Republican field for governor becomes more crowded (updated)

Today State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll formally announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a possible gubernatorial campaign. The Des Moines Register’s political columnist Kathie Obradovich covered the press conference on Twitter. (May I suggest the hashtag #iagov instead of #iaguv?)

It seems Roberts plans to run as a likeable version of fellow State Representative Chris Rants of Sioux City: Iowa needs a change, he’s for “rights of unborn” and “traditional marriage,” he’ll be “careful with your money,” he wants to amend constitution to ban gay marriage, and he thinks the Bob Vander Plaats approach of ending gay marriage by executive order won’t resolve the problem.

Douglas Burns knows Roberts and made the case for him as a strong candidate here. I have a hard time seeing his path to the Republican nomination. As an ordained minister, Roberts must have better people skills than Rants. As a veteran of the Iowa legislature, he has more political experience than Christian Fong. His stance on gay marriage shows that he is more pragmatic than Vander Plaats. Still, I don’t see how he distinguishes himself from the Republican pack on any issues. Maybe someone will ask him about this at tomorrow’s Iowa Politics forum for gubernatorial candidates. Does he have an answer other than saying that being relatively unknown is his advantage?

According to Obradovich, the Roberts committee includes Steve Siemens (who I assume is this motivational speaker), State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, and former Lieutenant Governor Art Neu. Frank Severino, an experienced lobbyist at the Iowa statehouse, will manage the Roberts campaign.

Other prominent Iowa Republicans attended Roberts’ press conference: onetime gubernatorial candidate David Oman (who worked for Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad), former RNC committeeman Steve Roberts, RNC committeewoman Kim Lehman, and Iowa Family Policy Center head Chuck Hurley. It’s not yet clear whether any of those people were endorsing Rod Roberts.

Steve Roberts is one of the “moderates, old-money and business Republicans” thought to be shopping around for an alternative to Vander Plaats and Rants. Unless Rod Roberts has lined up some major backers in central and eastern Iowa, I can’t see how he can raise enough money to be competitive in the Republican primary.

In related news, Paul McKinley told Mike Glover of the Associated Press that he will step down as Iowa Senate minority leader if he decides to run for governor. McKinley formed an exploratory committee a few weeks ago and is constructing a campaign narrative based on his experience as a 1980s small business owner. My prediction: McKinley won’t raise the money for a serious gubernatorial campaign and will decide to stay where he is in the Iowa Senate.

UPDATE: Fong’s campaign manager Marlys Popma stepped on Roberts’ big day by announcing that Fong has raised $100,000 in the past three weeks (checks in hand, not pledges). It appears that GOP donors are buying the non-threatening conservative package Fong is selling, with its strong echoes of Obama-like post-partisan, empowering rhetoric.

SECOND UPDATE: This piece at Iowa Independent reminded me that Rants has suggested Roberts should stay out of the governor’s race to deprive Democrats of a chance at winning his Iowa House seat (district 51). Democrats have not fielded a candidate against Roberts for several election cycles, even though they are competitive with the GOP in terms of party registration in House district 51.

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