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January 25th, 2011

Vander Plaats Running Another Statewide Campaign

By Kevin Hall

Bob Vander Plaats has spent the better part of the past decade campaigning across Iowa.  He obviously enjoys the lifestyle of travelling the state, espousing his views and meeting with people who share his political philosophy.  Vander Plaats’ current 99 county “Capturing the Momentum” tour is, above all else, yet another political campaign.

Following a successful effort to remove three Supreme Court justices from office in November, Vander Plaats became the new CEO of “The Family Leader”.  The social conservative group is an umbrella organization which includes the Iowa Family Policy Center, one of the main backers of Vander Plaats’ last gubernatorial campaign.

Fundraising and informing people about The Family Leader are partial goals of the tour.  However, organizing a statewide, grassroots organization is the primary objective.  The group hopes to affect “pro-family” policy in Iowa.  While Vander Plaats tours the state, IFPC leaders Chuck Hurley and Danny Carroll spend “all day, every day” at the State Capitol, lobbying on behalf of their social conservative agenda.

The Family Leader also plans to play a major role in the upcoming Iowa Caucus.  It is clear that whichever presidential candidate receives the endorsement of The Family Leader will receive a large boost and stand a good chance of winning the nation’s first presidential nominating process.

If Mike Huckabee runs for President, he is obviously the odds-on favorite to earn The Family Leader’s endorsement.  Vander Plaats was Huckabee’s state chair for the 2008 campaign.   The former Arkansas governor’s last two visits to Iowa were to raise money for the IFPC.   It is hard to imagine the group endorsing anyone instead of Huckabee.

Some attendees have privately suggested that Vander Plaats’ current tour is a thinly veiled campaign on behalf of Huckabee.  Indeed, Vander Plaats mentions Huckabee at almost every stop.  The events are frequently held in the same Pizza Ranch locations that Huckabee and BVP toured in 2007. Additionally, Vander Plaats was quoted recently saying he advised Huckabee not to begin his campaign until August.  That seems like an awfully late start.  However, with Vander Plaats and The Family Leader already laying the grassroots groundwork, it would make things much easier for Huckabee to step into the race late and still walk away with a victory.

The Family Leader hopes to recruit at least one Church Ambassador, one Couple Ambassador, and one grassroots coordinator for all 99 counties.   The cost to become a Church Ambassador or Couple Ambassador is $1,000.   The grassroots organizer will do the political legwork.  There seem to be plenty of activists ready to jump on board.

Although IFPC marginalized itself in the eyes of many conservatives last year with its rhetoric against former and then-future Governor Terry Branstad, the addition of Vander Plaats has re-energized the organization.   If they are able to land their Church and Couple ambassadors in each county, that alone will more than pay for Vander Plaats $120,000 annual salary.

So far, the crowd sizes have to be pleasing to the 3-time former gubernatorial candidate.  Although the first tour stop, on January 12 in Leon, garnered only six attendees, crowd sizes have swelled as the tour continues, topping out with over 150 last Wednesday in Pella.  The Family Leader uses automated phone dials, personal calls, emails, church pastors, and county Republican central committees to recruit attendees.

The events generally last an hour.  For the first 20 minutes or so, Vander Plaats informs the crowd of what The Family Leader is about, what his role is in the group, and what they stand for.   He then opens the conversation up for questions.   Invariably, the topic turns to judges.  Vander Plaats wants the remaining four Supreme Court justices who thrust same-sex marriage on Iowa to resign.  He says he does not back the impeachment movement yet.  Not until he reads the Articles of Impeachment.  However, BVP made it clear last Wednesday to a crowd of 40 in Indianola that, if the judges refuse to resign, his group is likely jump on the impeachment bandwagon.  He called The Family Leader’s current path “strategic”.

The Family Leader also opposes House File 5, a bill in the Iowa House that would prevent any abortions following the 20th week of pregnancy.   Vander Plaats says he wants “the gold standard”, meaning he favors a bill that abolishes all abortions.   However, at an event in Pella last Wednesday, Vander Plaats was pressed further on the necessity of passing House File 5 to prevent late term abortionist Leroy Carhart from setting up a clinic in Iowa.   BVP admits that if the legislature cannot pass a better bill, his group will get behind House File 5.  “I don’t think we’ll get out of the session without limiting Carhart,” he said.

The 99-county tour is scheduled to run through the end of March, with three stops per day, three days per week.   By the time it ends, at least a handful of presidential candidates are likely to have announced their intentions.  Most of them will be seeking Vander Plaats’ and The Family Leader’s approval.

Despite three failed gubernatorial campaigns, and a failed bid to force into becoming Terry Branstad’s running mate at the state convention, Bob Vander Plaats has more political clout than ever before.  The successful drive, led by Vander Plaats, to oust the three Supreme Court judges gave him renewed clout.  Many people, on both sides of the aisle, wish Bob Vander Plaats would just go away.  That wish is not likely to be granted any time soon.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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