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May 26th, 2009

McKinley Flirting With Gubernatorial Run

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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paul-mckinleyThe Iowa Republican has learned that State Senator Paul McKinley is flirting with a gubernatorial run. McKinley is the latest addition to the list of possible Republican gubernatorial candidates, which is beginning to get lengthy.

McKinley joins Bob Vander Plaats, Christopher Rants, Bill Northey, Rod Roberts, Jeff Lamberti, Mike Whalen, and Jerry Behn, who have all publically said they are interested in running for Governor. With a list this long, it’s important to determine who is seriously considering running and who is not. There is also a possibility that the list is incomplete, meaning other candidates could still emerge.

Thus far, Iowa Republicans have two candidates who are traveling the state preparing for an official run- Bob Vander Plaats and Christopher Rants. Last week, Bill Northey hired two well-respected political operatives, leading to speculation that he may be preparing for a gubernatorial campaign. Secretary Northey told The Iowa Republican on Friday that he intends to seek re-election to his current office, but would not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial run. Northey said he will likely make that decision in July at his annual fundraiser in Des Moines.

Outside of those three candidates, only State Representative Rod Roberts is showing up at GOP events around the state. Roberts attended the Iowa Federation of Republican Women event in Des Moines and was in eastern Iowa this past week. Lamberti, Whalen, and Behn have yet to make any moves that would indicate that they are serious about a potential run.

Out of all the candidates who have shown interest, McKinley may be in the most difficult position of all of them. McKinley just finished his first session as the Minority Leader in the State Senate, and with that position comes the responsibility to recruit candidates and raise significant funds to help them get elected, which means he has to make up his mind sooner rather than later on a gubernatorial run.

Below are the positives and negates that McKinley brings to the table in a gubernatorial campaign.


Conservative Credentials: In almost a decade in the Iowa Senate, McKinley has established himself as the conservative voice in that chamber. As a legislator, McKinley can point to his past voting record and various ratings and rankings he has received from organizations like the Iowa Right to Life Committee and the NRA to help convince Republican primary voters that he is the conservative candidate with a record in the race.

Always On Message:
Whether he was speaking about Governor Culver’s bonding proposal or gay marriage, McKinley consistently forwarded the same message. Staying on message seems like it would be an easy thing for candidates to achieve, but most of them struggle to do so.

A Statesman: With partisanship at an all time high, voters are looking for people who can work together to solve the problems that face our state. McKinley looks, talks, and acts like a true statesman. This distinction could allow McKinley to gain the support of people in the party who may disagree with him on an issue, but respect the way he handles himself in the political arena.


No Marriage Amendment Bill Filed in the State Senate: Not a single Republican State Senator thought to introduce the Marriage Amendment Bill in the State Senate, despite the issue being in front of the Iowa Supreme Court. McKinley isn’t solely to blame. Groups such as the Iowa Family Policy Center, Everyday America, The Iowa Eagle Forum, and the Iowa Christian Alliance should have pressured lawmakers to introduce the bill. However, McKinley is the leader of the Republican caucus in the Senate, and in that position, you get praised for the good things that happen, and you get blamed for the bad. If McKinley runs for Governor, it is likely his opponents will point to this slip up as an indication that McKinley isn’t a visionary leader.

Limited State-Wide Name ID: None of the Republican candidates will have state-wide name recognition at the start of their campaigns. McKinley has only been the Minority Leader in the Senate for one term, and compared to the others on the list, his name ID ranks near the bottom. Vander Plaats, Rants, Northey, Lamberti, and Whalen all have better name ID than McKinley brings to the table. With that being the case, it will be important for McKinley to have the ability to tell voters his story, but to do that, you need a lot of money to buy radio, TV, and direct mail advertising.

Lack of a Donor Base:
This is probably McKinley’s most glaring weakness. Having served in the State Senate for almost a decade, McKinley has done little to build relationships with Republican donors across the state or even in Des Moines. Gubernatorial campaigns need a lot of money to be successful, which means you need people to contribute serious money to your campaign. Fundraising is a relationship business. It’s very difficult to get someone you don’t know to write you a check for $25,000 or more. To run a serious campaign against an incumbent, a candidate needs checks of that size contribution and larger. It will be difficult for McKinley to do this since he hasn’t spent time getting to know Republican donors in the state over the last few years.

Limited Geographical Advantage: McKinley represents parts of Jasper, Marion, Mahaska, Lucas, and Monroe counties. While Pella in Marion County is a decent sized town, this is not part of the state that Republicans generally focus on in order to win contested state-wide primaries. McKinley would need to carve out his own niche in other parts of the state to be effective.

Other considerations:

McKinley has been the 4th Republican Leader in the State Senate since 2006. Such rapid turnover is one contributing factor for why Republicans are out-numbered by Democrats 32 to 18. Senate Republicans are bound to gain seats in 2010. Even if they only pick up three seats in 2010, Republicans will look favorably on McKinley in the future if he leads them in a successful effort now.

Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has used his position in the State Senate to have a tremendous impact on the political process. It’s interesting that McKinley might possibly run for Governor rather than lead Republicans back to a majority status. Mike Gronstal was rumored to be looking at a potential gubernatorial run in 2006. He decided against it. His decision not to run made him even more powerful in Iowa politics.

With so much opportunity in the State Senate, McKinley might be wise stay put in 2010 and work towards a Republican Majority. Nothing would make him a bigger star in the GOP than taking away Gronstal’s majority.

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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