- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A look at what to watch for in advance of Tuesday’s midterm elections in Iowa.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

Candidates in the competitive Iowa Senate race tried to reach voters over the weekend. Democrat Bruce Braley held events in Des Moines and Waterloo with former President Bill Clinton, while Republican Joni Ernst toured the state and touted an endorsement from former President George H. W. Bush.

The race has been closely locked for months, but a new Iowa Poll from The Des Moines Register released Saturday suggested Ernst was pulling ahead. The survey showed Ernst with 51 percent of likely voters and Braley with 44 percent. The poll of 701 likely voters has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. Other recent polls have shown the race more closely divided.

Clinton on Saturday urged Iowans in Des Moines to come out and vote, saying Braley would support policies that would help working families. Clinton called Braley: “the only choice.”

Ernst spokeswoman Caitlin Conant said in a statement that Braley had been part of “Washington gridlock” during his eight years in Congress and that Ernst would bring Iowa values to Washington.

COFFEE TALK

After Clinton rallied voters Saturday in Des Moines, he and Braley headed to Ames to drop by the Stomping Grounds coffee shop.

Clinton and Braley ordered drinks - a decaf for the former president and an Americano for the candidate - and talked with Iowa State University students and others about the Senate race.

“You guys say hello to Bruce Braley. I want you to vote for him,” Clinton told a group of students.

Jeff Busbee, 59, of Hiawatha, chatted with Clinton about sports. But he said afterward that he had already voted for Republican Joni Ernst.

“It’s still good to be polite,” Busbee said.

EARLY VOTES

Both parties have aggressively competed for early votes this year. Through Oct. 30, 391,772 ballots had been cast in Iowa, with 41 percent coming from Democrats and 39 percent from Republicans.

Republicans have run a serious early voting program, compared with past years when Democrats dominated early vote. GOP officials said that even though the Democrats are ahead, Republicans are in a much stronger position than in the past.

“We’re doing a lot better than we did four years ago and we won big four years ago,” said Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in West Des Moines on Friday.

But Democrats said they are doing a better job at attracting non-traditional primary voters and independents.

“We have an unprecedented turnout operation,” said Braley spokesman Jeff Giertz.

CONGRESSIONAL COMPETITION

Competitive races appear competitive in at least three of the state’s four House districts - with a real possibility that the state’s delegation could be majority Republican after Tuesday.

Currently Democrats and Republicans evenly divide the four seats. Much could depend on the outcome of the Senate race and just how effective turnout operations are.

In the 1st Congressional District, which includes parts of eastern and northeastern Iowa, Republican businessman Rod Blum is running against Democratic state lawmaker Pat Murphy. The seat is open Braley is running for Senate. Blum has been bolstered by outside spending and campaign visits from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Democrats have pumped money into the race in an attempt to aid Murphy.

In the 2nd District, in southeast Iowa, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack faces a challenge from Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a former state official and doctor. And in the open 3rd District, which includes Des Moines, there is a tight race between former Democratic state lawmaker Staci Appel and Republican David Young, a longtime aide to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. The 4th District in conservative northwestern Iowa appears likely to stay with Republican Rep. Steve King.

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