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June 10th, 2013

Is The 2014 Gubernatorial Race Over Before it Even Begins?

The Des Moines Register published the findings of its latest Iowa Poll this weekend. The poll showed that Governor Terry Branstad is highly regarded by Iowans and is in strong position to be re-elected to an unprecedented sixth term.

Branstad’s only opposition to speak of at the moment is State Senator Jack Hatch, who Branstad trounces 55 percent to 27 percent.  The poll also showed that a majority of Iowans, 58 percent, approved of the job Branstad has done as governor, and 56 percent think that the state is headed in the right direction.

For months, the Des Moines Register has kept alive the notion that former Iowa Governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack would take on Branstad in 2014 to get his old job back.  Vilsack finally put an end to the speculation last week when he said wouldn’t run for governor in 2014.

What the folks at the Register don’t seem realize is that the decision to mount a political comeback is based on odds and opportunity, not ambition and a sense of duty.  Governor Chet Culver was a wounded animal in 2009 and 2010, and while a strong argument could be made about how beatable he was, it wasn’t until the polls showed Branstad actually leading Culver that his political comeback gained steam.

The July 2009 TIR poll showed Branstad leading then-Governor Chet Culver 53 percent to 37 percent.

The Register’s Iowa poll also gave Branstad higher favorability marks than Vilsack.  Fifty-four percent of Iowans said that they had a very favorable or mostly favorable opinion of Branstad, while only 48 percent of had a similar view of Vilsack.  For as much as it seemed that the Register wanted Vilsack to challenge Branstad, there was little basis for challenging Branstad, and the polls bear that out.

Even armed with their own polling data, the Register still contends that there is time for a Democrat candidate to make it a race.  The Register points to Vilsack’s 2008 campaign as an example of how a little-known legislator won the primary and the general election.  The only problem is that the 1998 race and the 2014 race are different in one major way – in 1998 there was no incumbent governor running for re-election.

The Register also believes that Branstad’s strength in the polls is a result of the recently concluded legislative session that they and other media outlets deemed as a “historic” success.  I’m not too sure about that.  Democrats beat up on Branstad throughout the legislative session, but especially on the Medicaid issue.  I suspect that Branstad’s numbers would only increase as the news from the legislative session dissipates.

If there is any time that Hatch’s name ID should be good, it’s right after the legislative session, but his poll numbers are dismal.  As many Iowans, nine percent, have a favorable opinion of him as they do an unfavorable opinion.  Worse yet, 82 percent of Iowans don’t know enough about him to even have an opinion.

It would be one thing if Hatch could raise enough money to mount a serious campaign against Branstad, but the odds of that happening are slim.  The compromise on the health reform bill, which ended up expanding Medicaid spending, might give some Republicans an upset stomach, but it took the best argument that Hatch could make against Branstad away from him.

In many ways, the 2014 gubernatorial campaign in Iowa looks like it’s over before it ever really began.  That’s bad news for Iowa Democrats, but especially Congressman Bruce Braley.  Braley needs a strong Democrat ticket for his U.S. Senate campaign, and left unchallenged, Branstad is likely to spend his time and campaign money on helping elect other Iowa Republicans.  That could be a major boost to whomever the Republicans nominate for the open U.S. Senate seat.



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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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