News Center

July 1st, 2009

The State of the Race

state-of-the-raceThe race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination took another turn yesterday as Christian Fong, an AEGON employee from Cedar Rapids, filed the paper work for an official campaign. His entrance into the race marks the third candidate who has filed the necessary paperwork to being campaign activities. Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants filed earlier this year.

Any potential candidate who spends or raises more than $750 in a calendar year is required by Iowa law to file with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. Some candidates have said that they are creating an exploratory committee before they officially announce, but Iowa’s campaign finance laws offer no such thing. Candidates are either running for governor or not.

In addition to Vander Plaats, Rants, and Fong, State Senator Jerry Behn and State Representative Rod Roberts are both actively campaigning. With eleven months between now and the June 8th primary, it’s once again a time to take a look at the field of candidates and how things are shaping up, especially with the new addition of Christian Fong.

Bob Vander Plaats: Vander Plaats continues to pledge that he will issue an executive order to put a stay on gay marriage and force a vote of the people regarding the matter. Vander Plaats has made the separation of powers argument the center piece of his third gubernatorial campaign. While he has made the issue the focus of his stump speech, he also has not been shy about using his stance on the issue to attack his opponents.

Vander Plaats has also picked up the formal endorsement of Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. Huckabee headlined a fundraiser for Vander Plaats last month, which apparently netted the Vander Plaats campaign $80,000 according to Shane Vander Hart of the Caffeinated Thoughts blog.

Vander Plaats’ third attempt for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination seems to be off to a much better start than his previous attempts. The gay marriage issue might be the reason for that since Vander Plaats has an issue by which he is being defined. There is no doubt that Vander Plaats is the anti-gay marriage candidate.

In his own words: Vander Plaats Speaking at Sac County Event

Rep. Chris Rants: Last month, Rants filed the paperwork to make his campaign official. In a very deliberate and workmanlike fashion, Rants has traveled all across the state attending events, meeting with activists, and lining up financial support from donors. To Rants’ credit, he’s not just attending the typical GOP functions; he has attended WMT Radio’s Tractorcade breakfast in Waterloo, and he also attended a Marriage Matters dinner.

If there is any Republican candidate who the Iowa press corps is going to constantly cover, it will be Chris Rants. Rants has already been grilled about his campaign on Iowa Press, despite not even being an official candidate when he was asked to appear. Rants filed his paperwork with the Iowa Ethics office the morning before taping the show. The media tends to favor those who they know and already have relationships with. Having served as Majority Leader, Speaker, and Minority Leader in the Iowa House, the Iowa press corps know him well, and he is always good for an interesting quote, which they all like.

Rants has made an effort to make sure that potential voters know that he is both a social and fiscal conservative. Working to Rants’ advantage is the fact that he was able to pass a marriage amendment in the Iowa House when he served as Speaker, and despite being rejected by his caucus in the Republican leadership election, his colleagues turned to him to lead the effort to force a vote on this issue in the Iowa House following the Supreme Court’s ruling. That said, Rants is bound to be known as the fiscal conservative in the race and the candidate who will bring forward new proposals. In his appearance on Iowa Press, Rants was already advocating for a new property tax relief system.

In his own words: Rants Speaking at Sac County Event

Christian Fong: While many were surprised by his quick entrance to the gubernatorial race, the unknown Fong does have one thing working in his favor: geography. When the floods of 2008 occurred, it was a safe bet that a gubernatorial candidate would emerge from the devastated area. Many people, myself included, just didn’t think it would be Fong.

Fong’s work through his non-profit, Corridor Recovery, is bound to make him into the flood recovery candidate. While other gubernatorial candidates like Rants, Roberts, and Behn all criticized Governor Culver’s slow response, Fong is from the community, and that gives him a leg up over his competition when it comes to this issue.

Fong’s greatest strength could also become his weakness. While being a corridor resident will allow him to be more of an authority on the issue, as a candidate, he is bound to be asked whether or not he supports some of Culver’s proposals. This is a new position for Fong to manage, and it’s not as simple as one may think.

Fong also may appeal to younger voters (or turn off older voters) due to his age. He is only 32 years-old.

Rep. Rod Roberts: Roberts has indicated that he is likely to file the necessary paperwork for a gubernatorial campaign soon and make a formal announcement later this fall. Roberts brings his calm, cool, and collected persona to the race, which is oftentimes lacking in political campaigns.

In an interview with the Sioux City Journal, Roberts indicated that he began thinking about a gubernatorial camping last fall when former Iowa Governors Ray and Branstad attended a fundraiser to help him raise funds for Iowa House campaigns across the state.

Roberts, who is a former pastor, provides voters with an alternative candidate for those who feel that Rants and Vander Plaats have too much baggage to be able to win a general election campaign against Governor Culver. His legislative experience and calm demeanor should play well out on the campaign trail.

In his own words: Roberts Speaking at Sac County Event

Sen. Jerry Behn: Behn has served in the Iowa State Senate for over a decade now. Before being elected to the Senate in 1996, Behn was a Boone County Supervisor. His legislative experience coupled with his understanding of county issues makes him well versed and knowledgeable on most issue that a Governor would have to deal with.

Behn, a passionate conservative, is likely going to make an effort to cast himself as the GOP version of Tom Vilsack in this race. Many people underestimated Vilsack in his gubernatorial primary against former Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark McCormick. Not only did Vilsack win his primary, he went on to defeat Jim Ross Lightfoot, who had a huge lead in the polls just weeks before Election Day.

In his own words: Behn Speaking at the Sac County Event

How would I rank them today?

1. Vander Plaats (Maintaining)
2. Rants (Moving Up)
3. Roberts (Steadily Preparing)
4. Behn (Getting Going)
5. Fong (Boom or Bust)

McKinley’s Status: McKinley was excluded because, despite the speculation that he might run, he has not met the level of commitment these five candidates have shown to date. While there is still time for additional candidates to emerge, we are getting near to the time when the field will be set. That means McKinley or any other candidates will need to act sooner rather than later if they plan to run for the GOP nomination.

*Videos and Photo provided 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.

blog comments powered by Disqus