It seems as if many people are quick to write off those who have fallen from great political heights. This is especially true in Iowa politics. However, the political landscape is littered with people who have overcome serious obstacles or setbacks. Congressman Jim Leach lost his race against Congressman Edward Mezvinsky in 1974, only to win in 1976. People rarely talk about President Obama and George W. Bush’s failed congressional campaigns, yet they both later succeeded in winning election to the highest office in the land.
The final two candidates who will be analyzed before The Iowa Republican Gubernatorial Straw Poll, Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants, have both suffered major defeats, yet they continue to forge ahead. Iowans could have a front row seat in the remaking of a successful political candidate after many people considered them to be finished.
Today, we focus on State Representative Chris Rants. Rants was elected to the Iowa House in 1992 at the age of 25. Ten years later, he was the Speaker of the House, but after the 2006 elections, Rants was in the minority. After the 2008 elections, he was stripped of his leadership position, meaning he is just another member of the legislature.
Many people thought Rants was finished in Iowa politics. Not wanting to write off a 42-year-old politician, I believed that it would take Rants a few years to remake his image and reemerge into Iowa politics. Rants is out to prove everybody wrong. About midway through the legislative session, it became apparent that Rants was able to find his footing once again. He was outspoken on labor bills, the state budget, Governor Culver’s bonding proposal, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. Still, some people believe that he is too tarnished, even with members of his own party, to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Yet, Rants remains undaunted.
If Rants has one advantage, it’s that people continuously underestimate his abilities. If looking for a similar scenario, one might compare what Rants has gone through to what happened to John McCain in the summer of 2007. Like Rants, everyone assumed that McCain was finished. McCain’s opponents were nice and respectful to him, but in doing so they let a fighter clear his head and pick himself up off the mat.
The decision not to take McCain out when he was down, is a decision that proved to be costly to Romney, Huckabee, and Fred Thompson. In a sense, the same thing has happened in regards to Rants. His opponents, or the lack thereof, have allowed him to get back into fighting shape. As you will see in the break down, Rants has made the most of this opportunity.
As Speaker of the Iowa House and then House Minority Leader, nobody has traveled the state to raise money for himself and other Republican candidates more than Rantsin the past 4-5 years. It is sometimes difficult to determine everything that legislative leaders do in terms of fundraising because they also encourage donors to give to targeted candidates. In Rants’ case, he also raised over $1 million for his 527 group, the Iowa Leadership Council.
Rants also possesses another attribute that is difficult to find in a political candidate – pure ambition. Candidates generally find it difficult to ask anybody for a contribution to their campaign, let alone ask somebody for $20,000 or $50,000. Rants has the ability to look people in the eye and ask for that type of money, and he is motivated because his political career is on the line. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you are running for Governor, it’s an all or nothing proposition. Candidates who understand that and use it for motivation tend to overachieve.
When it comes to the inner workings of the state budget and the state legislature, it would be difficult to find someone more knowledgeable than Chris Rants. Not only has Rants sat across the table from a Governor and negotiated budgets, he has been able to witness how three different governors have operated. It’s sometimes hard to believe that Rants has been in the legislature for almost 20 years, but all of that experience makes him one of the most knowledgeable candidates ever to run for the office. At the age of 42, Rants is a rare combination of youth and experience.
Having been around a number of candidates in my political career, you quickly realize that the one thing a candidate can never learn or purchase is a good work ethic. So, no matter what good attributes or resume entries a candidate may have, if they are lazy, it’s going to be almost impossible for them to build a winning campaign. Candidates can be motivated by many different things, but it is obvious that Rants is fighting for his political life.
Since the end of the legislative session, Rants has been everywhere. While he is mostly focusing on raising money for his campaign, he’s also attending a number of county party events. That should come as no surprise, but most of the time, he’s the only gubernatorial candidate in the room. That has been the case during my two trips to Sioux City. Rants attended Steve King’s event and the AFF lecture with Sen. Ensign, while Vander Plaats was nowhere to be found.
With every event in which Rants is allowed to go unchecked by his opponents, he is going to get stronger. I’m confident that there are people who attend these county functions who say something like, “You know, I wasn’t really a fan of Chris Rants, but when I met him, he was smart, intelligent, and a lot nicer than I expected.” This sort of thing might not happen if there are multiple candidates in the room, but when only one guy shows up, these county activists remember.
The Rants that appeared in the final months of the legislative session was far more humble than the man who was Speaker or minority leader. His reemergence also occurred after he stopped being handled, and one has to wonder if the old Rants will reappear when he is surrounded by advisors once again.
Rants is an interesting candidate. While he has considerable baggage to contend with, he also brings a number of positive attributes to his campaign. He is likely to be a boom or bust candidate, but, for now, his political future is in his hands, especially when you consider that his opponents are letting him build a foundation for his campaign without any real opposition.
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