When Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie won gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month, Republicans nationwide became optimistic about their chances to make huge gains in the 2010 elections. It’s easy to understand their excitement. The last time Republicans won both the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial seats, it was 1993, one year before the Republican revolution of 1994.
The key to McDonnell and Christie’s victories was the overwhelming support among independent voters. Chris Christie was able to unseat a well funded incumbent in New Jersey, typically a Democratic state, by earning the support of 60% of independent voters. McDonnell preformed even better by garnering 66% of the independent vote in Virginia.
A new Iowa Poll commissioned by the Des Moines Register shows Republicans enjoying a similar advantage with independent voters here in Iowa. Both former Governor Terry Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats beat Governor Chet Culver in head-to-head matchups. Branstad, who beats Culver by 24 points, is thought of favorably by 64% of independents and 69% of Republicans. In a head-to-head matchup with Governor Culver, 58% of independents back Branstad.
Branstad’s Communications Director Tim Albrecht told TheIowaRepublican.com, “As Governor Branstad explores a run, it is encouraging that he is the only potential challenger to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. We are pleased with the overwhelming support from independents for Governor Branstad, as this represents a crucial voting bloc that has eluded Republicans in recent elections. We realize there is a long way to go until the June and November elections, and we will work hard each day to share our positive vision for Iowa.”
In addition to Branstad, who beat Culver 57% to 33%, Bob Vander Plaats also beat him in a head-to-head match-up. Vander Plaats beat Culver 45% to 37%. Vander Plaats’ polling strength against Culver is more surprising since he is less well-known across the state.
The poll shows that Governor Chet Culver is in serious trouble. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said that they thought the state was on the wrong track. When asked on whether or not they approve of the job that Governor Culver is doing, 49% said no. Additionally, 50% disapprove of Culver’s performance in improving the business climate in the state, and 54% disapprove of how he has handled the state budget. If Culver’s campaign team is looking for something positive in the Register’s Iowa Poll, there is nothing in there that would give them anything to be optimistic about.
What is shocking about the Iowa Poll is that Governor Culver’s poor performance comes as he is spending over $250,000 on television ads. Neither Branstad nor Vander Plaats have run any TV or radio ads. Not only has Culver used his incumbent status to travel around the state and hand out nearly a billion dollars for special projects through his I-Jobs proposal, which plunged the state into debt, but he has also gone on an extensive campaign-style train tour promoting high-speed train travel. While his tours of the state have generated a lot of media coverage, they have not done anything to help with his poor performance in the polls.
Governor Culver has also benefited by receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to prop up state government spending from President Obama and the federal government. Even with a massive infusion of one-time money, Culver has not been able to cover up his inadequacies as the chief executive of the state. While many Democrats and members of the news media will say that there is still a year before the next election, the state’s budget problems will only be worse next year, and it is unlikely that the federal government will once again send the state a check to stave off more cuts.
With Branstad’s huge 24 point lead over Governor Culver, it seems as if it is his race to lose. The best way for Branstad, or any other Republican for that matter, to defeat Culver next fall is to make sure that the race is about Chet Culver and nothing else. To accomplish that, campaigns will have to learn how to directly confront the various issues and attacks that will likely come up. This is something the Branstad campaign has failed to do thus far.
While Branstad’s head-to-head numbers against Culver are stellar for a non-incumbent, he first has to win the Republican primary. That might be easier said than done. Branstad will continue to enjoy high name recognition and the full campaign coffers that come with the front runner status, but his opponents are not likely going to fold easily.
The biggest obstacle that the other candidates in the race will have to overcome is fundraising. The Des Moines Register poll should that a well known Republican trounces Culver, but so does a lesser known Republican in Vander Plaats. That means the other candidates need to raise their name recognition quickly. The only way to do that is to run radio and television ads.
Those ads cost a lot of money. We will be able to see which candidates will be able to increase their name recognition when the candidates report their fundraising totals next January. It’s not necessarily how much the candidates will have raised that will be important, but how much money they have available for their campaigns to use.
Regardless, Governor Chet Culver is in serious trouble and very well could be the first incumbent governor to lose re-election since the 1960’s.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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