Latest Roberts endorsements are good news for Branstad (updated)

Three more Republicans in the Iowa House endorsed State Representative Rod Roberts for governor yesterday. Rich Anderson represents House district 97 in southwest Iowa.  Gary Worthan represents House district 52 in northwest Iowa. Clel Baudler represents House district 58 in southwest Iowa and also serves on the National Rifle Association’s board of directors.

Baudler and Anderson particularly praised Roberts’ leadership skills, while Worthan cited Roberts’ “proven track record of fighting for conservative values.” State Representative Jason Schultz and former representative Dan Boddicker also highlighted Roberts’ conservative credentials in their endorsement of him last week.

I wouldn’t exaggerate the importance of legislative endorsements; Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson had far more supporters in the Iowa legislature than Mike Huckabee did before the 2008 Iowa caucuses. Nevertheless, I believe that any support Roberts picks up from conservative Republicans probably helps Terry Branstad. In order to defeat the better-known, better-financed former governor in the primary, Bob Vander Plaats would need to unite primary voters who fear Branstad isn’t conservative enough. Roberts muddies the waters, especially in western Iowa, where Vander Plaats needs to dominate in order to win in June.

Last week Vander Plaats challenged Branstad and Roberts to a series of debates:

“I appreciate the opportunities Rod Roberts and I have had to meet in various settings and exchange ideas. Terry Branstad has been in this race quite a while now and it’s time for him to step up, join me on the same stage at the same time, and talk about the issues.”

Vander Plaats continued, “A number of people in the media are reporting this race as if Terry Branstad has won and is our party’s nominee. But he hasn’t won, he isn’t our nominee and that vocal minority in the media doesn’t get to make the decision; Republican voters do. As candidates, we have a responsibility to let GOP voters size us up side-by-side to see for themselves who has the energy, the new ideas and the focus on the future to lead us forward. I’m prepared to talk about how to open Iowa for business, fix our broken tax system, cut state spending and create a culture of innovation and results in our public schools.”

In a letter to Branstad, Vander Plaats proposed debates in Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City and another city agreed upon by the candidates.

[…]”As you and your staff know, many county GOP organizations and other groups all across Iowa have organized – or have an interest in organizing – forums for the three of us to discuss our positions and principles. I encourage you to join in as many of these events as possible through June 8.”

Roberts has nothing to lose by debating; such events can only raise his profile. Branstad would be taking a big risk to debate Vander Plaats. Judging from recent video clips I’ve seen of both candidates, Vander Plaats is a much more polished speaker. Also, Branstad has no idea how he’ll fulfill his central campaign promise to cut state government by 15 percent. If he stumbles in a debate, it will be a statewide news story. For those reasons, I doubt Branstad will agree to any debates unless his refusal to do so generates a lot of bad press.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Bret Hayworth reports that Roberts wants to debate his primary rivals in Carroll (his home town, which he has represented for the last decade in the legislature), and in some eastern Iowa town with a population under 15,000.

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A closer look at the Rod Roberts campaign for governor

I expected Terry Branstad to drive all of the lesser-known Republicans out of the governor’s race. To my surprise, State Representative Rod Roberts has not followed the lead of Paul McKinley, Christian Fong, Jerry Behn and Chris Rants. Roberts told WHO’s Dave Price last weekend that he is staying in the governor’s race all the way to the June primary.

Roberts acknowledges the other two men have raised a LOT more money and are better known. After all, Branstad has been governor 4 terms before. [Bob] Vander Plaats has run for governor 3 times. Roberts plans on not just going after typical Republican primary voters to make up for his lack of recognition (he also added that he will just have to outwork the other 2). He plans on getting Democrats and Independents who are unhappy with the money Governor Chet Culver has spent since he took over and who are also unhappy with the overall direction of the state. Roberts told me this will be the year for the outsider. And he said he will be the outsider.

Join me after the jump for closer look at Roberts and his campaign strategy. I doubt he has any chance of winning the primary, but his presence in the race will probably help Branstad.

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