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June 7th, 2010

Vander Plaats Needs More than Chuck Norris, He Needs a Miracle

With only one day until polls open, Bob Vander Plaats finds himself down 28 points to in the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll. Undeterred, Vander Plaats continues his quest to be the Republican nominee for governor.

Vander Plaats has been running for governor almost as long as his chief opponent, Terry Branstad, has been out of office. Vander Plaats’ 2010 campaign is much different that his previous two attempts.

In 2002, Vander Plaats was the newcomer in the race. Despite coming from outside of the political spectrum, he ran a solid campaign, raised an impressive amount of money, and finished with over 30 percent of the vote on primary day. While he finished third behind Doug Gross and Steve Sukup, the race was dangerously close to going to convention. His strong finish set Vander Plaats up nicely for another attempt at the nomination.

In 2006, Vander Plaats was no longer a newcomer, but he still was the outsider in his race against Jim Nussle. Jim Nussle was expected to win the primary, but Vander Plaats proved to have a small segment of strong support, and so the decision was made to offer him the Lt. Governor spot on the ticket, which Vander Plaats accepted.

That political marriage just didn’t work. Some of Nussle’s biggest backers didn’t like Vander Plaats, and some Vander Plaats’ backers never embraced Nussle. The bad political marriage, combined with a series of unfortunate breaks for Republicans nationally, sank any hopes of the Nussle/Vander Plaats ticket winning that November.

Following the 2006 election, Vander Plaats’ political future seemed grim. His decision to serve as Mike Huckabee’s Iowa Caucus chairman in 2007 revitalized his political career. For most of 2007, the Huckabee campaign seemed to be going nowhere, but in the fall, Huckabee was on the rise and ultimately won the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.

Out of Huckabee’s miraculous Iowa Caucus victory, Vander Plaats’ third gubernatorial campaign was born. It’s also important to note that many of his strongest advocates were also involved in that campaign. Eric Woolson, Huckabee’s Iowa campaign manager, is calling the shots for Vander Plaats. Even Vander Plaats social media operation, website, and TV ad were all produced by people who were part of the Huckabee campaign.

With his new team, Vander Plaats has run a credible statewide gubernatorial campaign. Last Thursday, followed Vander Plaats around to his first four events of the day. Vander Plaats began his day at the 7 a.m. Ames Conservative Breakfast Club. More than 75 people showed up to see him, Rod Roberts, and Eric Cooper, the Libertarian running for governor, speak.

From Ames, Vander Plaats’ next two stops were in Fort Dodge. At 11 a.m., he spoke at a LUV Iowa event that was organized by the Iowa Family Policy Center. Around 60 people attended the meeting. Many people grabbed Vander Plaats yard signs as they left St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

The LUV Iowa event shows some of the benefits of the Iowa Family Policy Center’s endorsement Vander Plaats. To be able to walk in and talk to a group like than on a weekday morning is a luxury that other candidates don’t have. Vander Plaats speech to the group wasn’t his normal stump speech, but there was something else missing other than just Vander Plaats’ normal remarks.

At no time during the event were the words “marriage amendment” spoken. Not by Vander Plaats, and not by the pastor who spoke before him. It seems odd that an organization that uses an acronym for “let us vote” for its name wouldn’t even mention the sole purpose of the organization at a gathering like the one in Fort Dodge.

Vander Plaats then headed to a noon-time stop at the GOP headquarters in downtown Fort Dodge. His campaign provided lunch for the 70 or so people who came. Vander Plaats’s crowd was impressive even if you take into account that a few people attended both events.

After Fort Dodge, Vander Plaats headed to Jefferson for one of his “Pizza & Politics” events that he holds at Pizza Ranch restaurants across the state. About 35 people attended the mid-afternoon event. This crowd was a little different from the enthusiastic crowd that gathered in Fort Dodge for lunch.

As Vander Plaats worked the room, one woman asked him to autograph her copy of “Light from Lucas,” a book written by Vander Plaats about his physically handicapped son Lucas. The lady said that her small group at church had gone through the book.

Vander Plaats’s Jefferson stop was also interesting for a couple questions that he was asked about his proposed executive order that would place a stay on gay marriages in Iowa. At one point after Vander Plaats said that the Iowa Supreme Court should have voided the law, but sent it back to the legislature, a member in the audience asked him how the legislature could rewrite a law that is as simple as “marriage should be between one man and one woman” in a way that the Court would not be able to strike it down. Vander Plaats failed to give a convincing answer to the gentlemen who asked it.

Just as the Vander Plaats event was ending, former Governor Terry Branstad was holding an event just around the corner. Branstad’s event drew around 60 people, ten to fifteen of them had also attended Vander Plaats’ event just an hour earlier. Even the guy who introduced Vander Plaats attended the Branstad event and put on a lapel sticker.

Unlike the Vander Plaats event, Branstad’s focus was on jobs and the economy. He was asked a series of questions about judges, gay marriage, and what it will take to pass the marriage amendment. Branstad handled all the questions rather well, and also shared with the group the news of Sarah Palin’s endorsement.

From Jefferson, Vander Plaats was traveling to Carroll then back to Sioux City before flying to Davenport for the first of his events with Chuck Norris.

While recent polling numbers show Vander Plaats trailing badly, his ability to draw crowds to his events is impressive. In addition to being better known across the state, the attendance numbers show that Republicans are more active than they have been in years.

Vander Plaats has been the most active candidate as the primary comes to a close. With Chuck Norris by his side, Vander Plaats held rallies in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, West Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and his hometown of Hinton over the weekend. The crowds have been solid, but not overwhelming.

If a Vander Plaats upset were in the making, there would be signs of it by now. These late primary polls would show him within striking distance. However, nothing indicates that Vander Plaats will win the nomination on Tuesday night. For all of the persistence that Vander Plaats has shown, he needs more than Chuck Norris. He needs a miracle.

Photo 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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