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May 10th, 2010

The Final Push

The 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary has entered into its final phase. In less than one month, Iowa Republicans will choose their nominee and then focus their energies on defeating Governor Chet Culver in the fall.

Outside of the first two gubernatorial debates, the race has lacked much back and fourth between the three candidates. The main reason why the race is relatively quiet is because only one candidate has the resources to run television ads. Terry Branstad’s campaign has been running TV ads for almost a month now. His opponents, on the other hand, might only have the ability to run ads in the final weeks of the campaign.

Another reason why the candidates haven’t had to participate in much hand-to-hand combat is because one of the challengers in this race, Bob Vander Plaats, can rely on other groups and supporters to go after his opponents. This past week, the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) sent out a six-page letter explaining why they could not support Terry Branstad if he is the Republican nominee. The letter also asked for contributions to Vander Plaats’ campaign.

Likewise, Steve Deace has used his radio program on WHO radio to go after Vander Plaats’ opponents on a regular basis. Last week, Deace blasted Rod Roberts for a misstatement he had made in a Des Moines Register interview. Not only did Deace point out Roberts’ error, but he invited Bryan English, the communications director of IFPC, to come on his show to debate Roberts about it.

Like most conversations on Deace’s show, everything centers on the executive order that Vander Plaats has proposed. If Vander Plaats didn’t have IFPC or Deace in his corner, his third attempt and the Republican nomination would be no different from his second.

As the race enters into the final month, what each campaign needs to do is as different as night and day. Obviously, each campaign has its strengths and weaknesses. The following is a quick snapshot of each of the three campaigns as they stand a month from the primary election.

The Branstad Campaign:

The Branstad campaign was dealt a blow last week when its candidate was sidelined in order to undergo an elective heart procedure. While Branstad is in relatively good health, this is obviously something that has been a distraction for his campaign. The former governor had the procedure on Wednesday and resumed his campaign activities on Thursday night with a fundraiser in Ankeny, followed by campaign stops in Linn, Marion, and Dickinson counties on Saturday.

While Branstad was only out of commission for a couple of days, his campaign isn’t as sharp as one would expect as it enters the final month of the primary campaign. Branstad’s TV ads are stale and fail to communicate why he wants his old job back. His latest ad is a trip down memory lane, but it fails to connect with today’s voters. Branstad needs to make a passionate case to the people of Iowa about why he wants his old job back and what his vision for the state is.

While the message that the Branstad campaign is broadcasting on the airwaves seems off, the mechanics of his campaign are running smoothly. If anything has gone underreported in this campaign, it’s that the Branstad campaign has a well-oiled field operation. If Branstad wins on June 8th, it’s not just because he was able to raise a lot of money to run ads, but because his team made a big investment in its field operation.

The Vander Plaats Campaign:

It’s obvious that Vander Plaats doesn’t have the financial resources that Terry Branstad has, but as mentioned above, it helps to have some loud and influential friends. Still, if Vander Plaats can find the financial resources to run an extensive media campaign in the final month before primary day, this race could tighten up immediately.

There is no better word to describe Bob Vander Plaats than persistent. For almost as long as Branstad has been out of office, Vander Plaats has been seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Still, Vander Plaats’ workman-like approach to his third attempt at the Republican nomination is impressive. The most impressive part of Vander Plaats’ 2010 campaign is his commitment to visiting the smaller communities in the state.

In the final month of the campaign, Vander Plaats needs to find a way to communicate his message to as broad of an audience as possible. There is an opening for him and Roberts to exploit, but time is running out. Vander Plaats will perform well with the base of the Republican Party, but the support of the base might not be enough to win this primary. That is why he needs the ability to communicate his message to as many people as possible between now and June 8th.

The Roberts Campaign:

The final weeks of any hotly contested campaign always seem to get negative. While that’s never a good thing for the candidate who is being attached, it is a good thing for a candidate like Rod Roberts. For months now, Roberts has been making the case that he is the only candidate that can unite the Republican Party this fall. As the primary day gets closer and the race becomes more negative, Robert’s unity theme will become even more refreshing.

While Branstad has to sharpen his message and Vander Plaats has to find a way to pay to get his out there, Roberts just needs to become better known. Unlike his opponents, Roberts isn’t the longest serving governor in Iowa’s history and hasn’t been on the statewide campaign trail for almost a decade. That means there are a lot of Republicans who still don’t know him.

If Roberts can introduce himself to more Iowa Republicans in the final month of the campaign, it’s likely that a significant portion of the undecided voters will break in his direction. Out of all the candidates running across the state, it’s Roberts who has grown the most as a candidate. If he can find away to fund a statewide media campaign, he could surprise people on June 8th.

Photos of Vander Plaats and Roberts 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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