Today, the right-leaning news aggregator The Bean Walker ran a headline: THE CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF TODAY. The link and reference refer to a GOP fundraiser in Sac County this morning that brought together four likely candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Those men are Rep. (and former Speaker of the House) Chris Rants of Sioux City; 2006 Lt. Governor candidate Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City;Rep. Rob Roberts of Carroll; and Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone.
While the Republican primary is still months away, this unofficial first step on the long road to the nomination seems a good place to start with some early odds on the eventual winner.
Rep. Chris Rants (R-Sioux City) 3:1
Rants is the Hillary Clinton of this race. He's been a figurehead and a lightning rod within the party for almost a decade. He served as Speaker of the House during the Vilsack years, from 2002 until his party's ouster in 2007. In fact, many within the party still blame him for that defeat--even though 2006 was such a realignment that it would have been hard for the party do much better than it did under any circumstances. Much like Ms. Clinton, Rants is highly polarizing figure who has a reputation for having a "bulldozer" style of leadership, with little time or tact for those who stand in his way. Also, like Hillary, he is going to have to learn to deal with media and pundits who are less than cordial.
(The best analysis of his candidacy comes from this piece in Cityview's Civic Skinny column. It is a must read.)
Rants 2010 candidacy seems based on what Craig Robinson at the Iowa Republican calls "a kinder, gentler Chris Rants". According to O. Kay Henderson's liveblog of the Sac County event, Rants primary focus in the campaign is going to be economic and business issues; somewhat of a departure from his rivals.
Analysis: Rants is well positioned in the race to become the choice of Republicans who are turned off by Bob Vander Plaats but are hesitant to embrace a less-conservative choice. He also has a fat rolodex of fundraising contacts and a long list of favors to call in. He's in it to win it.
Bob Vander Plaats 3:1
Vander Plaats, the 2006 Lt. Governor candidate and primary candidate in his own right in 2002 and 2006, has been to the political wilderness and back several rimes. His supporters believe, however, that the third time around is the charm.
Borne aloft by the twin archangels of Iowa conservativism Steve Deace and Mike Huckabee, Vander Plaats' "plaatform" is straight-line social conservative. His primary issue thus far is putting an end to same-sex marriage rights as granted by Varnum v. Brien. However, reactions to his plan to do so by issuing an executive order have been extremely negative outside of his core group of supporters. Many believe that his plan is patently unconstitutional.
Analysis: Vander Plaats appeals to the basest parts of the Republican base. However, among that segment of the party he enjoys fervent, dedicated support. Unless the more moderate elements of the Republican Party can grasp the reins, Vander Plaats remains a strong contender.
Unknown Moderate 3:1
It's an open secret that there is a sizable contingent of the Republican Party that isn't happy with the current crop of candidates. This shadowy group of mostly moderates, old-money and business Republicans has been candidate shopping lately. Headed by favorite so-con punching bag (and 2002 candidate for Governor) Doug Gross, this faction has been talking to some unconventional potential candidates. Among the names being talked about: Vermeer CEO Mary Andringa, Dubuque University president Jeff Bullock, Generation Iowa Commission vice-chair Christian Fong, Farm Bureau president Craig Lang, Jeff Lamberti, Marianette Miller-Meeks and even Fmr. Gov. Terry Branstad.
The platform for such a candidate is seen through a glass darkly, but is sure to run to to the left of Rants and far to the left of Vander Plaats--a center-right agenda, with an emphasis on economic/budget/tax issues over traditional so-con fare.
Analysis: It remains to be seen who will emerge as the center-right option in this race, although Gross has promised to find a candidate by Septmber. What is certain, however, is that that candidate will enjoy significant financial and institutional support from the faction of the party that doesn't want to see the race wasted on a quixotic Vander Plaats run. In the absence of more information, I give Rants, Vander Plaats and the moderate candidate the same chances.
Sen. Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) 5:1
McKinley is the Joe Biden of this race (to continue my analogy from earlier). He's a solid elder statesman type State Senator who is well-liked with few enemies. First and foremost, he's an issues man in a personality-driven race. He's taken some fire from conservatives for not sponsoring any anti-same-sex marriage bills this session, but that's befitting his cautious nature.
An article he wrote for The Iowa Republican this week was as chock-full of numbers and fact-checks as any long-winded Biden corker. Since he's not officially in the race yet, his platform is hard to divine--but given his track record, one can guess that it might be middle-of-the-road Republican with a focus on the economy.
Analysis: I consider McKinley to be the dark horse in this race. If the "mystery moderate" fails to appear, Rants or Vander Plaats suffer a Sanford-Ensign style collapse, or the race turns into a bloody civil war, McKinley could be drafted as a compromise candidate.
Rep. Rod Roberts (R-Carroll) and Sen. Jerry Behn (R-Boone) 10:1 Analysis: These men are the Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson of this race, respectively. They're decent party men, solid records and credentials, some support--and after the race is over, they'll still have that. But they won't win, and in the end, most people will forget they ran in the first place. It's possible that Behn, like Richardson, is a relatively young man and may be using the campaign as a means of positioning himself for races to come.