When I saw yesterday’s news about State Representative Kent Sorenson supporting Bob Vander Plaats for governor, I didn’t pay much attention at first. Vander Plaats announced Sorenson’s endorsement on Twitter last May, so saying it again hardly seemed newsworthy.
But when I read the Vander Plaats campaign’s press release on the story, and Sorenson’s lengthy open letter to his supporters, I realized that he had upped the ante. Sorenson doesn’t just prefer Vander Plaats in the GOP primary. He is promising, “under no conditions will I vote for Terry Branstad or Chet Culver for governor,” and he wants his supporters to make the same pledge.
I suspect the Vander Plaats campaign will end up walking back those remarks, and Sorenson has just dealt a blow to his own campaign in Iowa Senate district 37. More thoughts on this story are after the jump.
Vander Plaats has been positioning himself as a more reliable conservative than Branstad for a long time. He has depicted Branstad’s campaign as a creature of insiders, rather than "we the people," and he has suggested that Branstad’s lengthy record would make it easy for Culver to change the subject from his own failings.
I’ve wondered how many Vander Plaats supporters might refuse to vote for Branstad in the general election. Until yesterday, though, I hadn’t seen the Vander Plaats campaign encourage people to draw that line in the sand.
There it is at the top of the campaign’s press release on Sorenson’s endorsement: “Under no circumstances will I vote for Terry Branstad or Chet Culver” (they muffed the quote a little). And further down the page,
Sorenson urged his supporters to “resolve to never cast one more vote for career politicians who stay in power so long it’s hard to tell which party they belong to.”
I recommend reading the whole letter Sorenson wrote explaining his views, but here are some excerpts:
Terry Branstad has always been kind to me, and is a respected figure in our party. Yet I have probably traveled this state more recently than he has, and I’ve heard from so many of you that are tired of career politicians. To a lot of you out there in the grassroots nothing smacks of elitism more than thinking anybody ought to be governor for 20 years. I fear that by nominating someone viewed by many as a career politician who hasn’t run a race in 15 years, the Republican Party may end up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory next November.
Many of you want fresh faces and news ideas, and I was still trading baseball cards and hoping for a new bicycle for Christmas when Branstad first ran for office. I agree with “The Iowa Boy” Chuck Offenburger (http://www.offenburger.com/lspaper.asp?link=20090804), it’s time for a new generation of leadership. As the radicals become more aggressive in steering our state hard left, it’s going to take bolder action to stand up to them. […]
I wasn’t old enough to understand the political climate during Branstad’s previous four terms as governor. However, many of the things I have learned from Rep. Rants have me very concerned (http://rants.us/archive.aspx).
Branstad’s signature is on the highest tax increase in Iowa’s history, something our current incompetent governor, Chet Culver, hasn’t even managed to do. Branstad grew government while Iowa’s population remained the same, just like Culver. Branstad was endorsed by liberals who turn public schools into a bully pulpit to teach your kids un-American values, just like Culver. Branstad had a Lt. Governor who was for abortion-on-demand, just like Culver. Branstad appointed judges to the courts that take away our freedoms, just like Culver. Branstad, by his unwillingness to stand up to the courts like Bob Vander Plaats has promised to, is willing to let the courts make law and have the final say and not we the people, just like Culver. It’s really no surprise that David Yepsen once called Branstad “one of the best liberal governors this state has ever had.” (http://www.rants.us/CMDocs/Rants/Archive1.pdf) […]
When I took office I swore an oath to uphold and defend our constitution, not a political party. I ran for office to represent the interests of my district, not a political party. It should not be the requirement of voters to compromise what we believe to belong to a political party, but instead it should be the requirement of the political party to represent what we believe.
I understand why the Vander Plaats campaign wanted to publicize Sorenson’s comments. Sorenson is better-known to Iowa conservatives now than he was when he first declared his support for Vander Plaats last May. The open letter Sorenson wrote to Senator Chuck Grassley during the summer, accusing him of not being staunchly conservative enough, is still one of the most-viewed posts ever published at The Iowa Republican blog. Sorenson also generated a lot of attention when he declared his intention to run against State Senator Staci Appel instead of for re-election in Iowa House district 74.
Still, I wonder whether Sorenson’s pledge not to vote for Branstad will be used against Vander Plaats during the Republican primary. In future interviews and debates, Vander Plaats is sure to be questioned about whether he really thinks Branstad is just like Culver, or whether he would encourage principled conservatives to refuse to vote for any “career politician.” (What would that say about Grassley, who’s been an elected official for 52 years?)
Vander Plaats may try to push Sorenson’s sentiments as part of an electability argument, which could resonate with some Republican primary voters. However, the Sorenson pledge could easily backfire with Republicans who feel that whatever Branstad’s faults, he would still be an improvement on Culver. I think Vander Plaats will stop short of encouraging his backers to take the Sorenson pledge.
Even after the gubernatorial primary has been settled, Sorenson’s comments about Branstad will probably hurt his own campaign for the Iowa Senate. He seems to expect so:
I will make no friends in my own party’s establishment by taking a stand. I’ll probably lose out on campaign donations from them as a result. They’d prefer I just kept quiet until after the primary and supported the Republican candidate no matter who they are and what they stand for, but I would be betraying my principles by doing that.[…]
Telling the truth comes with a cost, but there isn’t a price tag on my integrity. I’m not going home at night to tell my sons that I set aside my principles for the good of a political party, so if that’s what you’re looking for I’m not your man. What good does it do a man to win an election if he loses his own soul in the process? I think we should deal with the truth now and trust the grassroots’ wisdom. The strategy of lying to ourselves about our candidates during the primary and then letting the liberals expose the truth during the general election has been a loser every time. […]
Folks, this new year let’s resolve to stop waiting around for politicians to lead us. Let’s instead take our cue from the Tea Party movement and become the very leaders we have been waiting for.
The Tea Party movement better come through for Sorenson, because the big check-writers in the Iowa GOP are mostly behind Branstad. I doubt they will open their wallets for Sorenson after what he wrote this week. His campaign may have to rely on small donors, like the people who packed the house when Ron Paul did a fundraiser for Sorenson in November.
In contrast, many major Democratic donors will be supporting Appel. Judging from the past election cycle, the Iowa Senate Democrats are likely to raise more money for this year’s campaign than the Iowa Senate Republicans.
If Branstad wins the nomination and Sorenson continues to advocate against voting for him in the general election, many rank and file Republicans in Warren and Madison counties might balk at voting for Sorenson. I have to believe our chances of holding Senate district 37 just improved.
This thread is for any thoughts about the governor’s race or Sorenson’s campaign against Appel.