Republican Joni Ernst (47 percent) led Democrat Bruce Braley (43 percent) in the race for U.S. Senate, according to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of likely general election voters. Ernst and Braley were followed by Independent Party candidate Rick Stewart, Bob Quast of the Bob Quast for Term Limits party and Libertarian Douglas Butzier at 1 percent each. Butzier, an emergency medicine physician and president of the medical staff at Mercy Center-Dubuque, died in a plane crash Monday. Ruth Smith, an independent, who also is on the Iowa ballot, received less than 1 percent. Seven percent of the respondents were undecided.

“Ernst has secured large margins in the northwest and southwest regions that are natural bases for Republican votes,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “But more importantly, she has closed the gap in the central and northeast region on the backs of ‘no party’ registrants (independents) who are breaking to her by double-digit margins.”

Among independents, Ernst, a state senator, led Braley, a congressman, 48 percent to 32 percent. More than a third of registered voters in Iowa are independents, while Democratic and Republican registration is fairly even.

Ernst led among men voters 51 percent to 38 percent while among women she was losing to Braley by 5 points, 48 percent to 43 percent.

Among likely voters most interested in the issue of jobs, Braley led 65 percent to 26 percent; among those most interested in health care Braley led 58 percent to 35 percent; and those for whom education was the most important issue, he led 56 percent to 28 percent. Ernst led Braley among voters most concerned about the budget, 69 percent to 19 percent, and national security 59 percent to 32 percent.

“With the third party candidates winning just over 2 percent of the vote, this becomes a race to 49 percent,” said Paleologos. “As Ernst is already at 47 percent, Braley can only give away one of the remaining seven undecided points while capturing all of the remaining six undecided points.”

Governor’s race and constitutional offices

Republican Terry Branstad has broken the 50 percent mark in the governor’s race and opened up a 17 point lead, 54 percent to 37 percent, over Democrat Jack Hatch with New Independent Iowa Party Jim Hennager, Libertarian Lee Deakins Hieb and Iowa Party Jonathan Narcisse receiving 1 percent each with 6 percent undecided. In August, Branstad led by 12 points.

Democratic nominees for treasurer and attorney general opened up commanding leads over their Republican opponents, while Republican Bill Northey led Democrat Sherrie Taha by 22 points for secretary of agriculture. The races for secretary of state and auditor were within the margin of error with higher undecided counts for each office.

The survey is part of a midterm elections affiliation between Suffolk University and USA TODAY that includes polling and analysis of key U.S. Senate and other statewide races and issues.

Methodology

The survey was conducted via landline and cell phone respondents. All respondents indicated that they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election. The field of 500 likely general-election voters was conducted Saturday, Oct. 11, through Tuesday, Oct. 14. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence. Results are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu.