Could Vander Plaats pull off an upset?

I’ve been assuming for the past few months that there’s no way Bob Vander Plaats can defeat Terry Branstad in this year’s Republican gubernatorial primary. Branstad’s statewide connections from his four terms as governor and his support from major donors should give him an insurmountable edge, especially in the eastern Iowa counties. While Vander Plaats would have a great shot at winning a caucus or a statewide convention, I didn’t see any way he could keep Branstad below 50 percent in the primary, especially with Branstad likely to raise far more money.

I’ve started to rethink my assumptions as conservative Republicans have spoken out against Branstad.

Everyone knew the Iowa Family Policy Center’s political action committee would endorse Vander Plaats at some point, but their statement yesterday went far beyond expressing a preference for Vander Plaats. The IFPC made clear that they will not support Branstad in the general election if he wins the GOP nomination.

Follow me after the jump for more on the IFPC’s endorsement and how Vander Plaats could win the primary.

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Another prominent national conservative backs Vander Plaats

David Barton, a self-styled constitutional expert who founded the socially conservative WallBuilders organization, has endorsed Bob Vander Plaats for governor:

“Bob Vander Plaats epitomizes the leadership our Founding Fathers envisioned when they stood up for our individual liberties,” Barton said in a prepared statement. “He knows that it’s the hard work and unfettered creative spirit of individuals made this country and states like Iowa great. He knows that more bureaucracies, more government employees, higher taxes and increased government spending will crush Iowa. And, he’ll articulate that message in winning fashion.”

Here’s some background on Barton’s vision for America, chock full of Biblical interpretations supporting right-wing public policies. Barton spoke to the Iowa Christian Alliance this fall (click that link to watch videos). His organization hosts a large annual “ProFamily Legislators Conference.”

Barton’s endorsement may help Vander Plaats raise money from around the country as well as recruit volunteers in Iowa. Vander Plaats will particularly need financial support from out of state in order to compete with Terry Branstad, who built relationships with many major donors and local activists during his four terms as governor.

I’ll be curious to see whether conservative activists looking to “take back the Republican Party” through primaries will focus on Iowa’s gubernatorial race in the winter and spring. Vander Plaats already has the backing of former presidential candidate and current Fox TV host Mike Huckabee as well as pop culture icon Chuck Norris. Vander Plaats also was featured on the cover of Focus on the Family’s national magazine in November.

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Vander Plaats pins health care reform on Branstad

Developing a line of attack he has used before, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats asserted yesterday that Terry Branstad’s past support for Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska makes Branstad partly responsible for any health care reform bill Congress passes this year.  

From the Vander Plaats campaign press release of November 23:

“Ben Nelson gave Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid the vote he needed to get the 60 votes to steamroll Republican opposition. It means the Democrats will be able to proceed with legislation that will effectively destroy our private health care system while saddling businesses and working families with hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and limiting our access to care,” said Vander Plaats, who is seeking the 2010 Iowa Republican gubernatorial nomination. “Whatever happens from here on out, Terry Branstad is going to have to accept some responsibility because he was a very active supporter of Ben Nelson in his first campaign for the Senate.”

A few thoughts on this line of attack are after the jump.

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