State Representative Tyler Olson announced his candidacy for governor on July 9th of this year. Five months later, Olson announced that he and his wife Sarah are divorcing.
In a statement released by his campaign, Olson stated, “The decision about whether to continue the race is complicated, starting with the needs of my kids and my core belief [that] Iowans will have greater opportunity with a new perspective in Terrace Hill. This has been a fact of life since the start of my family: Sarah and I married while I was running for the Iowa House and both my kids were born during my service there.
Olson went on to say that he is scaling back campaign events for the remainder of the month so that he can focus on helping his family through the transition. He then went on to say, “I am deeply committed to this race for governor, as I believe Iowans will have greater opportunity with a governor with a strong, positive vision for the future. I plan to resume my campaign after the holidays.”
A politician with a failed marriage in his or her past is sadly nothing new in American politics, but what makes Olson’s situation unique is that he’s getting divorced in the midst of a high profile statewide campaign for governor. No matter how amicable the spilt between Tyler and Sarah Olson may be, their separation will be a distraction if he follows through with his plan to resume his campaign in January.
The Olsons’ divorce presents a number of problems for his gubernatorial campaign. The first obstacle is perception. The first five months of Olson’s campaign for governor were based entirely on perception instead of policy. It’s apparent that Democrats liked the idea of running a young, fresh-faced 37 year-old against a 66 year-old governor who was first elected in 1982. The media also bought into the narrative. Olson’s candidacy was based on an all-American image that is now somewhat tarnished.
The first video the campaign released back in July begins with a supporter saying the words, “I think the issue of family really is strong with Tyler.” Within 20 seconds, the video includes his wife Sarah saying, “He believes that Iowa is a great place to raise a family.” A minute later Sarah adds, “What I’ve always admired about Tyler is that he’s a family guy.” She also says, “I really appreciate and admire someone who is unwavering of their support of their family or community.”
Olson’s Democrat opponent, State Senator Jack Hatch, responded to a question about Olson’s divorce by saying that it’s a private matter, and so he will not comment further on it. That sentiment is shared by a number of Republicans on the comment section of this site and on our Facebook page. While it would be wrong to speculate about what caused the Olsons to split, Iowa voters have every right to question what happened in the last five months that caused his wife, who spoke so glowingly about her husband in a campaign video just a short time ago, to now file for divorce.
If the Olsons’ marriage was on the rocks before he announced his candidacy in July, then Olson should have never entered the gubernatorial race, let alone feature his wife in a campaign video talking about what a good family man he is. Running for governor opens a person up to an entirely new level of scrutiny. If Olson was simply running for re-election to his Iowa House seat or was still serving as the Chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, the news of his divorce wouldn’t be news. His wife and kids would not have been subject to the media spotlight over the ordeal, but when you run for governor, that changes.
One would also think that making the decision to get a divorce would require quite a bit of thought, which would allow the campaign plenty of time to remove photos of Olson’s wife and kids from his website. On Monday afternoon, Olson’s website and personal Twitter page still prominently featured pictures of Olson’s wife and kids. This leads one to believe that the decision to get a divorce either wasn’t his and thus Olson and his campaign were caught off guard by it, or they simply never thought to repackage the website before announcing the news of the divorce. Neither option is good for Olson’s candidacy.
Olson’s campaign has also tried to incite a gender war with Governor Branstad. Last week, Olson attacked Branstad by saying, “When it comes to the economy, Branstad has failed Iowa women time and again.” A graphic that Olson posted to his Twitter page said that the “[o]verall grade for economic security in Iowa” for women was a D+. That sort of argument is now more difficult for Olson to make since divorce impacts women’s financial security more than anything the state government could possibly do.
Now that the public image that Olson sold to voters is being contradicted by the news of Olson’s divorce, he basically has to remake himself if he plans to remain in the race. While it appears that Olson wants to devote the next 30 days to helping his kids transition and then jump right back into a statewide campaign, his divorce will continue to haunt him.
I highly doubt that any of Olson’s political opponents, Republican or Democrat, will make his divorce an issue in the campaign, but that will not stop people from talking about it. It’s the rumors and speculation that will make it difficult for him to continue on as a candidate for governor. People talk when a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member gets a divorce.
Olson’s divorce is already being talked about on-line at the Des Moines Register and was featured on the local evening news. It also doesn’t help that Olson is a member of the biggest rumor-mill in the entire state – the Iowa Statehouse. No matter how the campaign wishes to spin it, people are going to be talking about the news of Olson’s divorce, and it’s not going to end anytime soon.
In light of yesterday’s news about Olson, I think it is only fair to ask whether or not we really know who Tyler Olson is and what he stands for. It’s obvious that he’s not the family man his wife told us he was in his campaign video. Being a governor is all about setting priorities, and it seems Olson’s main priority in life is running for political office. That may seem harsh, but that’s how most Iowans are going to view the situation after watching the launch of this campaign and followed by a very public divorce.
Photo Credit: Greg Hauenstein, GregHauenstein.com
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