With State Auditor Dave Vaudt opting to seek re-election rather than a gubernatorial bid, it looks like Iowa Republicans might have to decide between Bob Vander Plaats and Christopher Rants in next June’s primary election. While there is still plenty of time for additional candidates to emerge, each day that passes increases the possibility of a two-man primary between the candidates who are already out there laying the ground work for a gubernatorial campaign.
The reason why many people were intrigued by a Vaudt candidacy was because of his expertise on the state budget. Vaudt has warned the governor and legislature for years to get the state’s spending in line with its revenues, but for the most part, everyone ignored his warnings. Vaudt also saw increased credibility for the role he played in investigating the CIETEC scandal. Vaudt’s absence from the gubernatorial race creates an opportunity for a candidate to be the budget hawk in the 2010 campaign.
From my perspective, Vaudt’s decision not to run helps Christopher Rants the most. I don’t think it helps or hurts Vander Plaats, and it could create more space for a new candidate to emerge from the business community, but a candidate like that will have other hurdles to clear.
Vaudt’s decision not to run helps Rants because he is now almost assured to be the “numbers” candidates in the race. That goes for both the primary and the general election. This is Rants’ greatest political asset in my opinion. Rants will never be the guy you want to go grab a beer with, but he might be the guy you want to do your taxes. That’s not a bad place to be as a candidate when the economy is in the toilet and the incumbent Governor is considered to be incompetent.
His knowledge of the system and how it works will give him a leg up. That would not have been the case if Vaudt had run for governor. I can’t think of any potential candidate who could come in and talks facts and figures better than Rants. This, coupled with his ability to debate and raise money, makes Rants a serious contender. His main obstacle will be getting people to look past the last two elections in the Iowa House where he was in charge of the election effort and lost seats.
Vander Plaats, on the other hand, is pretty much unaffected. Vander Plaats is a much better candidate this time around than he was in 2002 and 2006, but he was never going to be the numbers guy in the race. To his credit, Vander Plaats has spoken out against Culver’s bonding proposal, and the Democrats’ attempt to repeal federal deductibility, but he has staked his campaign mostly on one issue – gay marriage. Vander Plaats is also not a guy many people would want to have a beer with, which is probably because he wouldn’t drink one. He’s Ward Cleaver, which isn’t a bad thing.
It will be almost impossible to get to the right of Vander Plaats on the gay marriage issue. He has firmly planted his flag on that territory and isn’t going to give that up. His position on gay marriage may help him win the Republican primary, but he will have to figure out a way to attack his opponent(s) on the issue for it to make a difference in that race. That will be easier said than done.
This is why I think Doug Gross has come out so strongly against Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats position makes it very difficult for a candidate from the business community to jump into the race. The first question that the media will ask a new candidate will be about the Court’s decision to allow gay marriage. If that candidate doesn’t handle that question correctly, Vander Plaats will destroy them with the Republican base. It is also likely that an unknown candidate would have to spend most of their time proving their conservative bona fides to activists, something Vander Plaats and Rants will not have to do.
On the other hand, I think it will be difficult for Vander Plaats to attack Rants on the issue of gay marriage. Not only did Rants finagle a way to get a procedural vote on marriage in the House of Representatives this year, but as Speaker of the House he passed the marriage amendment twice. So, unless Vander Plaats is able to find something to use against Rants on the issue of gay marriage, the issue will not be in play in the primary unless another candidate emerges.
This is why I believe that Vaudt’s decision to not run for governor had to be music to the ears of Christopher Rants. I should also add that it is unlikely that the people who urged Vaudt to run would naturally gravitate to Vander Plaats anyway. Vaudt’s supporters are more likely to be establishment-type Republicans.
It’s been a while since I’ve made any predictions, so maybe I’m due. The candidate whose campaign focuses equally on the fiscal and social issues is going to be our nominee. Whoever is able to do that will have a strong, unified party behind them.
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