Iowa Republicans are intensifying their attacks on Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D., Iowa) record on veterans’ issues as the Democratic Senate candidate underperforms in some areas that voted for President Obama in 2012.
Braley’s absences at more than 75 percent of the full House Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee Hearings in 2011 and 2012 have been a potent line of criticism for the GOP. Previous polls showed that Braley’s record of skipping the hearings was the most damaging attack on either him or his Republican opponent and Iraq War veteran Joni Ernst.
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The four-term congressman served on the committee in the 112th Congress ending in 2012, but not in the past two years. Braley went to a full hearing on May 8, 2012, on mental health care at the VA, but none later that year. VA meetings that he missed included one in September on the backlog of disability claims and the long wait-times veterans face at medical centers.
Braley has said he attended most of his subcommittee hearings on economic opportunities for veterans and meetings at which votes on legislation were held, though his campaign admitted that he went to three fundraisers on the same day he skipped the hearing in September 2012. He also missed a hearing after the 2012 election in November on tens of millions in conference spending at the VA.
"It’s absolutely true that at the end of the quarter, people go to fundraising events when they’re in Washington, D.C.," Braley told the Sioux City Journal’s editorial board earlier this month.
Ernst noted recently on the campaign trail that Braley claimed he missed the VA meeting in September to go to a House Oversight Committee hearing. Braley did not appear in a video of the hearing.
"He has to justify why he wasn’t there at a time when our VA was failing our veterans," Ernst said.
Braley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
The Iowa Senate race remains one of the closest contests in the country and could be crucial to determining whether Republicans retake the Senate majority. Ernst has a slight 1.7 percentage point edge and has led in most of the recent surveys, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average.
Ernst is expected to dominate the more conservative western part of the state, while Braley is likely to do well in the more liberal east. However, a recent NBC News/Marist poll found that Ernst had double-digit leads in the east central part of the state and the Des Moines area. Des Moines is located in Polk and Warren counties; Polk went heavily for Obama in 2012 while Warren narrowly sided with Republican Mitt Romney.
Large majorities in the east central part of the state and the Des Moines area disapproved of Obama’s performance as president.
Republicans have substantially improved their efforts to attract early voters through absentee ballots compared to 2010. At this point in 2010, slightly fewer than 17,000 more Democrats had submitted absentee ballots. Democrats only have a lead of about 3,500 ballots in this cycle.