Commenting on the Iowa Family Policy Center’s recent endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, Kathie Obradovich wonders whether
Vander Plaats might run as an independent, or third-party candidate if he loses the GOP primary. His spokesman, Eric Woolson, did not pledge that Vander Plaats would support the GOP nominee: “Our focus has been entirely on winning the GOP primary and the general election.”
My hunch is that Vander Plaats won’t embark on a third-party candidacy if he loses the Republican primary. In fact, he will probably need to rule out that option soon or risk losing support from party activists this spring. Everyone knows that Vander Plaats would be helping Governor Chet Culver if he continued to campaign against the Republican nominee.
By the same token, the Iowa Family Policy Center stands to lose too many of their regular donors and supporters if they back an independent candidate for governor. If Terry Branstad wins the Republican primary, the smart play for the IFPC would be to focus on the statehouse races.
Jonathan Narcisse is a far more likely independent candidate for governor this year. Follow me after the jump for more on his political niche.
Narcisse announced on Christmas Eve that he was exploring the feasibility of running for governor, either as a Democrat or as an independent. He argued that Culver is "very vulnerable in a primary" and presented himself as an alternative who "actually still talks to Democrats, still lives amongst Democrats, still understands Democrats."
I spoke with Narcisse on December 23 and confirmed within the past few days that he is still considering a gubernatorial bid. He declined to specify what kind of benchmarks he’s using to determine whether a candidacy would be “feasible.” Narcisse backed Culver in the 2006 primary and claims that Culver has not kept promises or delivered for working-class and poor Iowans. He said his supporters are mixed on whether he should run as a Democrat or an independent.
When I asked Narcisse whether he would be willing to support the winner of the Democratic primary, he said emphatically that he will never support Chet Culver again. If Narcisse runs for governor at all, bank on him becoming an independent candidate during the general election campaign, whether or not he starts his quest in the Democratic primary.
Narcisse was a Republican in the 1980s and has more recently been active in the Polk County Democratic Party. He served one term on the Des Moines school board and did not run for re-election last year. His political views defy any simple ideological label, as you can see from reading his manifesto at his website, An Iowa Worth Fighting For.
Although Narcisse is a regular guest on right-winger Steve Deace’s WHO radio program, he was scathing about the Republican Party when I spoke with him in December. In his view, it’s an “indictment” of the Iowa GOP that State Representative Chris Rants is their only candidate for governor who can talk about the issues “without a cheat sheet.” Narcisse and Rants recently held a series of debates around the state. Here’s a write-up of their debate in Dubuque two weeks ago.
Narcisse is even more scathing on the subject of Culver. Some of his criticisms come from a conservative perspective; Narcisse thinks much more should have been done to reduce the size of state government, phase out corporate taxes, reduce the sales tax and property taxes. He also advocates taking on the main teacher’s union and other big education reforms: opting out of No Child Left Behind, reducing education bureaucrats by 5,000 to 10,000 positions, and repealing the “Model Core Curriculum” with a view to restoring “true local control.”
I don’t think he would get far in a Democratic primary emphasizing those positions.
If he runs as a Democrat, Narcisse may concentrate on attacking Culver from the left. He told me that urban education continues to fail poor kids and children of color, and Culver has been too detached from working-class Iowans. Narcisse was incensed that Iowa still doesn’t have a “prevailing wage” law; in his view, the federal stimulus and I-JOBS money is mostly lining the pockets of contractors who pay “slave wages” rather than living wages.
I asked Narcisse whether it was fair to blame the governor for the failure to get the prevailing wage bill through the Iowa House last year. Narcisse replied that Culver did not go to the mat to pass that bill the way he fought for his priority, the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program.
Culver did campaign on raising Iowa’s minimum wage and signed that bill in his first month as governor, but as Narcisse points out, a worker can’t keep a family out of poverty on the minimum wage.
Though many Democrats would agree with some of the points Narcisse makes against Culver, I can’t agree see the governor losing a Democratic primary. Outside of the Des Moines area, Narcisse is not particularly well known. I think he would struggle to raise enough money to bring up his name recognition. His conservative stance on some issues, combined with his refusal to commit to supporting the winner of the primary, will also limit his potential support among Democrats. I have nothing against primary challenges in principle; incumbents should be accountable to voters in their own party as well as to the general electorate. But if you run in a party’s primary, you ought to be ready to get behind the nominee.
All of this is not to say Narcisse can’t hurt Culver in a primary. It’s no secret that the Democratic base isn’t wild about the governor. Narcisse can force the governor to spend some of his campaign account and generate media coverage about Culver’s weaknesses.
It’s hard to guess what impact Narcisse could have during the general election campaign. A lot will depend on his ability to raise enough money to communicate his message. The traditional media tend to marginalize third-party candidates. Narcisse edits the Iowa Bystander, an African-American oriented publication, and is publisher of other media outlets, but it won’t be easy for him to get the mass media to pay attention.
Another variable is whether Narcisse spends most of his energy criticizing Culver or campaigns equally hard against the Republican nominee. He finds fault with Terry Branstad’s record as governor and derides Vander Plaats as a big government Republican, but his arguments against the GOP nominee may be covered less than his criticism of Culver.
Any thoughts about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread.