The race to predict the race in Iowa to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is on. Republican Rep. Steve King is favored among GOP primary voters but less appealing to the general electorate, while former Gov. Tom Vilsack is a potential favorite if he chooses to enter the Democratic primary, according to polling in the state.
The most recent survey, conducted by Selzer & Company for The Des Moines Register, didn't ask Iowans for whom they'd vote in 2014, but rather for their impressions on a range of possible contenders.
Vilsack, who now serves as secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration, is among the best known of the candidates. He drew by far the most enthusiastic response and was the only one to receive majority support: 56 percent of those polled said he'd be an appealing candidate, compared to 35 percent who said he would not.
Nobody else comes close to having his 21-point margin between positive and negative responses. He also has strong support across party lines and with independents. ... If Tom Vilsack is at all inclined to run for Senate, this poll has nothing but green lights for him.
Pollster J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Company echoed that sentiment, telling the Register, "This is the kind of poll finding that launches campaigns."
As of yet, Vilsack hasn't made much noise about a bid. Indeed, he said earlier this year he would stay on as secretary of agriculture in a second Obama term. That would likely be good news for Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who is the only declared candidate in the contest for Harkin's seat.
Braley was seen as appealing by 36 percent of Iowans and unappealing by 33 percent. The remaining 31 percent weren't sure.
Former Gov. Chet Culver (D) had a 10-point net negative rating, while Vilsack's wife, Christie, had a 4-point net negative rating. Christie Vilsack's aide told the Register she wasn't running.
Rep. King, a controversial conservative whose possible candidacy is causing heartburn for some establishment GOP members, appealed to 33 percent of adults, but received a thumbs down from 41 percent. Rep. Tom Latham (R) had a 6-point net positive rating, while Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) was underwater by 4 points.
Bob Vander Plaats, a former gubernatorial candidate and a social conservative activist, ranked at the bottom of the barrel, with more than half of Iowa adults calling him an unappealing candidate.
The Register poll surveyed 802 adults between Feb. 3 and Feb 6.
Harkin's decision to retire next year will create the first open Senate race in Iowa since 1974. The contest has attracted a number of early polls beyond the Register's, including automated phone polls by two partisan firms and a telephone survey sponsored by the conservative group Citizens United.
The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that King would dominate a Republican primary among likely voters, taking 41 percent to runner-up Latham's 22 percent. But in PPP's hypothetical matchups, Latham was a far stronger candidate in the general election, running within 4 points of Braley and Tom Vilsack. King lagged in both races by about 10 points.
A survey by the Republican firm Harper Polling for the Conservative Intelligence Briefing found King leading Latham by a somewhat smaller margin (35 to 22 percent) in a prospective primary field. It also found Braley leading King by just 5 points in a general election and trailing Latham by 3 points.
The Citizens United poll, conducted by the Republican firm Wenzel Strategies, found King taking about one-third of likely Republican voters in a primary election, followed by Latham at 19 percent.