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July 15th, 2009

Vander Plaats Sets the Pace for GOP Primary Field poll has consistently shown that Governor Culver’s re-election bid is in serious trouble. But who will Iowa Republicans nominate to run against him? The Republican primary is still 11 months away, but the debate over who the Republican Party should nominate is as heated as ever.

There is still plenty of time for new candidates to emerge. Doug Gross joined the primary in January of 2002 and was successful in winning the GOP nomination, but this is somewhat unusual, and the clock is ticking. It is also possible that some current candidates could ultimately decide not to run. That happened in the Democratic primary in 2006. Patti Judge abandoned her campaign to join Chet Culver’s campaign; Judge is now the Lt. Governor. The more crowded the field of candidates gets, the more likely that a deal like the one Culver made with Judge could happen within the GOP field. There is plenty of time for speculation, but let’s first look and see how the candidates stack up against one another on the primary ballot.

Question: If the Republican primary for Governor was held today, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, Bob Vander Plaats, Paul McKinley, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn, and Christian Fong?

Republican Primary Voters

Bob Vander Plaats: 46%
Don’t Know: 27%
Chris Rants: 14%
Neither/Other: 5%
Paul McKinley: 3%
Christian Fong: 3%
Rod Roberts: 1%
Refused: 1%
Jerry Behn: 0.2%

(Republican Primary Voters N=394 – Margin of Error ±5.0%)

Say what you will about Bob Vander Plaats, but his persistence has paid off. Vander Plaats is clearly the best known candidate in the GOP primary field. He has benefited greatly from his multiple campaigns for the Republican nomination. He also benefits from his association with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, but nothing has helped Vander Plaats more in his current bid for the Republican nomination that being Jim Nussle’s running mate in 2006. Having been on the general election ballot is an advantage no other candidate in this race has, and it’s catapulted him to the top of the list.

It is also not surprising that former Iowa Speaker of the House Chris Rants comes in a clear second in the primary ballot test. Rants has been on the political scene for years, and while he is less known across the state than Vander Plaats is, Rants has a solid foundation on which to mount a challenge against Vander Plaats, who has demonstrated that he the frontrunner in this race.

The rest of the field is basically unknown. Rod Roberts and Jerry Behn didn’t generate enough support to allow us to gauge how they performed in various congressional districts. Paul McKinley, who just finished his first year as Republican Leader in the State Senate, isn’t very well known by Iowans across the state and was unable to separate himself from the other candidates in the race. In McKinley’s defense, the poll was conducted before he officially announced he was running for governor.

Christian Fong, the 32 year-old AEGON employee, is also unknown. Fong’s numbers could be artificially high since the poll was conducted on the heels of his announcement. Fong’s surprising announcement generated a decent amount of media buzz right before poll was conducted. Even with that being the case, Fong is basically unknown, even in his home congressional district.

The polling data paints an easy picture to understand. Vander Plaats is the most known candidate, has the most name ID across the state, and is viewed favorably by most Iowa Republicans.

Let’s look at the numbers.

GOP Favorability Ratings:

Percentages of GOP Voters Who are Unaware of the Candidates:

Outside of Vander Plaats and Rants, the rest of the GOP field is basically unknown to Republican voters. In almost every congressional district, the other four candidates are unknown to 60% or more of the people. With 11 months to go until the Republican Primary, there is still plenty of time for all candidates to build their name ID, but in order to beat Vander Plaats or Rants, these candidates will have to get aggressive quickly.

As we were able to see in yesterday’s head-to-head comparison between Nussle and Culver, the Republican nominee will not need to be overwhelmingly well known or have a sparkling favorability rating to be able to knock off Governor Culver. Nussle was able to statistically tie Culver, and his statewide favorability was at a meager 36%. However, what Nussle did have that none of these other candidates currently do is a tremendous base of support in Iowa’s 1st Congressional district. poll certainly doesn’t mark the end for any candidate, but it does provide people with an idea of where the candidates stand at the beginning of the primary process. From here on out, we will be able to see whether or not candidates are gaining support, remaining stagnant, or fading. This poll will be the benchmark on which we will measure the candidates in the future.

Tomorrow, we will look at how both Chris Rants and Bob Vander Plaats stack up in a head-to-head match-up with Governor Culver. Do the advantages that Vander Plaats enjoys in the primary give him a leg up over his closest competitor? Check back tomorrow to find out.

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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