Less than three months after saying he would not run against Governor Chet Culver next year, former governor Terry Branstad now tells the Des Moines Register he is "not ruling it out." Moreover,
Branstad is accepting invitations to meet with party activists. Two weeks ago, he met with about 50 political and business leaders at the Alden home of Bruce Rastetter, an influential Republican fundraiser and ethanol industry executive.
New calls for Branstad's candidacy, and encouraging words from key donors such as West Des Moines developer Gary Kirke, underscore a growing feeling in his party that Democrat Gov. Chet Culver is vulnerable as he finishes his first term and that the emerging GOP field lacks a contender who can beat him.
A Branstad candidacy would force some of the lesser-known Republicans from the race, but the GOP field will not clear for him. Bob Vander Plaats will stay in, and he plays to the social conservative constituency that saved Branstad's bacon in his tough 1994 primary against Congressman Fred Grandy.
I think there would be a niche for a third candidate who might emphasize Vander Plaats' poor general election prospects and Branstad's record of fiscal mismanagement as governor.
Many Iowa Republicans deeply distrust Doug Gross, the 2002 gubernatorial nominee who was a top aide to Branstad and has been shopping for a candidate to support all year. The March opinion poll Gross commissioned on behalf of the Iowa First Foundation sparked the Branstad for governor rumors.
Bruce Rastetter and Gary Kirke, who are fueling the Branstad recruitment efforts, are big Republican players but not without controversy in GOP circles either. Rastetter gave a lot of money to Republican candidates in 2008 and may have been involved in a group running ads against Culver. But he also gave Culver's campaign committee $25,000 in 2007, as did Kirke. Rastetter gave the maximum allowable contribution to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, and we all remember how highly Iowa Republicans thought of Rudy.
I do not think that rank and file Republicans are going to sit back and let these kingmakers choose Branstad as their candidate against Culver. Then again, I still think Branstad is not going to run for governor, so I could be proven wrong.
In other news on the GOP race for governor, Jason Hancock wrote a good piece for Iowa Independent on the pros and cons of a competitive Republican primary. I tend to agree with Republicans who think a tough primary will help the GOP by generating media buzz and starting to close the voter registration gap with Iowa Democrats. On the other hand, there's a chance that harsh infighting could damage the eventual nominee. The most disastrous outcome for Republicans is still John Deeth's dream of Vander Plaats winning the nomination at a state convention. A Branstad candidacy would eliminate that possibility.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
LATE UPDATE: National Republicans are heavily recruiting Branstad, and the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza says one of them told him Branstad is "very" close to getting in the race. The prospect of national money coming to this race has to be appealing to Iowa Republicans.
I am enjoying the comment threads on Branstad at The Iowa Republican blog, like this one.