Today is the last day that independent candidates have to file the necessary petitions to be on the ballot this fall. Normally, independent candidates don’t make much of an impact on elections, but as we have seen with Ross Perot’s presidential run in 1992, strong independent candidates can alter the outcome of an election.
For a time this summer it looked as if there could be a strong independent candidate running for governor here in Iowa. After losing the Republican nomination for governor, Bob Vander Plaats contemplated an independent run. Last week, Vander Plaats put an end to the speculation of a third party run when he announced that he would instead focus on a campaign to oust the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who are up for retention this fall.
The thought of Vander Plaats running as an independent in the general elections was something that captivated the media and made Iowa Democrats drool. With Governor Chet Culver’s poor standing in the polls, a third party run by Vander Plaats might have been Culver’s only hope of being re-elected this fall.
Intrigued by the potential impact Vander Plaats might have had on the race, TheIowaRepublican.com included a question in its Battleground Poll to see what kind of impact he would have had on the race.
The poll asked, “If the choice for Governor were between Terry Branstad, the Republican, Chet Culver, the Democrat, and Bob Vander Plaats running as an Independent, who would you vote for?” Thirty-nine percent supported Branstad, thirty percent supported Culver, and nineteen percent supported Vander Plaats. Ten percent of those surveyed said that they didn’t know.
The poll shows that, had Vander Plaats ran as an independent, he would have taken enough support from Branstad to give Culver a shot, albeit a slim one, at winning re-election. Still, Branstad still beats Culver by a healthy nine-point margin, something that should not be overlooked.
The fact that Branstad maintained a nine-point lead over Culver with another Republican candidate on the ballot is shocking. The 19 percent that Vander Plaats garnered in the poll is also impressive, and obviously Vander Plaats pulls most of his support from Branstad. While Vander Plaats wasn’t successful in the primary, it’s clear that there is a significant portion of voters who want someone to standup and fight against the Courts.
The poll also shows us just how bad of shape Culver is in politically. An incumbent governor getting beat by 18 points in the conventional two-way poll is devastating and a clear sign that his re-election is in serious trouble. Now, seeing that Culver is still down nine points if there are basically two Republicans splitting the vote is simply embarrassing.
As for Branstad, his campaign should look at these numbers and take away a couple of things. One, there is a large segment of voters who want a governor to stand up to the courts. While people shouldn’t expect him to suddenly pick up Vander Plaats’ ever-evolving executive order or join the anti-retention campaign, Branstad can and should tell people what he would do if faced with a similar situation as governor.
Second, the poll shows that, regardless of how many Republican candidates are in the field, voters are so disillusioned with Culver that the Republicans splitting their vote doesn’t really alter the race. Additionally, the Branstad campaign should now realize Vander Plaats’ strength and appeal to some voters and should also be very thankful that he’s not running as an Independent.
For Vander Plaats, the poll should confirm his decision not to run as an independent. While garnering 19 percent in the poll is impressive, he would have occupied the role as the spoiler. At his press conference a week ago, Vander Plaats said that he didn’t see anyway that he could run for governor as an independent and win. He was right.
Still, Vander Plaats does have a significant following across the state. If he is able to motivate his supporters this fall, his initiative to oust the three Supreme Court Justices who are up for retention could be successful.
Note: The poll was conducted between July 25th and July 28th, before Vander Plaats announced that he wouldn’t run as an independent. For more information about the poll, click here.
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