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May 30th, 2013

It’s on! Clash of the ‘staches

DES MOINES—State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, announced that he plans to run for governor, sort of.

At a Wednesday press conference Hatch danced the choreographed candidate announcement waltz.

Step one: squeeze maximum press coverage out of announcing the possibility of announcing a run. Step two: repeat as many times as possible until the super-serious-official (really!) announcement. Wednesday’s step was the announcement of an “exploratory committee,” a made up term. Hatch hasn’t yet updated his campaign web site to indicate a run for governor. But, don’t worry: he’s exploring.

Hatch, who manages a property development firm with his wife Sonja, said that he plans to formally decide whether to run in late summer, after campaigning among Iowans and raising campaign cash. Hatch’s goal is $1 million by the end of the year for a $6-8 million campaign. Another variable: if former Gov. Tom Vilsack—or even former Gov. Chet Culver—decide to run, Hatch will bow out.


Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines

Meanwhile, Hatch is all in—with all the media scrutiny, fundraising demands and heavy travel entailed in a statewide campaign. Indeed, Hatch has been hitting the local political circuit for months, speaking to Democratic audiences in Dubuque, Davenport and other areas the Des Moines politician needs to woo.

State Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque are also considering running for governor. Gov. Terry Branstad has not yet announced an unprecedented sixth bid, but he has hired a campaign staffer and aggressively fundraised.

“Let me suggest no other Democrat who chooses to run for governor will have the depth of experience in challenging Gov. Branstad that I do,” Hatch said, speaking from prepared remarks before taking questions from reporters. “I’ll be the Democratic candidate with the resources to win, the heart to fight for our progressive values, and the experience to get things done.”

Branstad has never lost an election, and he’s widely favored to win another term, should he choose to seek reelection. A poll released last week by Quinnipiac University, though, indicates that Branstad could be vulnerable (one major issue: the poll oversamples Democrats and independents—31 and 37 percent respectively—in the traditionally GOP-strong midterm cycle).

The poll—the first time the institute surveyed Iowans—showed Branstad with a 49-31 (+18) approval rating. Branstad seems on shakier ground on the question of whether he deserves reelection: registered voters said no by 1 point, 43-42. But the nearly 20 percent of Republicans who said no presumably would vote for a more conservative candidate in a primary, not a Democrat.

A February poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, showed Branstad leading Hatch by 15 points, 48-33. The poll also pegged Hatch with an 11-19 favorability rating (-8). He even has a 17-19 favorability rating (-2) among Democrats, although he’s unknown by nearly two-thirds of his own party. Hatch, 62, might also have trouble casting his legislative experience as a plus. The Quinnipiac poll showed the state legislature with a 38-41 (-3) approval rating.

“While Jack Hatch was busily parsing polls 17 months before the election, Terry Branstad was engineering the most successful legislative session he’s had as governor,” Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in a statement to reporters Tuesday, citing the largest tax cut in Iowa history as well as record economic development projects. “A politician like Jack Hatch has a lot of friends in the smoke-filled backrooms in Des Moines, but Terry Branstad takes his cues from the real people of Iowa.”

Hatch, the Democrats’ statehouse dean of health care policy, said he plans to focus a 2014 campaign on that issue and “three essential challenges,” including (1) “an economy that benefits more than a few people,” (2) “empower[ing] our communities to make decisions about how they grow,” and (3) “a ‘smarter’ government that employs smart technology.”

It’s not clear that policy alone will endear Hatch to Iowa voters. Hatch’s signature issue, expanding Medicaid, isn’t a silver bullet in the Democratic-leaning Quinnipiac Poll. While Democrats and Republicans are polarized, independents oppose expansion by a 5-point margin.

As with all campaigns, the overarching message will focus on the economy. Hatch, the former state director for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, strongly criticized Branstad for his administration’s economic development policy, which has sometimes relied on tax incentives to attract businesses to Iowa.

“So, what’s the new strategy?” a Des Moines Register reporter asked. Hatch spoke generically about job training programs and promoting Iowa communities.

“The new strategy is a job creation strategy, where you first work at creating a trained workforce that will be ready for the new jobs and the emerging jobs. And that’s anywhere form building to technology to how you create and how you prepare new teachers,” he said. “Building, for example, we’re building apartments differently today than we did when we started. And you don’t just put in an HVAC system as you did 10 years ago. Now, you have geothermal units, solar panels; those are the jobs of the future…”

Hatch then said that economic growth depends on engaging communities to—wait for it—provide incentives for companies to locate in Iowa (along with selling the state’s quality of life), citing Facebook’s announced Altoona data center.

Perhaps the clearest contrast between Branstad, a fiscal conservative, and Hatch, a proud liberal, is the appropriate role and reach of government in the lives and businesses of Iowans.

“I’ve got a degree to be a bureaucrat,” said Hatch.

Let the clash of the ‘staches begin.

Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson posted audio of Hatch’s press conference here.

About the Author

Jeff Patch
Jeff Patch is a correspondent for He's a communications, research and political consultant for Iowa candidates, causes and companies. E-mail questions, comments, insults or story ideas to jeff [at]

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