Recent polls show that a majority of Iowans think that the state of Iowa is headed in the wrong direction. Governor Culver’s approval rating is at its lowest level since he was elected (42%). One would think that a number of Republicans would be clamoring for the opportunity to take on Culver in 2010. Yet, on this 7th day of May, Iowa Republicans still lack an announced candidate to run against Governor Culver.
The situation couldn’t be more different from four years ago when then-Governor Tom Vilsack chose not to seek re-election after serving two terms. Back then, Congressman Jim Nussle began laying the groundwork for his campaign right after the 2004 elections were over. Some would even argue that the preparation began long before that, and I don’t think many would argue with that point of view.
In late January and early February, a number of Republicans announced that they were interested in running against Culver. The 2006 Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, Bob Vander Plaats was the first throw his hat into the ring. Vander Plaats has been actively campaigning and raising money for his likely campaign, but he still states that he is only testing the waters.
The other people who showed an interest were Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, State Auditor Dave Vaudt, State Representative Rod Roberts, businessman Bruce Rastetter, Congressman Steve King , and State Representative Christopher Rants.
Rastetter and Roberts have been quiet since their initial intimations of running against Culver. Northey, Vaudt, and King have all recently backed away from their earlier statements that they were looking at a possible run against Culver. Northey told Mike Glover of the Associated Press yesterday that he is inclined to see re-election to his current office, and Vaudt said a decision would be coming soon, but seemed to indicate that he was leaning against a gubernatorial run.
Outside of Vander Plaats, the only other potential candidate making early moves that might indicate an actual gubernatorial campaign is imminent is Christopher Rants. In the ten days following the end of the legislative session, Rants has visited Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and Sioux City.
With Culver’s poor poll numbers and an issue environment that favors Republicans, you would expect to see more than just the two likely candidates of Vander Plaats and Rants. What is preventing other candidates from wanting to take on Governor Culver?
It is likely that the emergence of gay marriage in Iowa has narrowed the potential field of Republican gubernatorial candidates. It’s not that these potential candidates support the Supreme Court’s decision, but it’s an issue that some would probably prefer not to have to deal with. Both Vander Plaats and Rants have been vocal leaders in gay marriage debate. Their actions give them both credibility with Republican primary voters. Other candidates would need to deal with the issue the minute they announce their campaign, and with that being the case, a misstep could prove to be deadly in the primary.
A candidate from the business community or a candidate that hadn’t previously weighed in on the marriage debate may find the primary more difficult to navigate than it would have been if the Court’s decision had been different. This may be the reason why, out of nowhere, we have seen some long-time GOP powerbrokers like Dave Roederer and Doug Gross warning Iowa Republicans that the focus cannot be on the issue of gay marriage if we want to win elections.
Last Friday, at the press conference where the results of the Iowa First Foundation poll were released to the media, Doug Gross said, “I can’t remember any time in the last half dozen years where the issue agenda was more favorable to Republicans, but at the same time, we have this negative branding we have to deal with. We need candidates who are committed to reform, committed to accountability, committed to transparency, and who will listen to people, not be exclusionary. If we have those kinds of candidates we will see those brand numbers change.”
Gross has not been shy about his belief that the fiscal issues create an agenda which will unite the Republican Party. Many, if not most, Republicans probably agree with that. The only problem is that the issue of gay marriage has been thrust to the forefront in Iowa by the Court’s decision. Ignoring the issue or trying to diminish its importance is simply not an option.
With only 397 days until the primary, it is likely that the gubernatorial primary will be between Vander Plaats, Rants, and maybe one other candidate. While it is true that there is plenty of time for candidates to emerge, the clock is ticking. It takes time to organize people and raise the huge amounts of money needed to run statewide campaigns.
With the legislative session over, we have seen Rep. Christopher Rants begin to lay some ground work for a potential campaign. We have also seen people like Dave Roederer and Doug Gross try and shift the focus from marriage back to the fiscal issues. These are the calculated moves that indicate someone may be throwing their hat into the ring in Rants’ case, and for people like Roederer and Gross, it’s an indication that they are probably having difficulty recruiting a candidate of their liking.
Primaries can be a healthy exercise for political parties to have. If done correctly, they can help the party grow and get organized for the general election. The Republican gubernatorial primary is about to begin. Instead of relying on certain polls and political calculations to determine what the party should stand for and focus on, we should be patient and let the people decide. After they have spoken, we need to accept their verdict and get to work on ousting Governor Culver. If we are successful, it will be the first time since 1962 that a sitting Iowa Governor was voted out of office.
Let’s make history!
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