Setting the Branstad record straight

UPDATE: Branstad did file papers to form an exploratory committee today.

The Iowa Republican blog reported today,

This morning, former Governor Terry Branstad will file paperwork with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (IECDB), essentially launching his campaign for governor.

All state candidates are required to file with the IECDB once they spend or raise more than $750.00. While some candidates have claimed that filing this paperwork is like opening an exploratory committee, there are no special distinctions allowed under Iowa law for such committees, meaning that when you file with the IECDB, you are announcing that you are a candidate.

Branstad announced this summer that he would decide in October whether to run for governor again. It’s been clear he was planning to be a candidate since the Draft Branstad PAC started raising big money and running statewide radio ads last month, so why wait? Some people think Branstad, now president of Des Moines University, wanted to make his decision known to that university’s Board of Trustees at this month’s scheduled meeting before announcing his candidacy.

I have been wondering whether Branstad wanted to remain outside the campaign during September so that the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll by Selzer and Co. would measure his support at the highest possible level. After he formally enters the race, his record will face tougher scrutiny, and his favorability ratings are likely to go down. The Register’s poll (released on September 20 and 21) showed that 70 percent of Iowans approved of his performance as governor, but only 48 percent thought it would be a good idea for him to run again. That poll did not include a head to head matchup against Governor Chet Culver. Republican firm Rasmussen conducted a one-day poll on September 22, which showed Branstad leading Culver by 20 points.

In the coming months, rival Republican candidates are likely to open three main lines of attack on Branstad:

1. During his first three terms as governor, Branstad kept two sets of books in order to run illegal deficits. His fiscal mismanagement was the main factor driving support for then Congressman Fred Grandy during the 1994 Republican primary. State Representative Chris Rants has already started hitting Branstad on this front. Last week he asserted,

“Culver’s repeating the mistakes Branstad made in the 80’s. He moved money on paper and delayed payments from one fiscal year to another until it finally caught up to him and he raised the sales tax to square the books. He could only hide his deficits for so long. It’s these kinds of accounting gimmicks that caused the fallout between Auditor Johnson and Branstad.”

“We Republicans need to be better than that if we expect to earn the trust of Iowans,” added Rants.

Richard Johnson, state auditor during most of Branstad’s tenure, is now co-chairing Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign. Expect to hear more from him in the future.

2. During his four terms as governor, Branstad didn’t deliver on various issues of importance to conservatives. Branstad selected a pro-choice lieutenant governor and didn’t get an abortion ban through the legislature even when it was under Republican control during his final term. Vander Plaats has already promised not to balance his ticket with a moderate, and if Branstad announces a pro-choice running mate, a lot of the Republican rank and file will be furious.

Branstad campaigned every four years on a promise to reinstate the death penalty, but he never got it done as governor.

Last week Rants promised to press for an amendment on gun rights to the Iowa Constitution. Perhaps we’ll hear more in the future about Branstad’s failure to do enough on this front.

3. Branstad raised sales taxes, the gas tax, and favored other tax increases as well.

Tax hikes are never popular with the GOP base, and Rants and Vander Plaats are certain to educate primary voters about Branstad’s record. If Christian Fong decides to stay in the race, we’ll be hearing from him about this issue too. Ed Failor, head of Iowans for Tax Relief, is one of Fong’s key political backers and fundraisers.

The Iowa Democratic Party has already started responding to the Draft Branstad PAC’s revisionist history, and will continue to call attention to how Branstad governed. I’ve posted the Iowa Democratic Party’s response to the first pro-Branstad radio ad after the jump. The IDP has also created the entertaining Iowa Knows Better website, with information about all of the GOP candidates for governor. Here is the page on Branstad, with details on Branstad’s two sets of books, tax increases, use of state bonding, and failure to pay state employees what they had earned.

Branstad will have more money and institutional support than the other Republican candidates and will be heavily favored to win the primary. But I doubt public approval for his work as governor will still be at 70 percent six months from now.

UPDATE: Swing State Project is now calling the Iowa governor’s race a tossup.

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