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April 19th, 2012

Branstad Gets Involved in King vs. Vilsack Race

In recent weeks, Governor Terry Branstad has seen two members of his staff leave for positions with Congressman Steve King’s re-election campaign.

The first was Jake Ketzner, a policy advisor in the Branstad Administration.  Ketzner also served as the Organizational Director for Branstad’s 2010 campaign.  Last week, Jimmy Centers, another former campaign aide who also worked in the Branstad Administration, joined Ketzner at the King campaign as its Communications Director.

If Ketzner and Centers’ decision to join the King campaign wasn’t a strong enough indication of Branstad’s interest in King’s race against Christie Vilsack, the Governor also made a $2,500 contribution to King’s campaign according to recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Branstad told, “This is a very important race. I think Steve King is a great congressman, and we don’t want to lose him. We know that he’s being targeted by the Democrats, and the liberals are putting a lot of money and a lot of effort against him.”

On Tuesday, Politico reported that the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already reserved $32 million of broadcast television in 26 different congressional districts, including King’s.

“I thought it was important for me to demonstrate my strong support,” Branstad added, “Steve was very helpful to us; he nominated the lieutenant governor at the convention. We consider him a great friend and ally, and we want to do all we can to help his re-election campaign.”

This isn’t the first time that Branstad has made a contribution to Congressman King.  Branstad, who owns a home in King’s district, contributed $250 to his 2008 race.  The Governor has also contributed to other congressional candidates, but the $2500 he recently donated to King is the largest political contribution he has made according to campaign disclosures.

Branstad’s interest in King’s campaign is interesting for a couple of different reasons.  First, despite the strong affinity that Republican activists have for Congressman King across the state, there was once a time when the powers that be in the Republican Party in Iowa were careful not to be tightly aligned with King.  Those days seem to be a distant memory.

Even though King has not changed one iota since getting elected, more and more establishment Republicans have come to embrace him and his brand of politics in recent years.  A major reason for this is that King’s outspokenness on the size and scope of government along with the importance of the founding documents is now a mainstream Republican position.

Secondly, Branstad’s desire to see King withstand the challenge being brought by Christie Vilsack also helps the future of the Republican Party in Iowa.  When you look back at who has managed the major Republican campaigns in this state over the last decade, it becomes obvious that Republicans have struggled in cultivating the next generation of political operatives.

One needs to look no farther than the 2010 gubernatorial campaign to see evidence of this.  In that cycle, Jeff Boeyink led Branstad’s campaign, while Eric Woolson managed Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign.  Both brought tremendous amounts of experience to their respective campaigns, but most campaigns are not managed by people in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  When you look ahead to who is going to manage future statewide campaigns there are not many options if people like Boeyink and Woolson are not interested or available.

That’s not to say that Iowa Republicans have not continued to produce high-caliber political operatives.   However, for one reason or another, these individuals are either already involved in a successful enterprise that they are not interested in leaving, or they have left the state to pursue other opportunities.

With Ketzner and Centers now working on a high-profile congressional race, they are both building a political resume and gaining the necessary experience so that they can to be considered for the top spots on future campaigns.

Another name that deserves mention in the same way is Annie Kelly.  Kelly is currently managing Congressman Tom Latham’s campaign, but she came to Iowa as part of the Pawlenty presidential campaign.  Kelly worked in the Pawlenty Administration in Minnesota before coming to Iowa to work on his presidential campaign.  Should she choose to stay in the state, she would also be a top candidate to run a statewide campaign.

With U.S. Senate races coming up in 2014 and 2016, and either a Branstad re-elect or a free-for-all gubernatorial campaign also in 2014, it’s important to start grooming individuals to run those campaigns.  It’s good to see that some of the younger Republican operatives in the state are getting opportunities to position themselves for those potential positions.

King vs. Vilsack – Inside the Numbers

Christie Vilsack 1st Quarter Fundraising Numbers

Amount Raised: $395,433.24
From Individuals: $331,863
From Political Action Committees: $63,500
Political Party Committees: $697
Disbursements: $238,186.24
Cash on Hand: $905,427.16

Note: Vilsack raised a significant amount of her money outside of the district and state.

Notable Expenses:
Spent $57,000 on Research
Spent $30,000 on Media Consulting (David Axelrod’s Firm)
Campaign Manager Jessica Vanden Berg – $30,000+
Link Strategies – $12,000

Steve King 1st Quarter Fundraising Numbers

Amount Raised: $446,976.28
From Individuals: $391,226.28
From Political Action Committees: $52,750.00
Political Party Committees: $3,000.00
Disbursements: $166,611.93
Cash on Hand: $809,854.44

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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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