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June 12th, 2009

Final Thoughts on The Straw Poll

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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bobvp1Yesterday’s gubernatorial straw poll provided us with a glimpse of where the race for the Republican nomination currently stands. With the primary just less than a year away, the straw poll was successful in providing some much needed attention to the various candidates who are likely to throw their hats into the ring. Any poll is just a snap shot in time, and since the Republican field of candidates is still in the development stage, it is likely that the field and the dynamics of the race will continue to change as the primary approaches.

Bob Vander Plaats was the winner of yesterday’s straw poll with 52.4% of the vote. That result was not surprising since Vander Plaat’s has been a political candidate for most of the decade and he is the most committed candidate in the field. While some people will grimace at the fact that he is the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, it’s a fact.

Even without this poll, I would consider Vander Plaats to currently be the frontrunner in this race. That is something I’ve alluded to in almost everything I have written about him on this website. Vander Plaats received almost 32% of the vote in the 2002 primary for governor. The winner of the nomination that year, Doug Gross just eclipsed the needed 35% threshold. Vander Plaats was on the ticket as Jim Nussle’s Lt. Governor nominee in 2006, and before joining Nussle’s ticket that year, Vander Plaats showed that he could raise enough money to be competitive in a Republican primary. These are the main factors for why he is the frontrunner. No other candidate in the field has had as much statewide exposure as he has had.

One also has to acknowledge that another advantage Vander Plaats has is Steve Deace. While some people have criticized his involvement in this straw poll due to his close ties to the Vander Plaats campaign, this is an advantage that Bob will likely have throughout the campaign. Deace’s listeners are predisposed to support a candidate like Vander Plaats, so it was no surprise that, once Deace took to the airwaves, the votes for Vander Plaats began to pour in.

As for the other candidates, I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of. While candidates like Rants and McKinley have been mentioned in media stories statewide due to their former and current leadership positions, there is a big difference between that and having campaigned for yourself in every corner of the state like Vander Plaats has. The poll also showed that both Rants and McKinley have support on which to build a gubernatorial campaign. As for Jeff Lamberti, I think his performance indicates that he is probably not going to run. I firmly believe that, if he was considering a run, he would have finished much better than he did.

Here are some other things that we were able to learn from yesterday’s straw poll.

Let the campaign begin:
No matter who you support, this race needed a little kick in the butt to get things started. With only a year before the primary, Iowa Republicans need to have an open and honest conversation about who is best fit to lead our state. Testing the waters is fine, but we need actual candidates to emerge so the grassroots organizing can begin.

Vander Plaats is the most defined candidate in the race: If you listened to the Deace’s radio show last night, you know that almost every caller who supported Vander Plaats said they did so for the same reasons. It was obvious that some of the callers attended his event on Wednesday, and they echoed what they heard at that event. In addition, the overwhelming majority of his supporters also stated that they were backing him because of his principled stand against the courts. Vander Plaats has his defining issue and the support of a radio program the drives the same message. The other candidates simply do not have that but will have to find a way to overcome that obstacle if they want to be successful.

Room for McKinley: A number of politicos have wondered where Paul McKinley would find his base of support. It seems that there is a group of people who feel that Vander Plaats has had his chance and failed, and Christopher Rants has too many issues to overcome. It’s never a bad thing to be the alternative candidate, but one has to wonder if there are enough of people out there who feel that way to build a winning coalition. Also, a candidate in this position needs to win the money race, and many big donors will not back a candidate simply because they dislike his opponents. They have to really support a candidate to make that kind of financial commitment.

Had we included Roberts and Behn the results would have been the same: There is plenty of time and opportunities for both of these men to build the support for their campaigns. Had they been in the race, the results would have basically been the same. They also had the opportunity to contact me about being included, and neither took me up on that offer.

Text Messaging is the best way to conduct a poll:
If it had been entirely up to me, I would have only allowed people to cast their votes via text message and by calling in to Deace’s show live on the air. I know some people feel that it was unfair that people could call in or email Deace’s show, but everybody had the same opportunity to do so and only Bob’s supporters took advantage of that. Did you really expect that a candidate besides to Vander Plaats to have huge support with Deace’s audience?

If only text message votes were counted Bob Vander Plaats would have still won the straw poll, albeit by a much smaller margin. Here is the breakdown of the text messaging votes.

Vander Plaats – 36%
Chris Rants – 34%
Paul McKinley – 23%
Lamberti – 6%

Voting by text message is somewhat similar to how real elections work. Candidates could get people to sign up to receive the survey (ballot) almost like an absentee vote. Once the polls opened, they could have people follow simple instructions to cast their vote. But most importantly, text messaging only allowed one vote per cell phone number.

Text messaging played a role in last year’s presidential elections, and while Republicans talk about using new media sources to reach new people, we have rarely seen much development to that end. I was thrilled with the number of people who were willing to use this technology to cast a vote for the first time.

A message to the Deace Haters:
If anyone knows the number of Republicans who despise Steve Deace, it’s me. Yes, I have read all the emails you have sent me, and I have read the comments. I just want to give you all a little advice. If you want him to shut up, stop complaining about him and channel your hatred into helping elect your candidate.

If you didn’t like his analysis on the candidates, nothing was preventing you from disagreeing with him in the comment section. You also could have written your own analysis on a candidate and posted it in the comment section.

The best way to quiet your adversary is to defeat him.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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