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January 20th, 2010

Vander Plaats Finds Himself in a Familiar Position

Vander Plaats CapitolRepublican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats announced yesterday that his campaign raised $657,740 in 2009. Vander Plaats, the first candidate to enter the gubernatorial race, made his initial announcement on January 26th of last year. He formally entered the race on Labor Day. The $657,740 that Vander Plaats reported is the most that he has ever raised in a signal calendar year. In 2005, Vander Plaats raised $458,714.92.

In a press release sent by his campaign, Vander Plaats said, “By all accounts, we had a great year. The fact is, we received the strongest financial support after Terry Branstad said in September that he was likely to get into the race. The financial backing this campaign has received is a clear indication that people see the GOP primary as a two-man contest and that a solid number of Iowans want a new face to lead the Republican Party forward.”

While Vander Plaats has posted his best fundraising year in his third attempt to win the Republican nomination, he still finds himself in a situation similar to previous year’s campaigns. At this time in 2006, Vander Plaats reported $430,389.92 cash on hand. That figure also included a $200,000 bank loan to his campaign. Essentially, Vander Plaats enters 2010 with almost the exact amount of cash on hand that he had in 2006, just over $200,000.

Just like 2006, Vander Plaats’ main primary opponent has seven times the amount of cash on hand that he does. In 2006, Jim Nussle had $1.5 million in the bank, while Branstad has $1.3 million this year. In regards to Vander Plaats, the only difference between the 2006 and 2010 primaries is that, in 2006, he was the only challenger to Jim Nussle, while this year, he has to contend with two other candidates besides the better-known front-runner.

Once again, Vander Plaats finds himself with limited resources running against a well known, well financed opponent. For Vander Plaats to be able to pull an upset and win the primary, he is going to have to raise his name ID and attack Branstad. That means Vander Plaats will need to spend a lot of money on direct mail, radio ads, and TV ads.

Bob Haus, a Republican media consultant, told that a substantial state-wide radio and TV ad buy would cost a campaign around $200,000. “With $200,000, a campaign can purchase two weeks in the Des Moines media market, a week and a half in the cedar Rapids market, and one week in each of the Quad Cities and Sioux City markets at levels sufficient to burn through, especially expecting the overwhelming clutter of Branstad ads,” Haus stated.

What’s important to remember is that the two week, $200,000 ad-buy described above doesn’t run ads on cable tv or buy newspaper or web ads. Campaigns have other expenses too. They pay rent and utilities, put gas in the car, and buy office supplies. Another key expense is staff and consultant salaries. Every single one of these campaigns is like a business start-up, and they all have a lot of hidden costs.

In his press release, Vander Plaats makes the point that most the money he raised came after Terry Branstad announced his candidacy. While one can understand the picture they are trying to paint, it begs the question: why wasn’t he able to raise money before Branstad entered the race? Vander Plaats was considered the frontrunner during the first part of 2009, and while not a prolific fundraiser, he has raised substantial amounts of money for his two previous campaigns.

A closer look at Vander Plaats’ fundraising report shows that, while he has been able to maintain his major donors from his previous two attempts to capture the Republican nomination, Vander Plaats has struggled to significantly grow his fundraising base.

Nobody expected Vander Plaats to match Branstad’s fundraising ability, but his inability to save the money that he was able to raise has been his biggest weakness for both his 2006 and 2010 campaigns. There is no doubt that Vander Plaats has a dedicated team of passionate volunteers, but in order for him to maximize their efforts for his campaign, he needs to increase his name ID and be more aggressive against his primary opponents.

Vander Plaats has firsthand experience in seeing what a motivated group of grassroots activists can do when he served as Mike Huckabee’s caucus chairman. Huckabee benefited by the intense media attention that the Iowa caucuses receive, but the gubernatorial primary will not be the same. In addition, while Huckabee struggled to raise money early on in his campaign, he had plenty of money to run TV and radio ads for a month in advance of the caucuses.

Vander Plaats now must either find a way to raise a substantial amount of money in the next few months or hope that his grassroots organization is strong enough statewide to earn him an upset victory.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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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