May 14th, 2010

Bob Vander Plaats’ Human Shields

Hours after State Auditor Dave Vaudt endorsed Terry Branstad’s campaign on Tuesday, the Iowa Family Policy Center sent out a press release entitled, “Branstad finds a Human Shield.” The press release relayed IFPC’s disappointment of Vaudt’s endorsement. IFPC also pointed out that former State Auditor Richard Johnson, who held the position during Branstad’s administration, is not supporting Branstad, but rather is supporting Bob Vander Plaats.

What I find odd about the IFPC press release isn’t what they said, but why they felt they needed to chime in on the matter in the first place. Dick Johnson is one of Bob Vander Plaats’ co-chairs. You would think that if the Vander Plaats campaign wanted to respond to the Vaudt endorsement, they would have done so. Vander Plaats does have a competent campaign manager who has made a career out of sending press releases.

Bob Vander Plaats likes to talk about leadership when out on the campaign trail, but when you take a step back and look at his campaign, is it Bob that’s leading campaign, or is Danny Carroll, IFPC, and Steve Deace?

If any one is guilty of using “human shields,” it’s Vander Plaats. Just last week, Deace and Bryan English of IFPC took Rod Roberts to task for a misstatement he made to the Des Moines Register. Isn’t that something that Bob Vander Plaats as a gubernatorial candidate should address himself?

At the time that IFPC made its endorsement, they said that the only reason they couldn’t back Rod Roberts was because he wasn’t aggressive enough. IFPC’s endorsement said, “He [Roberts] has not, however, demonstrated the bold resolve and drive necessary to successfully confront those in leadership positions who actively promote wrong-doing in Iowa.” So, wouldn’t you think Danny Carroll and IFPC would want to see Vander Plaats confront Roberts? Wouldn’t you think that IFPC would want to see the Vander Plaats campaign send out a press release about Vaudt endorsement like they felt motivated to do?

It doesn’t seem like the Vander Plaats campaign has the bold resolve and drive that IFPC prefers, which may explain why they feel the need to make up for that themselves.

I’m beginning to wonder if Danny Carroll, IFPC, and Steve Deace want Vander Plaats to win the nomination more than he does. It’s hard to believe, but if you look at the actions of all involved, it’s a reasonable conclusion. Danny Carroll, IFPC, and Steve Deace have garnered more attention and been far more outspoken during this primary than Vander Plaats has. They may personally enjoy and profit from all the attention, but they are not on the ballot. Bob is.

All the tough talk from IFPC and Deace in the Afternoon doesn’t match the Bob Vander Plaats we first met in 2002, the candidate who dropped out to join the ticket in 2006, or even the candidate he appears to be today. Bob Vander Plaats has never been the aggressor, and it’s doubtful that will change if he is the nominee.

In the 2002 gubernatorial primary, then-Governor Tom Vilsack was attacking Doug Gross, Steve Sukup was attacking Doug Gross, and Bob Vander Plaats just sat back and played the role of the good guy. The problem for Vander Plaats this year is that Rod Roberts is filling that role, and it’s not inconceivable that, like Vander Plaats in 2002, Roberts could surprise on primary night.

In this year’s primary, IFPC and Steve Deace are constantly pounding on Branstad. It began long before he was even a candidate. Now, the Democrats are pounding on Branstad, and once again Vander Plaats is content to just sit back and reap the benefits of all those attacks.

This strategy has yet to work for Vander Plaats. Things might be different had he not spent 65 cents of every dollar he raised in the off year. The $392,000 he spent in 2009 could have made a tremendous impact on the race had he not spent that money then and was able to run radio and TV ads that contrast himself with his opponents now.

Even though this is Vander Plaats’ third attempt at the Republican nomination for governor, he hasn’t run a TV commercial in eight years. I get beat up for talking about the importance of raising money for campaigns, but Vander Plaats is a proven fundraiser. Hhis problem is that he spends it as fast as it comes in.

While all the help Vander Plaats has received in this primary is priceless, the impact these groups will have on the general election will be minimal. It will take eight to ten million dollars to defeat Governor Chet Culver in the general election. Vander Plaats’ friends’ help can only get him so far in a general election, and then he would have to go the rest of the way on his own. But, with his track record of relying on his friends to do the heavy lifting, the question is, is Vander Plaats capable of doing that on his own?

Vander Plaats has been the one hiding behind “human shields,” and he’s been doing it for a decade now. Every campaign is only as good as the candidate whose name is on the ballot. While some of Bob’s supporters show a lot of aggressiveness, Vander Plaats himself has yet to do so. That may be the reason why he’s likely to get a similar result as in past years come primary night.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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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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