Sen. Tom Harkin compared candidate Joni Ernst to Taylor Swift in an unfortunate comment recently revealed on BuzzFeed. With less than 24 hours until Election Day, is Harkin's comment enough to tip the election – one of the most hotly contested races in the country – to Republican foe Ernst?
It's no secret that the Iowa Senate race is one of the most critical contests in the country, with candidates Ernst, a Republican, and Bruce Braley, a Democrat, neck-and-neck in an election that could determine which party controls the Senate. Thanks to a comment caught on tape by an unnamed source and revealed by Buzzfeed, retiring Democratic Senator Harkin may have inadvertently tipped the vote in Republican hands.
Here's what Harkin said:
“You know, in this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said, according to video of his remarks. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She's really attractive, and she sounds nice.’”
“Well I got to to thinking about that," he continued. "I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”
Harkin made the comments at the Story County Democratic Party annual fall barbecue last week, but the video was only released Sunday evening, less than 48 hours before Election Day.
The liberal senator from Iowa, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate, has loudly and repeatedly stumped for Democratic contender Braley – as have a host of heavyweights including President Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and First Lady Michelle Obama.
But did Harkin's comments just cost Democrats Iowa – and possibly the Senate?
Ernst and her Republican allies are working hard to maximize the fallout.
Ernst took to the airwaves Monday morning, telling Fox News she was "very offended" by Harkin's comments.
"I was very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that. I think it's unfortunate that he and many of their party believe you can't be a real woman if you're conservative and you're female," Ernst told Fox News. "I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things."
She also used the opportunity to slam what she called Democrats' unfair allegations of a Republican "war on women," calling it "phony."
“First, I am a woman and second, I have been to war, I am a combat veteran,” Ernst said. “This is not a war on women and any time Democrats are using the word war they need to do it to honor our service men and women.”
While Ernst leveraged Harkin's unfortunate comment to masterfully highlight her combat experience and appeal to conservatives, women, and veteran voters in one breath, recent history shows that this comment alone is not likely to have much influence on voters.
Major gaffes are part of the campaign scene and are often overblown by the media. Remember Rick Scott's regrettable performance in "fangate?" Soon after talk died down that the spectacle had cost Scott the election, the polls indicated that the Florida governors race was again tied, laying to rest rumors that the gaffe had decided the race.
By now, with less than 24 hours until Election Day, most Iowa voters have made up their minds and an off-the-cuff comment – however sexist – probably won't change minds. Polling shows that Ernst may be pulling ahead, even without Harkin's comment. The Republican candidate is leading by two points in the latest CNN/ORC poll and is up by 7 points in a Des Moines Register poll released this weekend.
But a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday, one day before voters head to the voting booth, said the race is all tied up with each candidate pulling 47 percent.
Even then, Harkin's comment isn't likely to tip the vote. As Peter Grier wrote about fangate, "It’s likely just another shiny political distraction on the way to actual voting."