As the Republican nominee for governor, Terry Branstad is now faced with an important decision that will have a major impact on the future of his campaign. Branstad now needs to pick someone to be his running mate.
Branstad’s selection is critical because it will set the tone of his general election campaign. Selecting the right running mate can also energize the ticket and unite the party behind his campaign. Making a poor selection could hinder his campaign and widen the divide that exists in the Republican Party.
A running mate can be selected for a number of reasons. Some potential candidates are considered because of geographical location. Other candidates enter into the conversation because of their gender, fundraising ability, or political philosophy. Another reason why certain people will be considered is because they would help the nominee shore up an area of weakness.
While Branstad won the Republican primary by a substantial margin, Tuesday’s election results exposed where his campaign is weak and needs the most help. Everyone knows that Branstad needs a strong social conservative to be on his ticket, but his biggest area weakness is located in his home turf, Central Iowa.
Branstad won 74 of Iowa’s 99 counties on Tuesday. Branstad dominated eastern Iowa. He received 71% in Clinton County, 69% in Dubuque County, 67% in Scott County, 63% in Muscatine County, 61% in Johnson County, and 58% in Linn County. Branstad doesn’t have problems in that part of the state, and picking a running mate from there would do nothing to help him fill the weakest part of his campaign.
Branstad also faired will in western Iowa, the most conservative part of the state. He won 26 of the 32 counties in the 5th District, and he won counties throughout Northeast Iowa. In all, Branstad went undefeated in the 1st District, lost only four counties in the 2nd District, and lost seven counties in the 4th District.
Branstad struggled mightily in the 3rd Congressional District, where he lost seven of the twelve counties that make up the district. Not only did Branstad lose a majority of the counties in the 3rd District, he also lost the overall popular vote there. Bob Vander Plaats won the 3rd District over Branstad by almost a 3000-vote margin.
Branstad only won Polk County by a mere 133 votes. He won Poweshiek County by just one vote, Monroe by 22 votes, Keokuk by 26 votes, and Benton by 78 votes. Terry Branstad very easily could have been swept in every county in the 3rd District. That’s not a good sign for any campaign headed into a general election campaign.
Branstad’s problems are not just confined to the 3rd District. His campaign has a central Iowa problem. In the nine counties that include and surround Polk County, Branstad only received 50% of the vote in one of them. Branstad won Boone County, which is where he lives, 50% to 45%. He won Polk County (47% to 46%). Dallas County (48% to 45%), Marshall County (46% to 43%), but lost to Vander Plaats in Story, Jasper, Marion, Warren, and Madison Counties.
What was the root cause of what ailed Branstad? Probably the 50,000-watt blowtorch called WHO Radio. For months, Branstad took a beating during the afternoon drive show. While it’s easy to blame radio personality, Steve Deace, Branstad never once sat down with the morning show anchor, Jan Mickelson.
While people might not like how Branstad was treated by Deace and his guests, being governor is a tough job, and dealing with an ornery radio show host is nothing compared to what he will have to go through to fix Culver’s budget mess.
Throughout the primary, many speculated that Branstad would select a running mate from eastern Iowa. While it would give the ticket some geographical balance, it would do nothing to help Branstad with his central Iowa problems. He needs to select somebody who can help him shore up central Iowa.
The ideal running mate for Branstad would be someone know is well known in central Iowa. The person also needs to be a strong social conservative. His potential running mate should also be someone who can reach out to people who might not have voted for Branstad, which means the person has to be extremely likable and outgoing. The final thing on candidate’s wish list is finding somebody who has the ability to raise money for the campaign.
That set of criteria points directly to two people, Jeff Lamberti and Jim Gibbons. Both are former congressional candidates in 3rd District, and both are also strong Catholics who are solid on social issues.
Lamberti ran against Boswell in 2006 and did very well in what turned out to be a terrible year for Republicans. Lamberti campaigned hard all around the district and built up a lot of good will among Republicans. The problem with Lamberti is that he’s almost too similar to Branstad, and doesn’t do anything to bring new people into the process. Having two attorneys on the ticket isn’t ideal either.
While Gibbons was unsuccessful in his recent attempt to win the Republican nomination, he is probably better suited to help Branstad than Lamberti. Branstad struggled in Story County. Gibbons would be a very attractive addition to Branstad’s ticket because of his natural tie in with Iowa State athletics.
Brad Zaun might have defeated Gibbons by almost 15 points, but it would be silly to write off Gibbons just because he was unsuccessful in Tuesday’s congressional primary. Gibbons ran strong outside of Polk County. In fact, if you take out Polk County, Gibbons garnered 42% of the vote in the rest of the district, while Zaun and Funk tied each other with 24%. He also won four of the seven counties that Branstad lost by significant margins.
