Bob Vander Plaats is the final candidate to be profiled before this afternoon’s gubernatorial straw poll. Vander Plaats is no stranger when it comes to Republican gubernatorial primaries as this is his third appearance at the dance.
There are a number of Republicans who like to quickly write Vander Plaats off, but doing so would be a big mistake. Vander Plaats is currently the frontrunner in the race. He officially kicked off his campaign last night in Okoboji with Mike Huckabee. It is fitting that Huckabee was there at the beginning of his campaign, because without Huckabee’s success in the caucuses, Vander Plaats probably wouldn’t be in the race.
In Steve Deace’s analysis of Vander Plaats, he believes Vander Plaats will win the primary if Vander Plaats stays aggressive and opposes his party from time to time, and, so long as he continues to take a principled stand on marriage. I don’t think that’s bad advice, but I also don’t think that is enough to build a winning campaign on. Having run for governor twice before, Vander Plaats can’t afford to be a single issue candidate, no matter how big or important that issue may be.
Take Steve Forbes as an example. In 1996, Forbes got in to the presidential race late and made his name as the flat tax candidate. He beat expectations, but when he ran again in 2000, Forbes was a well balanced candidate who still promoted the flat tax, but built his campaign around other issues as well.
Vander Plaats needs to do the same thing. While the issue of marriage is one of critical importance, it’s not the only issue on the voters’ minds. The state budget, Culver’s bonding proposal, tax increases, disaster recovery, and a number of other issues are sure to play an important role in the 2010 election. To get elected, Vander Plaats needs to find a healthy balance.
The 2010 version of Bob Vander Plaats is vastly improved over the earlier models. While there is a long way to go until the Republican gubernatorial primary, Vander Plaats is currently the frontrunner. He is also the only candidate who has made it official that he is running. This time around, he is better known, has a great surrogate in Mike Huckabee to open new doors for him, and has a defining issue to campaign on.
Many people underestimate Vander Plaats in his ability to put together a credible campaign. With the current field lacking a candidate of Jim Nussle’s stature, Vander Plaats might be one of the more formidable candidates in the race. In his last campaign for governor, Vander Plaats was able to raise over $800,000 from Election Day 2004 through the end of December 2005.
Vander Plaats’ fundraising strength comes from his home area in northwest Iowa. Of the $808,665.96 Vander Plaats raised in late 2004 and all of 2005, $658,500 came from 27 couples. Those 27 couple donated 81% of what Vander Plaats was able to raise over that time period. Their average contribution to Vander Plaats’ campaign was $29,959.59 per couple.
While some may take issue that such a small group of people funded his previous campaign, having a group of individuals who contribute $15,000, $25,000, or more to your campaign is not a luxury – it’s a requirement. Vander Plaats has been able to put that type of group together. If he is able to repeat his fundraising performance from his 2006 campaign, he will be well positioned heading into the final five months before the June primary.
Yesterday, Mike Huckabee endorsed Vander Plaats’ campaign for governor, which everyone and their brother expected. Huckabee pledged to do all that he can do to get Vander Plaats elected. Usually endorsements from national political candidates don’t have much of an impact, but Vander Plaats’ association with Huckabee should not be overlooked.
Huckabee’s Iowa caucus effort was a classic example of grassroots campaigning. What he was able to accomplish was never scripted out by a campaign operative months before the caucuses. People simply took it upon themselves to organize their communities for Huckabee. I would also argue that, had the Huckabee campaign been blessed with unlimited resources, it is unlikely that they would have created the same sort of grassroots organization, but maybe that’s an article for another day.
The point is, if Vander Plaats is able to sign up the most passionate Huckabee supporters, the ones who did the leg work, it’s going to have an impact on the race. His association with Huckabee has opened up doors which never existed for him in his 2002 and 2006 campaigns.
The issue of gay marriage is one of critical importance to Vander Plaats. It will be nearly impossible for any candidate to get to the right of him on the issue, which should help him in a statewide Republican primary. While grassroots Republicans will respond well to Vander Plaats’ rhetoric about the separation of powers and standing up to the courts, he will also be criticized by some, mainly the media, for his position, which some perceive as unreasonable.
At his event last night with Mike Huckabee, Vander Plaats concluded his speech my telling those in attendance that he will “be the Governor who signs the executive order that will let the people vote on marriage.” It’s was a great line, and he delivered it well, but the only way that the people will be allowed to vote on the matter is either through the constitutional amendment process. The Governor does not have the authority to unilaterally make that vote happen, although he/she can be helpful in drumming up the necessary support for the legislature and/or the people to pass the amendment.
Regardless of how you feel about Vander Plaats’ position on marriage, the issue has transformed him as a candidate. When I spent the better part of a day with him back in March, he was the same ole candidate that we all got to know in 2002 and 2006. After the Supreme Court issued its decision endorsing gay marriage, a different candidate emerged. Vander Plaats now has the defining issue for his campaign, and the usually happy-go-lucky candidate was replaced by a candidate who is determined and serious about restoring traditional marriage to Iowa.
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