Too bad--No Branstad for Governor

I’m so disappointed in Terry Branstad. I had a post in my head about why he won’t get back into politics and was all set to write it when he scooped me by telling the Des Moines Register that he won’t run against Governor Chet Culver next year.

It’s a smart move for Branstad. He served four terms as governor already and has a good job as president of Des Moines University. Why give that up to seek the Republican nomination, which would be far from a sure thing?

I know, a recent Republican poll showed that

Nearly half of likely Iowa voters said they wanted their next governor to be a lot or somewhat like Branstad [….] About a third said they wanted someone somewhat or very different from Branstad.

A generic GOP candidate described in the poll as “a widely respected, former statewide elected official who has managed Iowa through troubled times before” rated highest in the poll. Branstad’s tenure coincided with the Iowa farm crisis of the 1980s.

Despite those poll findings, I don’t think Branstad would have had a smooth ride in the GOP primary. As a three-term sitting governor he nearly lost the 1994 primary to Congressman Fred Grandy. I bet a lot of Republicans wish they could have that one back—with Governor Grandy as an incumbent Iowans probably would not have elected Tom Vilsack or any other Democrat in 1998.

In the middle of his fourth term as governor, Branstad backed Lamar Alexander for president. We all saw how influential that endorsement was in the 1996 caucuses.

Even if Iowa Republicans were eager to nominate Branstad for governor again, would that be smart when the public already views Republicans as “backward-looking” and Democrats as “the party of the future”?

I’ll have more to say about the recent Republican poll in the next few days. I wasn’t surprised to read that Vermeer Corporation chief executive Mary Andringa also told the Des Moines Register that she’s not running for governor next year. Republican moderates like Doug Gross want a candidate from the business community, but I don’t think Culver looks vulnerable enough now. Leaving a senior corporate job to run a serious campaign for governor is a big risk. Even the Republican poll, which had a fairly high ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the sample, found Culver at 52 percent approval and 35 percent disapproval. Culver’s re-elect numbers are somewhat lower, but I stand by my opinion that he is not yet in the danger zone for an incumbent.

  • Branstad

    I think, given the choice, I would have probably voted for Branstad. I’m (and I imagine a lot of people are) getting very fed up with Culver’s inability to get the budget under control—and it’s only going to get worse next year. I question Culver’s competency and I’m starting to wonder if a divided government (under a competent, if Republican governor) might force the government to actually compromise and get something done for a change.

    I think Culver remains very vulnerable. I know you don’t care for SurveyUSA, but they put out a new poll today that has his approval at 42%.

    • interesting

      I remember when Branstad was governor and didn’t care for his priorities. I don’t think he was as competent as Ray either.

      I don’t think it’s correct to say Culver is unable to get the budget under control. Every state is facing shortfalls during this recession, and many states (governed by members of either party) are facing much larger shortfalls as a percentage of total spending. Even with the I-JOBS borrowing, per capita debt in this state is low.

      The odds of getting good tax reform passed drop to zero under any Republican governor. Branstad would be no better than the rest—the top priority is tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s because of Branstad and Republican legislators that Iowa’s current tax code is so regressive.

      I also don’t see the problem as unwillingness to compromise. The much bigger problem seems to be excessive influence of corporate interest groups on state legislators.

      It seems like SUSA tends to measure Culver’s approval on the low end, and Selzer tends to give a pretty high number. I am going to assume the truth is in between, especially with the Republican poll putting his approval at 52. If a second poll shows his approval number in the low 40s, though, I would agree with you that Culver is in the danger zone against a candidate better than Vander Plaats.

      • You're probably right...

        We do have it a lot better off than other states. I guess I’m just frustrated with some of the deep cuts Culver has chosen to make, especially to the Regents colleges. That and the way that it seems that Culver used a lot of the stimulus money to plug holes in the budget than use it for anything long lasting.

        • but some of the stimulus funds

          were specifically intended to help state governments plug holes in their budgets this year, to minimize cuts to education and other areas.

          It would be counter-productive for states to hoard all the stimulus money for long-term projects and then fire a bunch of teachers, for example.

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