Yesterday’s announcement by State Senator Jerry Behn that he would not be on the primary ballot for Governor next June was hardly a surprise. Behn had been absent on the campaign trail for most of the fall due to the harvest. Behn’s endorsement of former Governor and neighbor Terry Branstad wasn’t really unexpected either. While some conservatives might question Behn’s endorsement, doing otherwise might make life difficult for him in Boone County.
With Behn officially out of the race, the field of candidates has been winnowed to four. Branstad and three-time gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats are the frontrunners in the race. State Representatives Chris Rants and Rod Roberts are each trying to be the alternative candidate to either Branstad or Vander Plaats. Thus far, they have not had much success in generating much attention for their respective campaigns.
Representative Roberts is the good guy in the race. Roberts’ campaign has remained positive since the day he announced he was running. While other candidates like Chris Rants are quick to critique or criticize his primary opponents, Roberts has remained positive and focused on issues like repealing the corporate income tax to spur job growth.
Whether or not Roberts is successful next June, he will have increased his standing across the state considerably having been the respectful candidate in the race. However, if Roberts is in the Republican gubernatorial primary to win it, he will have to be willing to contrast himself with his opponents. Thus far, he has been hesitant to say anything that could be considered as negative about his opponents. Roberts’ strategy seems to position him to be considered for Lt. Governor instead of the Republican nominee for governor.
Rants has opted for a different track. If Roberts is the good guy, Rants is playing the part of the villain. Rants has all of the necessary tools to be a formidable candidate. He is smart, articulate, and brings 17 years of state government experience to his campaign. Yet, we will not know until mid-January if he has the financial resources to challenge Branstad and Vander Plaats.
If any candidate is going to feel more pressure after the departure of Fong and Behn, it’s going to be Chris Rants. Unlike Rod Roberts, Rants will have to meet people’s expectations when the fundraising numbers come out next month. No candidate in the race has raised more money since 2000 than Rants has. He knows all the right people and has spent years building a rapport with Republican donors across the state. On January 19th, Rants needs to post a respectable number, otherwise his opponents and some in the media will just label him a bomb-thrower with no real chance of winning the nomination.
Still, if there is any candidate who can do more with less, it’s Rants. Rants is the one candidate who has made it a point to talk about ideas and solutions. Rants will continue to be a factor in the race because you know if he is going to run a radio or TV ad, it’s going to hit the intended target. He also has the advantage of being in the legislature, so as issues arise, he will have easy access to the media, and he always provides a good quote. However, for Rants to be a serious contender, he needs a good showing in January. He will need to out-perform Roberts and be in the same neighborhood as Vander Plaats if he is going to have a shot at winning the primary.
The smaller field of gubernatorial candidates will also affect Bob Vander Plaats. The good news for Vander Plaats is that he might be able to woo some of Behn’s backers to support his efforts, but the smaller field also means that Vander Plaats will be forced to garner a larger percentage of the primary vote. With a robust field of five or six candidates, Vander Plaats would have to like his chances if he was able to get 35% of the vote on primary day. Now, 35% might not be enough to win, and the likelihood that the nominee will be selected at a state nominating convention also diminishes.
For the most part, Branstad will remain unaffected by Behn’s departure. If there is any effect, it will probably be a positive one, especially after Behn threw his support behind Branstad. Behn’s exit rekindles the notion of inevitability that Branstad will win the Republican primary. All through the summer, many people believed that, once Branstad entered the race, the field would narrow. That is what is now happening.
The smaller field will also give candidates a better chance to compare and contrast themselves with their opponents. Having six or seven gubernatorial candidates doesn’t allow much time for them to speak at county GOP functions. With only four candidates, Republican activists across the state will have a better opportunity to ask these candidates questions and start sizing up their options.
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