Gibbons also proved himself to an astute fundraiser, a trait that he shares with Lamberti and one that very few other potential running mates would bring to Branstad’s ticket. Gibbons could also meld right in with the Branstad campaign. Many of Branstad’s donors also backed Gibbons. This is more important than you might think. Jim Nussle’s selection of Vander Plaats didn’t sit well with Nussle’s donors. That decision marked the beginning of the end for Nussle’s campaign.
Gibbons, who is age 50, would be a nice contrast to Branstad, and he would also bring decent name identification and an impressive resume of his own to the ticket. His history at Iowa State University is already well documented, and he has an Ag degree from ISU and served as a financial advisor for 17 years. Having managed the 401k’s for a number of large employers in central Iowa, Gibbons has a lot of unique connections that other candidates don’t bring to the table.
As for the WHO Radio problem, it’s doubtful that Gibbons could fix it, but he could sure help. Gibbons seems to have built up a good relationship with Mickelson. For the most part, that’s because Gibbons was solid on issues like immigration and social policy, and he could speak with credibility on fiscal issues. He also had a rapport with Deace. His background at ISU and his views on gay marriage and abortion obviously appealed to Deace.
While Gibbons and Lamberti seem to be natural fits for what ails the Branstad campaign, there are other people who are likely on the short list. The list would probably include.
Jeff Bullock – President of Dubuque University.
Bullock’s name was tossed around over a year ago when Doug Gross was looking for potential candidates. Bullock is an impressive guy. Last fall, I attended a small dinner, which he and his wife attended, and I walked away being very impressed. Bullock might be difficult to pry away from Dubuque University.
Mary Andringa – President of Vermeer Manufacturing
Andringa has served as the Chair of Branstad’s campaign, and like Bullock, was someone who Doug Gross tried to recruit in 2009. She would obviously bring a lot of business experience to the ticket and is from the area in which Branstad struggled, but it’s doubtful she could help fix the problems Branstad has in the area. Despite being his campaign chair, Branstad only managed 30% of the vote in her county. It’s also possible she is not interested in the position.
Carmine Boal – Former Legislator from Ankeny
Boal has played a significant role in the Branstad campaign, where she served as his Policy Director. She is a solid social conservative and was an outstanding legislator. While she would be a great pick, she might not be able to help Branstad with his central Iowa problems.
Steve Sukup – Former Legislator, Businessman
Sukup ran for governor in 2002 and lost the in the primary to Doug Gross. In 2006, Sukup backed Vander Plaats, so selecting him might be perceived as extending an olive branch to the Vander Plaats supporters. Sukup is an Iowa State Alumni and has an extensive background in agriculture and industry. Sukup is also a solid social conservative and is strong on labor issues. Like the others, he probably wouldn’t help Branstad in the 3rd District or with WHO Radio.
Scott Raecker – State Representative from Polk County
Reacker is a dark horse, but if Branstad is going to select a current legislator, it’s going to be somebody from a safe Republican seat. Raecker is somewhat of an undiscovered talent in the Republican Party. He leads up the Character Counts effort in Iowa, and you would be hard pressed to find a nicer, more respectful person with political experience.
Raecker is the Republicans’ budget hawk, and as former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Raecker is an expert when it comes to the budget. He can also deliver one heck of a speech. Raecker probably isn’t as strong enough for some social conservatives, so he might not help fix Branstad’s problem with the base of the party. That said, he is a Grinnell College grad, so he does have deep roots in the 3rd District.
Marti Rodamaker – Banker from Mason City
Rodamaker is a longtime political donor and president and CEO of First Citizens Bank in Mason City. Rodamaker comes from a very well connected family. As a banker, Rodamaker would be strong on fiscal issues and economic development. She would also provide a unique perspective since she doesn’t come from a large metropolitan area. A solid Republican, her stances on social policies would need to be vetted. She also probably would not help Branstad with his Central Iowa problem.
Doug Reichardt– Des Moines Businessman
Reichardt is the former CEO of Holmes Murphy & Associates, an insurance company based in Des Moines. Reichardt is personally wealthy and well connected. He is also rumored to be politically ambitious. Having retired at a relatively young age, he would devote a lot of time and energy to the campaign and would give Branstad a sharp business mind within his administration. Like many of the others listed, he’s from the right area of the state, but he might not help Branstad reach out to dissatisfied Republicans.
Rod Roberts – Former Gubernatorial Candidate
Roberts conducted himself in a classy manner throughout his campaign. Many people believe a Roberts selection might help unite the Republican Party for the general election. Having won only one county and finishing with less than 10% of the vote, the case for Roberts is a little more difficult to make. Had he done better in the areas where Branstad struggled, it would make a lot of sense. That said, Roberts’ political future remains bright. If he is not on the ticket, he will probably find himself somewhere in the administration if Branstad wins.
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