Roberts is the politically correct Republican alternative to Branstad

State Representative Rod Roberts continues to line up endorsements in his long-shot gubernatorial campaign. Bill Schickel just resigned as secretary of the Iowa GOP in order to endorse Roberts. Party officers are supposed to remain neutral in Republican primaries, but  

“I can no longer remain neutral,” said Schickel, a former state representative and Mason City mayor. “Our party is currently divided. Neither of the frontrunners has shown that they can bring the two sides together. If the current division continues we will certainly lose in November. Rod Roberts has the best chance of beating Chet Culver.”  

“He is the only candidate who has demonstrated he can bring together the fiscal and social conservative wings of our party. He has also proven that he can attract the Independents and Democrats that are critical to victory,” Schickel said. “He has done it during the campaign. He did it as a state representative. And he did it in five previous elections.”  

“Rod is an underdog right now, but he is also the candidate with momentum,” Schickel said. “While the numbers for the frontrunners have remained essentially flat, Rod in the past three months has gone from almost no voter recognition to capturing 19 percent of the Republican vote in the Dallas County straw poll and winning the Guthrie County straw poll this past weekend.”  “Whenever Republicans meet him, they are won over,” Schickel said. “He is a solid fiscal and social conservative who is also a fresh face. That is exactly what our party needs, and more importantly, what Iowa needs.”

Schickel also maintains the the conservative news aggregator The Bean Walker, a task he took over when Tim Albrecht signed on with Terry Branstad’s campaign for governor.  

Over the weekend, the Roberts campaign announced two more supporters in the Iowa House: State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (district 96 in southwest Iowa) and Mike May (district 6 in northwest Iowa). They join four current and one former Republican legislator who previously announced their support for Roberts.  

Branstad is the heavy favorite to win the primary, but many GOP activists don’t want to go back to the future. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe that any gains for Roberts will come largely at the expense of Bob Vander Plaats, who needs as much support as possible from western Iowa conservatives. Vander Plaats has been winning straw polls, but he hasn’t picked up many endorsements from within the Republican establishment since Branstad entered the race.

I suspect Roberts wouldn’t be landing these endorsements unless the donors behind Branstad had signaled that they won’t hold grudges against Roberts supporters. Or, to put it another way, my hunch is that Schickel would not go out on a limb to endorse Roberts if he feared doing so would threaten future funding for the Iowa GOP or The Bean Walker. (Albrecht launched The Bean Walker while working for the American Future Fund, and many business figures associated with the American Future Fund have made large contributions to the Branstad campaign.)

Perhaps Roberts has the inside track to become Branstad’s running mate, or the candidates have an informal non-aggression pact. Or maybe Roberts doesn’t criticize Branstad as harshly as Vander Plaats does because that’s not his personal style. Whatever the reason, Roberts is shaping up as the politically correct alternative for Republicans who aren’t wild about a fifth term for Branstad.

In related news, I was surprised to see that Branstad accepted three invitations to debate Roberts and Vander Plaats: in Sioux City on April 7, in Cedar Rapids on May 1, and in Des Moines on a date to be scheduled later.

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