Vaudt rules out running for governor in 2010

Who’s a Culver-skeptic now?

State Auditor David Vaudt announced today that he won’t run for Iowa governor in 2010. It’s bad news for Republicans who were hoping to recruit a candidate known for expertise on fiscal matters.

More details and analysis are after the jump.

At a press conference, Vaudt cited Iowa’s budget problems as his reason for not running:

“I know that if I were to run for governor, there would be some that would try to discredit important financial information that I’m providing to Iowans. They would do that by simply questioning the motives, since I would be running for governor.”

The last thing he wants to do, Vaudt said, is diminish his ability to keep Iowans informed about what’s happening with state finances.

Other factors might also have influenced Vaudt’s decision. He’s virtually guaranteed re-election if he stays in his current position, whereas he might have trouble in a Republican gubernatorial primary. Or, perhaps he doesn’t think Governor Chet Culver is particularly vulnerable. Even though Culver’s approval numbers have declined this year, he still has time to bounce back. It’s worth remembering that Iowans haven’t turned an incumbent governor out of office since 1962.

I doubt Vaudt would have won the Republican nomination for reasons I described here, but he would have been a stronger general-election candidate than Bob Vander Plaats, the only Republican who seems certain to run.

Vaudt’s decision is a blow to Republicans who are hoping the 2010 race will revolve around economic and fiscal issues. It also removes from the mix one of the most seasoned office-holders from a party that’s had a bad run in Iowa for the last decade.

Hill Research sent me partial results from the poll they took in March about the Iowa governor’s race. They redacted some of the most interesting findings, such as how appealing respondents found various types of candidates (including an “auditor who has kept track of how state money is spent”). Still, I found this result intriguing:

   Do you want an experienced and effective elected official, or an outsider with a fresh perspective and new ideas?

   Strongly want an experienced elected official: 34%

   Want an experienced elected official: 19%

   Fresh perspective: 14%

   Strongly want a fresh perspective: 27%

Vaudt is by far the most experienced statewide official who was considering running for governor. (Former Governor Terry Branstad has no desire to get back in the game.)

Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, the only other Republican currently holding a statewide elected position, is leaning toward running for re-election rather than governor. It makes sense. He would be heavily favored against Francis Thicke, the most likely Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture. In contrast, I believe Northey would be a long-shot for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, having gone on record supporting a gas tax increase. Besides, the same-sex marriage controversy will probably give an edge to religious conservatives in next year’s primary. Even if Northey won the GOP nomination, I think that with no base of support in eastern Iowa population centers, he would be an underdog against Culver in the general.

One or two Iowa House Republicans seem likely to challenge Culver. Former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants has been thinking about running for governor for a long time. Earlier this month he sent an e-mail to potential supporters saying that since the 2009 legislative session ended,

I’ve put 2,300 miles on my car driving around the state talking to donors and activists about running for Governor.

I’m not making any official announcements or anything like that just yet. I’m taking stock first to see if I can find the support, and if I do, then I’ll let the press know. I have my eyes wide open. Its at least an $8M – $10M endeavor – or $110,000 a week as I like to say… I want to put some money in the bank, and be sure of financial backing before I take a stab at that.

So far it’s been encouraging. I have a series of fundraisers set up, and people who have agreed to help organize and set things up for me. I’ll be on the road this coming week again – back to the east coast of the state.

If he runs, Rants will compete with Vander Plaats for the conservative vote. Rants tried several times last month to bring legislation banning same-sex marriage to a vote on the Iowa House floor.

State Representative Rod Roberts told the Daily Times-Herald of Carroll he is “very seriously considering” a gubernatorial bid. He’s an ordained pastor, but some fellow Republicans claim he can communicate a broader message than abortion and gay marriage. Whether a state legislator from western Iowa can raise enough money and gain enough name recognition to seriously challenge Culver is another question.

Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican blog thinks there is room for another Republican candidate besides Rants and Vander Plaats, but

A candidate from the business community or a candidate that hadn’t previously weighed in on the marriage debate may find the primary more difficult to navigate than it would have been if the [Iowa Supreme] Court’s decision had been different. This may be the reason why, out of nowhere, we have seen some long-time GOP powerbrokers like Dave Roederer and Doug Gross warning Iowa Republicans that the focus cannot be on the issue of gay marriage if we want to win elections. […]

Gross has not been shy about his belief that the fiscal issues create an agenda which will unite the Republican Party. Many, if not most, Republicans probably agree with that. The only problem is that the issue of gay marriage has been thrust to the forefront in Iowa by the Court’s decision. Ignoring the issue or trying to diminish its importance is simply not an option.

With only 397 days until the primary, it is likely that the gubernatorial primary will be between Vander Plaats, Rants, and maybe one other candidate. While it is true that there is plenty of time for candidates to emerge, the clock is ticking. It takes time to organize people and raise the huge amounts of money needed to run statewide campaigns.

Robinson asserts that Roederer and Gross “are probably having difficulty recruiting a candidate of their liking.” Vermeer Corporation chief executive Mary Andringa has already said she’s not running for governor next year.

In theory, today’s announcement from Vaudt could leave an opening for a Republican moderate hoping conservatives will split the primary vote. On the other hand, there aren’t many moderates left in Republican political ranks, and Culver doesn’t look endangered enough to make this race attractive for someone from the business community, in my opinion.

Pleas share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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  • Vander Plaats, Rants and defeat

    That’s a shame. I think Vaudt would have made a good governor. Northey is probably the last, best moderate left in the running–so to speak. Without Vaudt as competition for the moderate vote, running may look a little more attractive now.

    Rants would, I think, do a little better than BVP but still lose by quite a bit. He seems to have a reputation of being and comes off to the public as what our former president once called, “a major league a-hole”.

    You’re right that there’s little incentive for a business person to jump in. There’s still the slim chance that someone might get into the race to build their name for a run down the road (Harkin’s seat?) but the GOP climate at the moment likely wouldn’t let an outsider like that near the nomination.

    It’s going to be interesting. Running BVP or Rants won’t leave much of an outlet for those dissatisfied with Culver. I suppose their only recourse would be just not to vote.

    • whose side are you on, American?

      I’m partly joking, but really–the weakness of the Republican field is not a “shame” in my opinion, even if I’m not 100 percent satisfied with Culver.

      I don’t think the big Republican donors will get behind BVP or Rants. Will they open their wallets for other Republican candidates, or just sit this one out?

      • Not Culver's...

        When it comes down to it, I suppose I’m a independent at heart. Although I usually vote for democrats, I have voted for republicans in the past and probably will again.

        I just find Culver so infuriating. I don’t think he deserves to be reelected, but there really isn’t a good alternative. I agree with the poll in that the thing I want most is an “effective” leader to get the state through the current (and continuing) crisis. I don’t think Culver is that leader, and I would be willing to vote for a republican if I thought they could provide that leadership. Especially since the democrat-controlled Legislature would put the brakes on any of the more far-right ideas such a Governor could come up with.

        If only we could vote “none of the above”…