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June 21st, 2010

Who Will Branstad’s Lieutenant Governor Be?

Former Governor Terry Branstad is expected to announce his selection before the Republican state convention this coming Saturday.  With his selection imminent, the potential list of candidates has been whittled down to just five or six names, with probably only three of them being seriously considered.

Yesterday, Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register published a list of potential candidates in the mix to be Terry Branstad’s running mate.  The list included Jeff Lamberti, Christian Fong, Kim Reynolds, Matt Strawn, and Jim Gibbons.

Beaumont’s article focused mostly on two individuals – Jeff Lamberti, a former congressional candidates and State Senator, and Jim Gibbon, the former Iowa State wrestling coach and unsuccessful 3rd District congressional candidate.  Beaumont indicated that Gibbons’ name was a new addition to Branstad’s list, but both he and Lamberti were the featured candidates in TheIowaRepublican.com’s article on the subject over a week ago.

Many have speculated that Branstad would select a running mate from eastern Iowa, but all signs seem to point to him selecting a running mate who is well known in central Iowa.  Bob Vander Plaats beat Branstad in the 3rd District by almost a 3000-vote margin.  In fact, Branstad easily could have been swept in every county in the 3rd District.

Branstad’s difficulty in central Iowa during the primary has likely altered his lieutenant governor search to those people who can help him shore up his weakness there. That is why TheIowaRepublican.com focused in on Lamberti and Gibbons in our initial article from right after the primary.

The position of Branstad’s running mate might be the most coveted seat in all of Iowa politics right now.  Not only is Branstad the current frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, but his prospective lieutenant governor will be well positioned to run for governor or the United States Senate when those seats become available in the next ten years.

With the pick just days away, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of each potential candidate that Beaumont mentioned.

Jeff Lamberti:

Strength: Lamberti would help the Branstad campaign in Polk County where he is well known and respected.  Of the other potential running mates listed in Beaumont’s article, Lamberti would bring the most legislative experience.  He is also a solid social conservative and a proven fundraiser, something any campaign would be looking for.

Weakness:  While Lamberti’s legislative experience is one of his greatest strengths, adding a running mate with his own extensive record would give the Culver campaign even more material it can distort and attempt to use  against the Republican ticket.  A Branstad/Lamberti ticket would provide their opponents a 24-year record to pick apart.

Jim Gibbons:

Strength:  Gibbons is a new face in Republican circles who made a positive first impression during his congressional campaign.  In addition to his fundraising ability, Gibbons also excels in retail politics, a must for any running mate.  While Gibbons wasn’t strong enough in Polk County to win his congressional race, he did very well in each of the counties outside of Polk.  He would also be able to help Branstad in some counties outside of the 3rd District, since he has natural ties to Story and Boone Counties, as well as anywhere else Iowa State fans exist.

Weakness:  The only weakness that Gibbons has is that he was unsuccessful in the Republican primary in the 3rd District.   Brad Zaun dominated Polk County in the 3rd District primary.  While Gibbons only garnered 28% of the vote in the seven-way primary, its not like Branstad’s running mate is going to take a hands-on role with the day-to-day operation of the grassroots campaign.  Gibbons’ commitment to social issues would provide Branstad with s solid social conservative to add to the ticket.

Kim Reynolds:

Strength: Reynolds is a first term State Senator from Clarke County in southwest Iowa.  Before running for the Senate, Reynolds was the Clarke County Treasurer for 13 years.  She was also the co-chair of the Republican County Officials Association.   Reynolds would provide some gender balance and youth to the ticket.  While her legislative experience is brief, her knowledge of county government would give the ticket a unique perspective on issues that counties are facing.  Branstad has selected Reynolds once before.  In 1996, he appointed her to the IPERS board.

Weakness: Placing Reynolds on the ticket would remove one of the few building blocks that already exists for Republicans in the State Senate.  If Branstad were to be elected, it would force a special election in her Senate District.  There is also a possibility that a special election will be necessary if Brad Zaun is successful in his congressional race.  Ironically, we could see Iowa Republicans make huge gains in November and then see them give up some of the seats they already had.  Republicans don’t have a good track record in special elections as of late.  At some point, Republicans have to commit to building a foundation in the Senate.

Christian Fong:

Strength:  Fong is one of the newest faces in Iowa Republican circles after launching a short-lived gubernatorial campaign last summer.  He is young, articulate, and intelligent.  Fong was also involved in the 2008 flood recovery effort in Cedar Rapids.  Adding someone from the eastern part of the state to the ticket would also make a lot of sense.

Weakness:  While Fong has a future in Republican politics, being Branstad’s running mate might not be the next step in his journey.  Fong made a positive first impression in his campaign, and his desire to get young people involved in politics is an admirable one.   Fong would be in a better position had he done more for the eventual nominee after getting out of the race.  In short, if he really wanted the job, he could have done a lot more in the primary.

Matt Strawn:

Strength:  Since being elected to lead the Republican Party of Iowa following the 2008 elections, Strawn has improved communication between the state party and its county organizations.  He has also improved communication between the state party and the legislature.  Strawn has also brought a level of professionalism that has been lacking at RPI in recent years.

Weakness:  Strawn should be commended for beginning to turn the Republican Party around, but his job there is incomplete.  If he were to leave his post as RPI’s chairman early, it would lead to another mid-term chair election, which could also lead to staff changes.  With a new slate of State Central Committee members elected just a month ago, Branstad picking Strawn for lieutenant governor could create unneeded upheaval and headaches at RPI.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheIowaRepublican.com, 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 TheIowaRepublican.com 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, TheIowaRepublcian.com. 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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