Bob Vander Plaats is coming off a really busy week. On Saturday, June 6th, Vander Plaats spoke at the Network of Christian Home Educators conference. The following Wednesday, Mike Huckabee was in the state to help raise money for and endorse his former caucus campaign chairman. Last Thursday, Vander Plaats won the Iowa Republican Gubernatorial Straw Poll, and on the same day, he also picked up the endorsement of Chuck Norris.
On one hand, most people might say that Vander Plaats had a good week. On the other hand, some may wonder why Vander Plaats’ campaign seems to have weeks where there is a ton of activity, followed by spans of time when his campaign makes little or no news at all.
In any campaign, you have to capitalize on opportunities when they are presented to you. The Vander Plaats campaign would have been foolish not use Huckabee’s Iowa visit to raise funds for this gubernatorial campaign. Huckabee was already being flown into the state so he could be the featured speaker at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry convention.
To that extent, it also makes sense that, if Huckabee is coming to the state, he might as well make an official endorsement of Vander Plaats’ campaign. Huckabee’s endorsement of Vander Plaats was expected, if not already assumed. Huckabee’s endorsement, coupled with a campaign fundraiser, would have easily guaranteed a healthy dose of media coverage that any campaign would be thrilled to receive.
Apparently the Vander Plaats campaign thought that they needed to do more. In addition to the fundraising event and the Huckabee endorsement, they also held an event which featured a number of state legislators, campaign co-chair Richard Johnson, and campaign chair Rep. Jodi Tymeson. That event also was visited by Huckabee, and both he and Vander Plaats performed with the live band at the event.
The event was well attended. Around 250 people from across the state made the trip to the Okoboji. Having that many people at the event was an impressive feat, but what was the purpose of the event? It started out as a fundraiser, but the fundraiser took place at a lakeside home, and the event with the band ended up being a campaign kickoff event according to Vander Plaats’ remarks that night. Having been there, it sure seemed like a kickoff event with the live music, a big endorsement, and legislators in tow. It is likely that team Vander Plaats will want another round of earned media when they “officially” announce their “official’ entry into the gubernatorial race sometime this fall.
There is a lot of time between now and the Republican primary on June 8th. It is impossible for any candidate to create constant news coverage for the year leading up to a primary. That said, well managed and disciplined campaigns make sure that there is a constant flow of newsworthy information. That means you save the things that you can for times when it’s hard to enter the news cycle.
Vander Plaats already had what he needed in terms of news coverage with Huckabee’s endorsement and attendance at a fundraiser. The “kickoff event” and the endorsement of Chuck Norris were mostly lost in the coverage of everything else that was going on. There is no doubt that those on the Vander Plaats campaign would be tempted to cash in on Huckabee’s visit, but a disciplined campaign might have passed on the big event and would have definitely held off on the Chuck Norris endorsement.
The endorsement of Chuck Norris could have been used later in the fall to drive a totally different news cycle instead of being an afterthought to Huckabee’s visit. Likewise, Vander Plaat’s kickoff event had to compete with the media coverage that Huckabee received by being at the Association of Business and Industry convention. So any campaign has to ask itself – was it worth it? And what did they get out of an event that they had to pour financial and staff resources into? Plus you have to realize that there is a limit to how many times the media will let you announce that you are running for office. This is especially true with candidates who have run for the same office in multiple cycles.
While Vander Plaats himself has matured as a candidate over the past eight or nine years, he has been a fixture in Iowa Republican politics in the state, but his campaign apparatus has not matured. Vander Plaats is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but he is running what seems to be a similar campaign to those he ran in 2002 and 2006.
For Vander Plaats to maintain his frontrunner status, he’s going to need to build a professional campaign. Vander Plaats makes his living by advising companies and CEOs where they need to make personnel cuts or changes that allow the businesses he advices to become more successful. It will be interesting to see if he can provide this same service to his own campaign, or if he will have to look for advice from an outside professional.
Just like in business, campaigns need to make intelligent decisions in order to make the business profitable. Politics is no different, but instead of being profitable, you just need to win a little thing called an election.
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