Poll confirms Vander Plaats is GOP front-runner (updated)

The Iowa Republican blog continues to release results from the poll it commissioned on the 2010 governor's race. Last week we learned about Governor Chet Culver's approval, favorability and re-elect numbers. This week we've seen some numbers about same-sex marriage and a hypothetical rerun of the 2006 race. I'll have more to say about the wording of this poll's questions in a future post. (Todd Dorman identified a glaring problem with the marriage question here.)

In today's installment, Craig Robinson highlights results from a straightforward question:

Question: If the Republican primary for Governor was held today, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, Bob Vander Plaats, Paul McKinley, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn, and Christian Fong?

   Republican Primary Voters

   Bob Vander Plaats: 46%

   Don't Know: 27%

   Chris Rants: 14%

   Neither/Other: 5%

   Paul McKinley: 3%

   Christian Fong: 3%

   Rod Roberts: 1%

   Refused: 1%

   Jerry Behn: 0.2%

   (Republican Primary Voters N=394 - Margin of Error ±5.0%)

Join me after the jump for some early thoughts about Bob Vander Plaats' front-runner status.

Vander Plaats brings a lot of advantages to the GOP primary race. He is the only currently declared Republican candidate who has campaigned statewide before, during the 2002 primaries and as the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006. Vander Plaats kept in contact with many Republican activists by chairing Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign in Iowa. Also, Vander Plaats has held far more public events around the state this year than any other Republican candidate.

Robinson correctly notes that Vander Plaats' huge lead in this poll stems from his much greater name recognition among Iowa Republicans. John Deeth is ready to celebrate:

We won't even need my convention scenario; they're ready to nominate Vander Plaats outright. He's near 50% and the Not Vander Plaats vote is splintered. All Gay Marriage All The Time will turn off moderates and Culver wins comfortably.

If the GOP unites, quickly, behind one non-BVP candidate, that candidate might pull it off, but do they even want to?

Not so fast, Deeth. The Republican primary is more than 10 months away. At a comparable time during the last election cycle, Hillary Clinton had commanding poll leads over other Democratic presidential contenders nationally and in every state but Iowa. Several factors derailed the Clinton inevitability train. She was known to be a polarizing figure, sparking fear among many Democrats that she would lose the general election. Barack Obama was an unusually gifted candidate who raised a ton of money to build a phenomenally successful organization. John Edwards went hard negative on Clinton in the fall of 2007, generating a lot of unflattering media coverage of the front-funner.

Just as Clinton and her Democratic rivals had similar positions on most issues, the potential Republican candidates for Iowa governor all back the same economic and social agenda. They support tax cuts, spending cuts and an amendment to ban same-sex marriage; they oppose state borrowing, abortion rights and any legislation backed by labor unions.

With no clear distinction on the issues, other Republicans will need to show Vander Plaats is a poor candidate and/or would be a poor governor in order to overcome his early advantage in the primary.

The Iowa Republican will publish results tomorrow on how Culver fared head to head against Vander Plaats and Chris Rants in its poll. I know Democrats have done internal polling this year, but I haven't seen any of the results. I can tell you that I don't know a single Iowa Democrat who thinks Vander Plaats would have a chance against Culver.

I'm curious to see who will be the first Republican to question out loud whether Vander Plaats can win the general. Lately Iowa Republicans have focused on happy talk about Culver's sinking popularity and the public supposedly backing the GOP on all the important issues. Krusty Konservative's take today is typical:

I don't care who Iowa Republicans nominate, the general election campaign will be about one thing and one thing only, the job Chet Culver has done as the state's Governor. Deeth is 100% right about one thing: people's rage is always targeted to the person at the top. So if we are still dealing with huge budget deficits, unbalanced budgets, additional budget cuts, a bad economy, and a high unemployment rate, Governor Culver is going to have to deal with it.

The piss poor condition of our state is Chet Culver's unpopular war so to speak. What should disturb Democrats like Deeth is Culver's insistence that everything is hunky-dory. It's not. People are hurting all across Iowa, and Culver's agenda will make it worse.

I don't give a rip who Culver brings in to turn things around politically. The hole Culver has dug is just too vast. I doubt that there is any chance he can manage to get himself out of it before next November.

If Republican primary voters believe Culver will lose no matter what, they may as well nominate Vander Plaats. He's the most familiar candidate, and he says things they want to hear. He will stop gay marriage on day one as governor by issuing an executive order. He promises that Republicans can win in Iowa again by embracing "bold-color conservatism."

Who in the Republican field will dare to point out that Culver brings a lot of advantages to this race and might not be so easy to beat?

Some Republicans have argued that same-sex marriage can't be overturned by executive order, but they'll need to make this case a lot more forcefully to bring down Vander Plaats in the primary. It's not going to cut it to say an executive order would be a waste of time or lead to a dead end legally. Vander Plaats claims,

''I've got constitutional lawyers that back me up,'' he said.

When asked to identify them, he named former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Herb Titus, a Virginia attorney. He did not name any Iowans.

''My belief is that marriage is clearly reserved for one man and one woman,'' he said. ''I believe government grew out of marriage. Marriage didn't grow out of government.''

For the record: Huckabee and Gingrich are not attorneys. Herb Titus was the Constitution Party's vice presidential candidate in 1996. Most legal scholars reject the idea that a governor can overturn a Supreme Court ruling, although Titus is renowned among conservative Christians who make Steve King look reasonable by comparison.

Like I said, Vander Plaats is telling socially conservative Republicans what they want to hear. They don't like gay marriage, and he can put a stop to it. He's so confident that this is a winning message that he told Jeff Charis-Carlson of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, "I'm betting my whole campaign on that executive order."

To cut into Vander Plaats' early lead, someone needs to tell Republican voters hard truths. Culver is not as vulnerable as some people suggest and could win against the wrong GOP candidate. By his own admission, Vander Plaats would provoke a constitutional crisis by issuing an executive order to halt same-sex marriages.

Share any thoughts about the governor's race in this thread.

UPDATE: The Iowa Republican published these results on Thursday:

   Question: If the elections for Governor were held today, and the candidates were Bob Vander Plaats and Chet Culver, who would you vote for between Bob Vander Plaats, the Republican candidate and Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate?

   Chet Culver: 48%

   Vander Plaats: 39%

   Neither/Won't Vote: 3%

   Don't Know: 10%

   Refused: 1%

   Question: If the elections for Governor were held today, and the candidates were Chris Rants and Chet Culver, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, the Republican candidate and Chet Culver, the Democratic candidate?

   Chet Culver: 46%

   Chris Rants: 36%

   Neither/Won't Vote: 3%

   Don't Know: 13%

   Refused: 1%

It looks like Culver is about 10 points ahead of a generic R candidate. As an incumbent, you'd always like to be above 50 percent, but Culver is in a stronger position than many other incumbent governors.

  • Go Vander Plaats

    This would essentially assure Culver, despite his numerous flaws, a second term. But I'm not so sure Iowa's GOP is ready to coronate and get behind Bobby VP. There's a reason they went shopping for Nussle when VP threw his name into the mix early on last time. In a general election, Iowans won't buy into VP's socially conservative politics. People are hurting too much financially and it's only going to get worse in the next year (not good for Culver though) to be distracted by gay marriage and a wingnut who wants to use his power to usurp one of the three branches of the Iowa Constitution.

    Once again, if VP gets the nod, we will have yet another election, which will be won by voting against a candidate in lieu of voting for one. Ho hum....

    Where's Sal when we need him?

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