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October 15th, 2009

GOP Primary Needs to be about Issues, not Personality

TEB2At noon on Friday, former Governor Terry Branstad will address the students, faculty, staff, and board members of Des Moines University. The speech, which will be held in the Student Education Center, is expected to Branstad’s farewell to the university that he has spent the previous six years leading, but it is also expected to be the beginning of his quest to take back control of Terrace Hill.

Regardless of what Branstad says in his speech, the media will only focus on what Branstad says about his gubernatorial aspirations. It’s hard to blame the media for wanting to focus on the start of his campaign. For months, Branstad has played a cat and mouse game with the media in regards to his political future, so when he does finally go on the record for the first time as a gubernatorial candidate, it will undoubtedly be a big deal.

I expect Governor Branstad to spend a significant part of his speech talking about the accomplishments of Des Moines University during his tenure as the school’s President. Branstad has a lot to be proud of. He has essentially put Des Moines University on the map during his time there. If you think that he is going to dust off his 1994 campaign plan and try to implement it in 2010, I think you have another thing coming. Governor Branstad’s 16 year record as Iowa’s governor will definitely be part of his campaign, but so will his six years at Des Moines University.

Terry Branstad is a much different candidate in 2010 than he was in 1994. The accomplishments that he touts in his speech on Friday will probably play a critical role in his 2010 campaign. As I have written before, even if you took out Branstad’s 16 years as Iowa’s governor, his resume still would out shine those of his opponents. In fact, I don’t think it would be a stretch to think that, had he not served as governor, Branstad might be a highly recruited candidate to run against Culver in 2010. Well-connected, articulate college presidents are often times considered to be good potential political candidates.

While we can expect the media to gloss over Branstad’s accomplishment at Des Moines University, we can also expect his critics to find a number of things to criticize. Ever since Branstad’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate, those opposed to his candidacy have taken every opportunity to attack his record, his associations, and his accomplishments. Friday’s speech will do nothing to silence his critics regardless of what he says. It is safe to assume that those who object to his candidacy will continue being critical even if he wins the Republican primary next June.

As the Republican gubernatorial primary enters a new phase, I think it’s important to take a step back and ask ourselves as Republicans what we really want the primary to be about. Before we even get to that, I think it’s necessary for all of us to recognize what our role in the process as voters actually is. In spite of what we think about a particular candidate, it is not our role to determine who ought to run for office. It is our role to determine who, of the candidates who have chosen to run, best represents our party in the general elections next year.

I think we forget that on occasion. I’ll be the first to admit that I have found myself saying or writing that certain candidates don’t have the experience or intangibles required to seek a particular office. It’s acceptable to choose not support a candidate because you don’t think that they are qualified, but nobody has the right to say that a candidate doesn’t have the right to seek a particular office so long as they meet the constitutional requirements.

People on all sides of the political spectrum are guilty of this. We have heard that Branstad has had 16 years at the helm. Does he really need to run for another term? There have been people who think that Christian Fong is too young and too inexperienced to run for governor. Some people think that Bob Vander Plaats focuses on gay marriage too much. Chris Rants lost his leadership position and is too abrasive. Jerry Behn and Rod Roberts are not known well enough across the state. Even if all of those things are true, the voters get to decide next June who they want to represent them and no one else. Each of these candidates has a right to be on the primary ballot.

There have been warnings that the upcoming Republican primary is going to be the bloodiest in our state’s history. Some people even claim that, at the end of the day, many supporters of the losing campaigns are guaranteed to walk away from the Republican Party. There is a sense that this primary will be about picking what side you are on and nothing else. Is that what Iowa Republicans really want this primary to be about? Is it necessary to have a civil war within our party instead of respecting who the Republican primary voters select next June? I sure hope not.

The Republican gubernatorial primary needs to be about issues that matter to Iowans, not about personalities or who wins and who loses on primary night. We must realize that there are thousands of people across the state who struggle to make ends meet, small business owners who are being suffocated by government regulations, and young people who struggle to find good paying jobs so that they can stay in Iowa. We also must not forget that they very fabric of our culture is being destroyed by rogue judges, special interest groups, and our own government.

Iowa Republicans need to have a vigorous debate on all of the issues with which we are being confronted. That can’t happen if this primary is going to be about personality. There are tens of thousands of Republican primary voters who haven’t even begun to pay attention to the candidates yet. That’s actually a very good thing. Before voters decide which candidate they support, they need know where the candidates stand on the issues and what their vision is for the state of Iowa.

There is too much time between now and the June 8th primary to expect people to declare what candidate they support right now. We owe all of our candidates a fair hearing. We need to let the primary run its course. Some candidates will rise, and others will falter, but we shouldn’t cheat ourselves out of the process that helps us chose the right candidate.

A robust Republican primary about the issues is also in the best interest of the State of Iowa and the Republican Party. All Iowans will benefit from a mature debate about the future of our state. We need to have a frank discussion on how we educate our kids, how we pay for essential services, and how we grow our economy. In the same regard, the Republican Party of Iowa needs to attract new people. The best way to do that is to engage people with issues, not just personalities. We also need to realize that Iowa Republicans will not grow their ranks if the primary ends up being a bloody civil war. Who wants join something like that?

Instead of supporters finding ways to attack their candidate’s opponent, they should instead channel that energy in finding new supporters for their candidate’s campaign. Sadly, Republican campaigns have struggled to do this recently. Candidates come and go, but the issues and principles for which the Republican party advocates for will endure for decades.

Iowa Republicans are at a critical juncture in our rebuilding process. We can either opt for a school yard fight between two factions of the party, or we can act like adults and spar in the ring of ideas. As for me, I chose the ring of ideas. While it’s too early to determine who will earn my support next June, I do know my support will go to the candidate who shows a clear conservative vision of where he wants to take the state.

Photos of Behn, Fong, Rants, Roberts, and Vander Plaats by Dave Davidson

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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