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July 17th, 2009

Former Governor Branstad Defeats Culver 53% to 37% in Head-to-Head Matchup

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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branstadtirIn a poll commissioned earlier this month by in conjunction with Concordia Group LLC, former Governor Terry Branstad defeats current Iowa Governor Chet Culver by 16 points in a head-to-head matchup. Branstad beats Culver 53% to 37%. Branstad is currently the President of Des Moines University, one of the top osteopathic medical schools in the country.

Rumors of a potential Branstad candidacy have run rampant this spring and early summer. However, Branstad has continuously said that his focus is on Des Moines University. While Branstad has deflected questions about his potential political reemergence, he has also made it very clear that he in keeping his options open. With the increased chatter surrounding former Governor Branstad, decided to include a set of questions to see how Branstad stands up against Governor Culver and the current Republican primary field.

Last Friday, Branstad was asked by Van Harden, the popular morning drive-time host on WHO Radio, if he ever looks at the current situation the state is in and disagrees with how the current Governor is handling things. Branstad admitted that it happens regularly, and he mentioned that, when he left office, the state had a huge surplus. Branstad has always been respectful and avoided going after his successors in the media, but that seems to have changed recently. In addition to his remarks on Iowa’s largest radio station, Branstad also skewered Governor Culver recently at a Rotary meeting in Cedar Rapids.

Many believe that Branstad could be enticed to take on Culver if the situation is right. With a 16 point lead over Governor Culver, Branstad’s situation couldn’t get much better. poll also shows that Branstad would have to earn the Republican nomination in a tight primary with Bob Vander Plaats, but his statewide favorability and name ID would make him the favorite to take on Governor Culver in the general election.

Question: If the elections for Governor were held today, and the candidates were Terry Branstad and
Chet Culver, who would you vote for between Terry Branstad, the Republican candidate and Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate?

Branstad: 53%
Culver: 37%
Don’t Know: 6%
Neither: 4%

Branstad soundly defeats Governor Culver in each of Iowa’s five congressional districts by a significant margin. Branstad bests Culver by 22 points in the 1st CD, 8.6 points in the 2nd CD, 19.1 points in the 3rd CD, 11 points in 4th CD, and 21.9 points in the 5th CD. The only district in which Governor Culver breaks 40% is the 2nd CD, where he received 41.6% of the vote.

Branstad’s favorability in poll stands at 61%, the highest of anyone we polled, and 13 points higher than Governor Culver’s rating. While Branstad has remained popular and active within Republican circles, he has also remained relevant through his position as the President of Des Moines University.

One of the most fascinating aspects of a potential Branstad candidacy is that he would an authority on one of the most important issues on voters’ minds – healthcare. Republicans have typically struggled with the issue, and with the current debate on healthcare reform occupying the center stage nationally, having a Republican candidate who is credible on the issue would be an advantage. In addition to his position at Des Moines University, Branstad also co-chaired the bi-partisan Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) during the 2008 caucus cycle. PFCD advocates for healthy life styles which would prevent chronic diseases, thus reducing health care costs.

There is no doubt that Branstad would also benefit from all of his years as Governor. Branstad piloted the state through tough economic times during the farm crisis in the 1980’s, and he also led the state through a major natural disaster, the floods of 1993, which paralyzed Des Moines as well as major communities along the Mississippi River. With the current state of the economy and communities that are still trying to recover from the floods of 2008, many Iowans seem to be inclined to put the state back into capable hands.

In addition to Branstad’s experience as the chief executive of the state, he is also a more than capable politician. On WHO Radio last Friday, I was reminded of just how skilled he is. Branstad originally called in to talk about his support of a project to make the USS Iowa a permanent museum in California. Branstad effortlessly launched into a story about attending the USS Iowa’s reactivation ceremony. He knew the name of the ship’s captain, and he painted a great story. A candidate with that type of ability scores high points with Iowans, and it’s also a trait that Governor Culver doesn’t have in his arsenal.

While Branstad has been out of office since January of 1999, he is still only 62 years-old. His age would probably end up being an asset if he did decide to run. In difficult times, people tend to look towards experience rather than youth. Branstad’s age, however, would create one hurdle if he did decide to revive his political career – how long would he want to serve if elected? It’s a question with no easy answer, but one that he would have to address.

One might assume that since he defeats Governor Culver by 16 points in a head-to-head match-up, he would easily navigate his way through the GOP primary field. That’s not the case. poll shows that Branstad would be in a very tight primary fight with Bob Vander Plaats. In fact, Branstad only edges Vander Plaats by 4 points, well within the margin of error.

Question: If the Republican primary for Governor were held today, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, Bob Vander Plaats, Terry Branstad, Paul McKinley, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn, and Christian Fong?

Registered Republican Voters
Terry Branstad: 35%
Bob Vander Plaats: 31%
Don’t Know: 19%
Chris Rants: 6%
Neither/other: 3%
Paul McKinley: 2%
Rod Roberts: 1%
Christian Fong: 1%
Jerry Behn: Did not register

Republican Primary Voters Margin of Error ±5.0%

Branstad takes all of the oxygen out of the room for all the Republican primary candidates except for Bob Vander Plaats. A Vander Plaats/Branstad primary could ignite a nasty campaign that pits social conservatives against more establishment-type Republicans. The hypothetical primary match-up with Branstad shows two things. One, Iowa Republicans want to unite around a proven candidate who could defeat Culver, in this case Branstad. Two, while Vander Plaats’ early strength in the primary ballot against the existing field of candidates can be partially attributed to his name ID advantage, the primary ballot against Branstad shows that Vander Plaats has solidified a core group of the GOP’s base behind his campaign.

While Branstad’s experience as governor would be a huge asset, it could also be a liability. Any politician who has served in office as long as Branstad did is bound to have made some enemies along the way and been an advocate for things that now may be unpopular, especially with the base of the party. Yet, Branstad is no stranger to difficult primary campaigns; he defeated Fred Grandy in the Republican primary in 1994 by just four points.

Before we get too carried away with the possibility of Branstad’s return to the political arena or the primary battle that would ensue if he does mount a comeback, we need to hear what Branstad has to say about it first.

We do know one thing. Governor Culver is in real trouble. Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants only lose to Culver in a head-to-head match-up by ten points, which, at this point in time, is not much. In a hypothetical rematch between Culver and Jim Nussle, it’s all tied up. And finally, in a head-to-head match-up against former Governor Branstad, Culver loses, and he loses badly.

As for right now, all eyes are on Governor Branstad. The ball is in his court.

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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