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July 16th, 2009

Vander Plaats and Rants within 10 points of Culver

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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vander-plaats-and-rantsYesterday, poll showed Bob Vander Plaats with a commanding lead over his opponents for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. With plenty of time before the Republican primary on June 8th and an unsettled field of candidates that is just taking shape, Vander Plaats’ lead in the poll can be attributed mainly to one thing, name recognition. Let’s not kid ourselves though – Vander Plaats is in a position all of his competitors would love to be in.

Today, we look to see if Vander Plaats’ early strength against his primary opponents correlates to him being the best candidate Republicans can nominate to take on Governor Chet Culver. To do that, we will look and see how Vander Plaats does in a head-to-head test against Governor Culver and compare those results to how Chris Rants, a lesser known candidate, does in a head-to-head match-up against Culver.

Question: If the elections for Governor were held today, and the candidates were Bob Vander Plaats and Chet Culver, who would you vote for between Bob Vander Plaats, the Republican candidate and Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate?

Chet Culver: 48%
Vander Plaats: 39%
Neither/Won’t Vote: 3%
Don’t Know: 10%
Refused: 1%

Question: If the elections for Governor were held today, and the candidates were Chris Rants and Chet Culver, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, the Republican candidate and Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate?

Chet Culver: 46%
Chris Rants: 36%
Neither/Won’t Vote: 3%
Don’t Know: 13%
Refused: 1%

Both Vander Plaats and Rants are within 10 points of Governor Culver. That should be disturbing to Culver and his aides. Culver is obviously well known across the state, and he has a favorability rating of 48%, which is very average. Yet, Vander Plaats and Rants, who are unknown to a significant portion of Iowans, are already within striking distance if they capture the nomination. Vander Plaats has a general election favorable rating of 24%, and Rants’ rating is 18%. Vander Plaats is unknown to 43% of general election voters, and Rants is unknown to 56%.

As we delve deeper and deeper into poll, we keep finding signs of Culver’s vulnerability. As we were able to see on Tuesday with the head-to-head numbers between Culver and Nussle, if Republicans nominate a reasonably well known and competent candidate, Culver will be ripe for defeat. It is likely that, as the current field of GOP candidates becomes better known, each will improve his position in a head-to-head poll against Governor Culver.

Already a majority of Iowans want to give someone else a chance to govern the state. Additionally, when people were asked how they would vote if they could re-cast their ballot in the 2006 gubernatorial election, enough people changed their minds to make the Culver vs. Nussle race to a statistical tie. It is very rare to see such a large group of people regret their choice at the ballot box. Typically, voter regret poll questions tend to show more people still supporting the winner of that election than the loser.

The following is how Vander Plaats matched up against Governor Culver by Congressional District

1st CD: 47.3% Culver – 43.6% Vander Plaats
2nd CD: 46.7% Culver – 36.1% Vander Plaats
3rd CD: 50.2% Culver – 37.2% Vander Plaats
4th CD: 48.5% Culver – 37.2% Vander Plaats
5th CD: 42.5 % Culver – 41.3% Vander Plaats

Governor Culver defeats Vander Plaats in every congressional district, but it’s a competitive race in Iowa’s 1st and 5th districts.

The following is how Chris Rants matched up against Governor Culver by Congressional District

1st CD: 42.2% Culver – 43.8% Rants
2nd CD: 47.8% Culver – 31.1% Rants
3rd CD: 49.2% Culver – 38.6% Rants
4th CD: 47.5% Culver – 30.4% Rants
5th CD: 43.8 % Culver – 38.9% Rants

Rants actually beats Governor Culver in a head-to-head match-up in the 1st Congressional District, which is surprising since Vander Plaats has a higher name ID than Rants does in that district. In all of the other congressional districts, Vander Plaats outperforms Rants.

For being somewhat unknown, both Vander Plaats and Rants perform well against Governor Culver. This is not only good news for them, but also good news for Iowa Republicans and the other candidates in the race. The looming Republican primary contest is vital in making our candidates better known across the state. While Vander Plaats has a clear name ID advantage in the Republican primary, that doesn’t necessarily give him a huge leg up over his Republican competition when it comes time to take on Governor Culver.

The head-to-head numbers and polling data in general also indicate that people shouldn’t dismiss Chris Rants. Vander Plaats now has to deal with the pressure and expectations that come with being the frontrunner, and this is something that he has never had to deal with before. Rants, on the other hand, is likely to be the alternative candidate to Vander Plaats unless another of the other candidates emerges quickly.

Rants is also probably better suited to be the underdog candidate than the lead horse. While we have witnessed a kinder, gentler Rants since he lost his leadership position, Rants is likely waiting for the right moment to strike at his opponents. There probably isn’t a Republican politician in the state that can level an attack better than Chris Rants.

We also looked at what many consider to be Rants’ main weakness – being removed from his leadership position. For those who discard Rants as a serious candidate because of this, you are in the minority as most people don’t seem to care.

Question: Chris Rants was Speaker of the Iowa House and the leader of his caucus but has been replaced in both leadership positions. Does that makes you more likely to vote FOR that candidate or more likely to vote AGAINST that candidate.

GOP Primary Voters:
For: 10%
Against: 20%
Doesn’t Matter: 61%

General Election Voters:
For: 8%
Against: 23%
Doesn’t Matter: 59%

The polling data shows that Rants has the opportunity to define himself to the voters, and that is something that he has already taken full advantage of on the campaign trail.

The head-to-head numbers are not just promising for Vander Plaats and Rants, but the rest of the field as well. If another candidate is able to emerge, it is safe to assume that they would also fair very well against Governor Culver in a head-to-head match-up. And, it’s also safe to assume that, as our Republican candidates become better known, they will likely do even better against Culver.

When any incumbent has a ballot test below 50% like Culver currently does, it’s never good. While Culver is liked and people don’t necessarily disapprove of the job he has done as Governor, they are open to someone new. That was never more evident than when only 36% said Culver deserves to be re-elected. The question for Republicans is, who is best positioned to take him on in the general election?

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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