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June 6th, 2013

Vilsack Won’t Run, Dems Still Hope for Better Options than Hatch

Tom Vilsack’s spokesperson finally delivered the official word that many political insiders expected all along: The former Iowa governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will not attempt a return to Terrace Hill. Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson broke the news, and the hearts of Democrats hoping to deprive Terry Branstad of a sixth term in the governor’s office.

There is no doubt that Tom Vilsack was the Dems best possible candidate, and perhaps the only one who could defeat Branstad, if the current governor does seek another term. It is widely expected that he will.

State Senator Jack Hatch, who announced his candidacy last week, told reporters he would leave the race if Vilsack or former one-term Governor Chet Culver decided to enter it. That statement did not inspire much confidence in Hatch’s campaign. Deferring to Vilsack is understandable, but Branstad beat Culver handily four years ago when the Democrat had the advantage of incumbency.

Bolstering Branstad’s reelection chances, the Iowa Legislature just wrapped up what Branstad termed the “most significant” session in a generation. Branstad has never lost an election, is building upon an already sizable campaign war chest and has hired one of the best young political staffers in the nation, Phil Valenziano, to begin organizing for 2014.

Meanwhile, Jack Hatch is using similar campaign colors to those that Culver used in his failed 2010 effort. If Hatch’s website and awkward announcement event are any indication of Jack Hatch’s campaign, it’s going to be a struggle.

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Not only is there a significant typo on the home page, but when you click on that link, there is no article. However, the typo becomes even more prominent.

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In fact, there are no articles under any of the eight links posted on Hatch’s website Wednesday. Several others, dated May 30, are supposed to link to a variety of news articles, but only contain the first sentence or two with, no link to the full article. It’s hard to instill confidence in voters that you can manage an entire state when you can’t even put together a coherent website

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Iowa Democrats, desperate for other options, are hoping Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald or Dem party chairman Tyler Olson enter the race. Gronstal’s entry would be intriguing. He already holds significant power in Iowa politics,enough that some refer to him as “Governor” Gronstal. The Council Bluffs resident also would not have to step down from the senate if he ran for governor, because his seat is not up for election in the 2014 cycle.

One very significant problem for Democrats if Gronstal ran for governor is the fact that his focus would not be on hanging on to their slim lead in the Iowa Senate. They need Gronstal’s fundraising and organizational prowess. If Gronstal was tying up all his connections with a gubernatorial run, the Democrat senate caucus’ campaign efforts would suffer.

As for Iowa Democrat Party Chair Tyler Olson, the twenty-something looking attorney would have a difficult time convincing Iowa voters he is more capable of running the state than the five-term governor.

Tyler Olson 1

Then there’s longtime State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald. He is an interesting candidate who might be able to mount a somewhat credible challenge to Branstad. However, this IDP video from two years ago, with Fitzgerald praising the great financial condition of the state of Iowa under Governor Branstad’s leadership, might make it difficult for him to argue against another Branstad term.

Fitzgerald’s penchant of using taxpayer funds to produce public service announcements that also serve as thinly veiled campaign ads has not ceased since they were publicly called into question during the 2010 race. In fact, one of those was airing in May throughout Iowa.

While Terry Branstad has thousands of donors from within the state of Iowa, Fitzgerald’s 2010 campaign relied heavily on out of state organizations that his office did business with. The potential pay for play scheme would look unseemly under the increased spotlight and scrutiny of a gubernatorial race. A Fitzgerald challenge to Branstad also gives Republicans a good chance to claim the state treasurer’s seat for the first time in decades.

In summary, the Branstad camp is resting easy tonight.

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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