,” Clinton told comedian Jon Stewart, per NBC’s Bill Hatfield. “But what I worry about, and I talk about this in the book, is I'm worried that other people, and particularly younger people are not going to have the same opportunities we did.” Stewart also tried a novel approach to ask Clinton about her 2016 plans -- a career aptitude test. The LA Times: “‘Do you like commuting to work or do you like a home office?’ Stewart asked. Clinton said that after many years of commuting, she’d enjoyed writing her book on the third floor of her house. ‘Do you have a favorite shape for that home office?’ Stewart continued archly. ‘Would you like that office … to have corners? Or would you like it not to have corners.’ ‘You know,’ Clinton gamely replied, ‘I think that the world is so complicated, the fewer corners that you can have, the better.’”

House easily passes short-term Highway Trust Fund extension

Turning to policy and the legislative activity on Capitol Hill… Yesterday, we wrote -- pessimistically -- that Congress might have a difficult time even passing the bare minimum of a Highway Trust Fund extension. Well, guess what: The House passed the extension in a bipartisan vote. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the House passed a bill, 367-55, that would temporarily fund the Highway Trust Fund until May 31, 2015 by using a number of pay-fors that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called "gimmicky." The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters yesterday they are working on a possible amendment package to the House-passed legislation, per Katie Wall. Two takeaways here: One, the overwhelming House passage was yet another rebuke to the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, which both opposed the bill and said they would include the vote on their congressional scorecards. Two, what the House did was the bare minimum. We’re going to be debating the future of the Highway Trust Fund -- which normally has been a bipartisan vehicle -- next spring.

House Democrats to unveil “100 Day Action Plan”

Finally, the Washington Post is reporting -- and First Read can confirm -- that “House Democrats plan to unveil a list of election-year proposals Wednesday that party leaders hope will resonate with women, blue-collar workers and younger voters — three key constituencies that historically don’t show up to vote in significant numbers in midterm election years.” It will be entitled “100 Day Action Plan,” and House Democrats will unveil it at 9:30 am ET. The Post also reports House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying that her goal is to pick up 25 GOP seats in November. But there aren’t a lot of folks -- including most Democrats we talk to -- who think picking up 25 House seats is a realistic outcome.

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