Early Republican reaction to Branstad's move

Terry Branstad shook up the Iowa governor’s race yesterday when he formed an exploratory committee headed by Mary Andringa, the CEO of Pella’s Vermeer Corporation. (Republican power-brokers tried and failed to recruit Andringa to run for governor earlier this year.)

Election-watchers like the Swing State Project and Campaign Diaries bloggers immediately recognized that Branstad is the toughest potential challenger for Governor Chet Culver. But some Iowa Republicans have doubts about going back to the future:

Drew Ivers, a longtime social conservative Republican leader, said some party activists object to the growth in the state budget during Branstad’s tenure. The budget Branstad approved in 1983, his first year in office, included $2.05 billion in general fund spending. In 1998, his last year in office, he approved general fund spending of $4.5 billion.

“The party needs to get back to the Goldwater definition of conservative: that which governs least governs best,” said Ivers, of Webster City, who is uncommitted in the race. […]

Branstad brings many assets, but not a fresh face, noted Roger Hughes, a longtime Iowa Republican strategist.

“I would be hard-pressed to vote against my friend Terry Branstad, but I think we need some new folks,” said Hughes. “I’m not sure him running is good for the party.”

The Republican primary field will narrow if and when Branstad formally becomes a candidate, but no one dropped out in response to yesterday’s news. Updates on the other Republican gubernatorial candidates are after the jump.

State Representative Chris Rants confirmed what we all suspected: he’s staying in the race, and the Branstad recruitment talk has hurt his fundraising efforts. He also wasted no time in laying out one of the strongest arguments against Branstad: “I think it’s a mistake for Republicans to nominate somebody who ran up budget deficits, played all kinds of financial games and raised taxes.”

Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign spokesman, Eric Woolson, told Charlotte Eby that Vander Plaats is “in the race until the end, and this certainly doesn’t change anything from our perspective.”

State Senator Jerry Behn will wait and see before deciding whether to end his candidacy, which never looked all that credible to me.

State Representative Rod Roberts also is holding off on ending his gubernatorial bid for now. I can’t see a path to the nomination for Roberts even if Branstad decides not to run in the end, but I do agree with one thing Roberts said yesterday: “This is a very different political environment, and it’s a different state and a different country than it was during the years when governor Branstad served.”

Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley confirmed that he will drop out if and when Branstad becomes a candidate. He noted that the Branstad speculation “put everything in limbo” for other candidates trying to raise money and early support. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen evidence that McKinley even tried to launch a real campaign.

Branstad’s candidacy puts Christian Fong in an awkward position. He crafted a campaign narrative about restoring Iowa values, but Branstad is the ultimate “restoration” candidate. Fong has tried to make a virtue of his lack of political experience, but his resume looks even lighter when compared to a former governor. He raised some big money in July, but the draft Branstad effort must have hurt his campaign receipts, and his first radio ad may have drained his campaign account.

Speaking to Eby yesterday,

Fong, who has been on a 17-city campaign tour this week, said Republicans should have a choice of candidates.

“It’s not only good for Iowans to have a choice, but it makes for a healthier process to have a good dialogue about the ideas,” Fong said.

Vander Plaats and Rants will be taking the fight to Branstad, but for now Fong is keeping his powder dry. He could play nice in the hope of becoming Branstad’s running mate, but Branstad might already have someone else in mind for that job.

We never did learn who was behind that YouTube claiming there’s no difference between Branstad and Culver. In recent weeks the creator of that piece posted another video on Branstad, set to the “Time Warp” song from Rocky Horror Picture Show:

In addition, this short clip indicates that the Draft Branstad PAC sent a cease and desist letter to creator of the “Terry and Chet” videos:

Final note: if Branstad wins and serves a full term, he will be among the longest-serving governors in U.S. history. However, his 20 years as governor of Iowa would fall just short of George Clinton’s 21 years as governor of New York from 1777 to 1795 and 1801 to 1804.

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