Culver campaign news roundup (updated)

While Governor Chet Culver visited Iowa reservists serving in Iraq this week, several developments back home may affect his re-election campaign.

Links and analysis are after the jump.  

Speaking to Iowa reporters by phone from Iraq yesterday, Culver urged state legislators to pass four bills related to military personnel and their families:

Culver called for passage of House File 2110, the “trailing spouse” bill that would pay unemployment benefits to people who are forced to leave their jobs when their spouses receive a military reassignment or deployment. Since 2002, more than 12,000 Iowans have been mobilized and 3,500 Guard members are scheduled to be deployed later this year to Afghanistan. HF 2110 has been approved by the House.

He’s also encouraging lawmakers to exempt veteran benefits from income taxes, (HF 2138), modify visitation rights for veterans (HF 2417) and increase the number of veterans on commissions (SF 2175).

While the governor was in Iraq, the Des Moines Register reported that two staffers had resigned from Culver’s campaign:

Culver’s campaign finance director, Grace Van Cleave, announced she was leaving this week and was no longer with the campaign on Thursday.

“It just wasn’t the right fit,” said campaign manager Abby Curran, who was hired last month.

Van Cleave was hired last month and came to Culver’s campaign after working as a top fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association. She had also worked as a finance aide for former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s Heartland PAC.

Deputy campaign manager Jesse Harris gave his notice this week that he was leaving to become a senior adviser to Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro. Harris was still working on the campaign Thursday and plans to begin his new position March 8. […]

Harris was a key staffer in Culver’s 2006 election campaign and had rejoined him as deputy campaign manager for his 2010 bid late last summer. Harris said the position in the secretary of state’s office offered an opportunity to broaden his largely political background to include policy work in government.

I have no clue what happened with Van Cleave, but it’s not easy to raise money for a candidate who trails in the polls, and recent polls have not been kind to Culver.

Curran told Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register that senior consultant Teresa Vilmain “has committed to staying with the campaign through the formal campaign announcement, expected in April or May.”

Meanwhile, Culver will face at least one opponent in the June 8 primary. Jonathan Narcisse officially announced on February 27 that he will seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor. According to Charlotte Eby, Narcisse will begin a four-day tour around the state on March 1. He will discuss a broad range of issues, emphasizing education and the state budget. His upcoming tour is likely to receive more media coverage than when he announced two months ago that he was forming an exploratory committee  to run for governor. He held a press conference in Des Moines on December 24, when local media were focused on an ice storm bearing down on Iowa, Christmas-related stories, and the U.S. Senate’s passage of a health insurance reform bill.

Narcisse has made clear that he will run for governor as an independent if he doesn’t win the Democratic primary. He views the primary as an opportunity to build name recognition and an organization for the general election campaign. I think anyone who seeks a party’s nomination for any office should be ready to accept the verdict of that party’s primary voters.

Ed Fallon is recruiting a primary challenger for Culver, but Narcisse is not the candidate he has in mind.

Meanwhile, Republicans are taking potshots at Culver for doing what incumbents do. WHO-TV reporter Aaron Brilbeck became a Republican hero last week by pressing Culver on where the “news” was in a southeast Iowa swing:

“Today I’ve been to Ottumwa, and we were in Grinnell before we stopped here in Newton highlighting infrastructure projects,” the governor said from the Jasper County Courthouse.

But the projects he was promoting have already been announced back in August of 2009. So we asked the governor what was new about this announcement that justified the trip at a time when budget woes continue at the Statehouse.

“We’re celebrating the fact that Newton and TPI have come here and created more than five hundred new green collar jobs,” Culver replied, not really answering the question.

So we asked again, is there any new information? “Oh, there’s great information,” Culver replied, “We highlight the fact that this county has received more than 700-thousand dollars.” Again, without getting an answer to our question, we asked a third time — is there anything new about this information that warrants the trip? “The new information,” Culver explained, “is that we are moving forward in terms of economic development and job creation in the middle of the winter.”

So we wondered whether that same information couldn’t have been conveyed with a statehouse press conference, or by putting it on the state website. That’s when the governor turned away and refused to answer any more questions.

Maybe it’s bad form to walk away from a reporter, but give me a break, WHO. Governors routinely appear at ribbon-cuttings or celebrations. Getting to travel around the state to highlight good news is one of the advantages of incumbency. Terry Branstad brags about how he used to visit all 99 counties every year that he was governor. Are you telling me he always had “news” to announce at every event outside Des Moines?

Anyway, the majority of people in Ottumwa, Grinnell and Newton probably didn’t hear about the I-JOBS grants when they were announced last year. So arguably, Culver’s public appearances last week were news.

The Republican Governor’s Association is flogging the WHO hit piece and has called for Culver to reimburse Iowa taxpayers. I hope some journalist is tallying up all the taxpayer money incumbent Republican governors are spending on similar events.

Share any thoughts about the governor’s race in this thread.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski covered Narcisse’s February 27 press conference:

Narcisse pledged to fight for “small, effective accountable government that will be able to advance a low tax, free-market economy that will restore the greatness of our education system.” He said he favored allowing Iowans to vote on statewide ballot issues regarding same-gender marriage and the legalization of marijuana.

Narcisse criticized Culver’s trip to Iraq in recent days to visit Iowa troops. He called it a “photo opportunity” aimed at generating favorable publicity. He claimed Culver should have stayed in Des Moines to help solve the state’s budget crisis and other critical policy problems.

“Tragically, this has been the leadership style of Gov.Culver, who hasn’t even listened to the people within his own administration,” Narcisse said.[…]

Abby Curran, Culver’s campaign manager, issued the following statement in response to Narcisse’s bid to oppose Culver:

“Gov. Culver is focused on helping Iowa’s hard-working families, not on politics or politicians. The governor is fighting to move forward with bold ideas, and through I-JOBS has made historic investments in our economy to create jobs and improve our state’s infrastructure. His administration has expanded access to preschool education, extended children’s health care coverage, raised the minimum wage, and fought for the services our veterans need and deserve.”

Tom Vilsack visited Iowa troops in Iraq at least once while he was governor. I don’t recall anyone criticizing him for that, but someone correct me if I am wrong.

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