For almost a month now, the possibility that former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad might come out of retirement and run for governor has all but frozen the GOP gubernatorial race. Branstad has been more visible across the state as of late, attending Rotary Club meetings, county GOP meetings, and fundraisers for political candidates. He’s also been careful not to sound like a candidate for governor.
In a story that ran in Monday’s Quad City Times, Margaret Hough, Branstad’s long time assistant, said that the former Governor isn’t granting any interviews until he makes up his mind. Hough’s statement is telling on a number of levels. First, it confirms that Branstad is seriously considering a comeback. Previously, Branstad has said that he’s not ruling it out, and he made sure that he reminded people that his main focus is on his current job as President of Des Moines University. Hough’s statement also indicates that Branstad is including other people within his inner circle regarding his decision on a comeback.
While Branstad has cast a large cloud of speculation over the GOP primary, the current cast of candidates has done very little to prevent a Branstad candidacy. In fact, their recent inactivity only makes a Branstad comeback more likely. The current candidates for Governor are great at traveling the state to attend GOP events, but gubernatorial campaigns need to communicate with more than just those who attend these events. Some candidates are doing a better job than others.
Let’s take a look at the current gubernatorial field.
Bob Vander Plaats has always done a good job of attending GOP events, and he regularly sends out press releases. He is also a regular guest on Steve Deace’s program on WHO Radio. Vander Plaats is the one candidate who isn’t really affected by the speculation surrounding Branstad. Still, while Vander Plaats is the frontrunner in the GOP primary, he could do better at working the media to saturate Iowa with is message.
State Rep. Chris Rants travels the state, has an attractive website that is updated frequently, and has a knack for finding his way into a news cycle. Yet, until yesterday Rants has been pretty quiet compared to when he first announced that he was running for Governor. Rants has made the state financial situation the main focus of his campaign. In fact, he tracks the states revenues on-line, yet when Governor Culver announced that the state had collected a record amount of sales tax in July, it was Matt Strawn, the Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, who was quick to send out a release, not Rants. One has to speculate that the chatter surrounding Branstad has affected his campaign.
Christian Fong also has a new website and sends out a press release once a week like clockwork. He has sent out releases on how much money he has raised, who he hired to manage his campaign, the launch of his website, and a list of college students supporting his campaign. The only thing missing is a press release about an issue or current events that are in the news.
Since Sen. Paul McKinley announced he is going to “aggressively explore” a run for governor on July 7th, his campaign has not sent out one press release, and his new website, www.McKinleyforIowa.com still is focusing on State Senate issues, not gubernatorial politics. However, McKinley has continued to send out press releases and his weekly memos as the Senate Republican Leader.
State Rep. Rod Robert continues to travel the state, and people who hear him speak are genuinely impressed with him. Robert’s has also launched a website, www.RobertsforGov.com. Since the press release announcing his candidacy, Robert’s hasn’t sent out another press release.
Sen. Jerry Behn hasn’t announced that he’s running for governor, but he’s entertained the idea and has been speaking at GOP events. Behn hasn’t done anything to earn some media coverage.
During the 2002 campaign for governor, I was traveling with Steve Sukup the day the news broke that Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable was considering a gubernatorial run. While Sukup continued on and said all the right things, his body language told a different story. It seems that the current candidates are handling the news on Branstad much like Sukup responded to the news about Gable. No matter what they say in public, it is obvious that the current field of candidates has been affected by the news surrounding Branstad.
For any gubernatorial candidate to be successful, he has to be willing to do everything possible to gain as much media coverage as possible. Running for governor will be the most demanding and difficult thing these candidates ever do, and if they are not willing to give it their all, they will not be successful.
These candidates have no one but themselves to blame if Branstad enters the race. Iowa Republicans and Iowans in general are desperate for leadership. They want a candidate they can get behind and work for. If the current candidates for governor are not willing to step up and be a voice for these people, then they will continue to look elsewhere.
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