Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats used the first primary debate of the campaign to go after former Governor Terry Branstad. Vander Plaats pointed out that, during his 16 years as Governor, Branstad raised taxes twice, increased fees 30 times, grew the size of government, and appointed two of the seven justices that threw-out Iowa’s marriage laws.
Vander Plaats went on the offensive early and often, but the issue on which he attacked Branstad the most aggressively was gambling. While answering a question on whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized, Vander Plaats quickly answered the question and then said, “I want to bring it back to gambling. Governor Branstad oversaw the construction of 15 casinos, the lottery, and parimutual race tracks [dog and horse tracks] in Iowa.” Branstad had earlier said that expanding gambling as Chet Culver has proposed was no way to create jobs in the state.
Vander Plaats’ quick dismissal of the marijuana question was a little odd and received some laughs from Branstad, Roberts, and the three moderators, but it provided Vander Plaats the best chance to go after Branstad.
Branstad responded to Vander Plaats’ attack by saying, “I believe we’ve got enough gambling in Iowa and we should not be expanding it. Iowans do support the gambling we have, but they don’t want to see an expansion of it.”
Following the debate, the Vander Plaats issued a statement that said, “I have to admit I was shocked that the man who signed the legislation that brought gambling to our state and oversaw the opening of 15 casinos would suddenly take exception with Chet Culver for proposing to do one-fourth of what he did.”
The debate showed that Vander Plaats is willing to go on the offensive against Branstad, but most people expected him to do so. If he has any visions of winning the primary, Vander Plaats will have to continue the aggressive approach between now and the primary election.
While the debate provided Vander Plaats an excellent opportunity to go after Branstad, he failed to land a fatal blow that could change they dynamic of the race. The attacks on Branstad’s record have been bandied about for months before Branstad entered the race.
Vander Plaats’ aggressiveness will win him points with his supporters and could sway undecided social conservatives to back his campaign. The attacks that change the outcomes of elections usually involve information that voters don’t already know about. Often times, the candidate who is attacked will have to spend days either setting the record straight or cleaning up the mess.
That will not be the case following this debate. Branstad’s response to Vander Plaats shows how savvy of a politician he is. He didn’t try to explain his record; he just said that he thinks the state has enough gambling and that Iowans support it. If he had gone any further he would have likely just added gas to the fire that Vander Plaats was trying to ignite.
All of the candidates preformed very well and did no harm to their campaigns. Rob Roberts once again proved himself to be the statesman in the race. While he didn’t attack his opponents, he did draw some differences between himself and his two opponents.
Roberts continued to advocate the elimination of the state corporate income tax. He welcomed Branstad and Vander Plaats recent support of the idea, but said that Branstad doesn’t go far enough in his proposal. Roberts also said that Vander Plaats’ Executive Order that would attempt to halt gay marriages is unconstitutional.
Once again, Branstad shows that while he is not a polished speaker like Vander Plaats, he is very good in this format, especially if he is allowed to get in the flow of the debate. The debate also showed that he is the most focused on Governor Culver.
When each candidate was asked if the state could spend its way out of the current mess that it is in, Branstad was the only candidate to criticize Culver’s I-Jobs proposal. Branstad has also been the candidate who has advanced the most detailed plans so far. He talked about his plan to switch the state to bi-annual budgeting and touched on his plan to reduce commercial income and property taxes to stimulate job growth.
All three candidates should feel good about their performance, but the debate failed to deliver a blow that will radically alter the race. That’s good news for Branstad. The candidates will be in Goose Lake this evening for the Clinton County GOP fundraiser. TheIowaRepublican.com will be in attendance to see if the sparks continue to fly.
Special Note: Goose Lake has a population of 200 and is my home town.
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