After the surprise retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) Democrats didn’t seem too concerned. And why should they be? President Obama won the state twice, most recently by nearly six points, and they had already identified a candidate in Bruce Braley, a House member known for his ambition and fundraising prowess. As the Washington Post reported at the time:
But Braley, 56, is exactly who Democrats wanted in the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat. A capable fundraiser, the former trial lawyer jumped in early last year and cleared the field. He’s expected to coast to the Democratic nomination with no resistance and has built an impressive war chest: At the end of 2013, Braley had more than $2.6 million in his campaign account.
Braley may have been “exactly who Democrats wanted” in 2013, but then the candidate made the unfortunate choice to open his mouth. The trouble began when Braley complained that the House gym may be closed during the government shutdown. His reasoning was that it couldn’t be that expensive to keep open because there is “hardly anybody working down there” and “[t]here’s no towel service.” The comment rubbed many Americans, who have problems extending well beyond their taxpayer-subsidized gym memberships, as tone deaf to larger economic concerns.
Then came one of the biggest gaffes in recent political history. Braley, a lawyer, referred to popular Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” The elitism dripped off the words like corn syrup and didn’t exactly sit well in a blue collar state known for its farming. Sadly, this isn’t the only time Braley has attempted to degrade an opponent by attacking their qualifications. Just take a look at this squirm-worthy video:
Unfortunately for Democrats, Braley’s apology wasn’t much better than the initial offense. In a press release meant to rehabilitate Braley’s folksy, homespun roots he claims that he “grew up in rural Iowa and worked on Iowa farms, detassling corn and bailing hay.” That would all be well and good if he could correctly spell a couple of basic, farm-related words like “detasseling” and “baling.”
Undeterred, Braley continued digging a hole for himself. Earlier this month he was caught telling parade attendees that he was a farmer, forcing the Des Moines register to clear things up.
“Braley is not an active farmer. He doesn’t own farm land and doesn’t earn any farm income, according to his federal financial disclosure reports,” the paper conclusively found. “He doesn’t perform or manage any farm operations, campaign aides said today.”
As if to prove once and for all that he has no business representing a close-knit, blue collar, farm-based state like Iowa, Braley is once again caught up in a scandal of his own making.
This week it came out that Braley threatened to sue a neighbor because her therapeutic hens wandered onto his property. Rather than simply have a one-on-one conversation with the neighbor—who keeps the hens to work with children with mental health disorders—he went to the neighborhood association. And then when they refused to act Braley retained an attorney, threatened to litigate the matter, and then billed the homeowner’s association!
Terry Maxfield, who works for the neighborhood association was dumbfounded.
“You really can’t publish what my opinion is. I think it was petty,” Maxfield told the Iowa Republican. “For someone with a higher education like that, it was petty. It was a waste of resources and money.”
Is this a big issue? No. Does it disqualify him from office? No. But as Brad Dayspring writes, it does give voters a clearer picture of the kind of man Bruce Braley is.
“Every once in a while there comes a story or an anecdote about a candidate that may seem small in and of itself, but is politically potent because it provides a window into whom a candidate really is or cements an existing opinion for good,” Dayspring says.
And that’s exactly what this story does. It shows Braley as a man who belongs in the courtroom representing clients, but not in Congress representing Iowans.