New Branstad running mate speculation thread

It might seem presumptuous to talk about former Governor Terry Branstad’s running mate when the guy finished fifth in a Republican straw poll last week, but bear with me.

Branstad has work to do with the social conservative wing of the Iowa GOP. Those voters carried him in the 1982 and 1994 Republican primaries, but in those races, he faced more moderate opponents. The current GOP field has no moderates, and Bob Vander Plaats is campaigning against Branstad from the right.

Last week Branstad tried to reassure prominent figures on the religious right about his intentions. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart attended this meeting and felt it did not go well for Branstad. Mike Demastus had less kind words for the former governor after the meeting. The posts by Vander Hart and Demastus are must-reads, and I’ll have more to say about them in the future. The most important things I learned from Vander Hart:

1) Branstad is promising to choose a conservative running mate:

Joy Corning was addressed, and again she was picked [as lieutenant governor] for purely political reasons. He says that he’d pick a younger conservative this time around.

If Branstad made this promise to a group of social conservatives, then we can be fairly certain that pro-choice former State Representative Libby Jacobs won’t be his running mate.

2) Branstad also said he isn’t planning another “marathon” as governor:

He wants to position himself to prepare a future leader who he can hand the baton off to.

It sounds as if Branstad hinted that his running mate won’t just be window dressing for the election. Rather, his choice for lieutenant governor will be the person he wants to succeed him as governor. It wasn’t always the case; remember, Branstad endorsed Jim Ross Lightfoot over Corning in the 1998 gubernatorial primary.

When I ask people what they’ve heard about Branstad’s future running mate, one name keeps coming up: Doug Reichardt. Let’s talk this over after the jump.

Doug Reichardt rose through the ranks at the Holmes Murphy insurance company, finally becoming chairman and CEO. He’s on the board of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the area’s leading business group. A good athlete and avid cyclist, he is passionate about wellness and has served on various boards working in this area. He has been involved with the “Leadership Iowa” program of the Association of Business and Industry (ABI), winning their award in 2008. He’s been active in the philanthropic world too, supporting United Way and other causes, and he serves on the board of the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation.

Many Iowans who haven’t heard of Doug Reichardt will remember his late father. Bill Reichardt was a standout football player for the University of Iowa who played briefly for the Green Bay Packers before opening a men’s clothing store in Des Moines. He ran that store for decades, and generations of central Iowans saw him in television commercials for Reichardt’s. Bill Reichardt sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1994, but then Attorney General Bonnie Campbell defeated him in the primary.  

When I first heard Doug Reichardt’s name mentioned as a running mate for Branstad, I was surprised. Compared to many others in the Des Moines area business community, he’s not well-known as a Republican activist, and he doesn’t write five-figure checks to the Republican Party of Iowa or its leading candidates. Looking for information on his past political donations, I found a smattering of gifts to Republican candidates and party organizations here, here, here and here. Most of these were in the $250 to $1,000 range, but there were some larger gifts too, like $2,000 to George W. Bush in 2004 and $2,500 to Congressman Steve King in 2008. In addition, Reichardt maxed out to presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani with $2,300 gifts in 2007. The only donation to a Democrat I could find was $500 to Frank Cownie’s campaign for mayor of Des Moines, but lots of local Republicans donated $500 to Cownie.

The largest single contribution I found was $5,000 from Reichardt to the Iowa First Foundation in 2004. That’s Doug Gross’ 527 group, which started the whole draft Branstad movement with an opinion poll commissioned in the spring.

Thinking about what Reichardt might bring to Branstad’s current campaign, I am stumped. Branstad is already going to raise a ton of money, so he doesn’t need another link to the Des Moines business community. Some Republican activists in small-town and rural Iowa already resent the influence of big money in Polk County, and Reichardt would reinforce that gripe.

Reichardt has no political record, so I don’t know where he stands on abortion or other key social issues for Republican primary voters. I would expect activists on the religious right to be wary of someone who gave $5,000 to Doug Gross’ 527 group and maxed out to Giuliani and Romney. However, it’s possible that Reichardt has also been a major donor to religious-oriented interest groups, such as the Iowa Christian Alliance, Iowa Right to Life, or the Iowa Family Policy Center. Someone in the business community who knows Reichardt well told me Reichardt isn’t a major financial supporter of those groups, but I can’t verify that, lacking access to the groups’ donor records.  

Reichardt’s never been a candidate for office before, so it’s hard to know how he would do on the campaign trail. Some people are natural public speakers, and if any Bleeding Heartland readers have heard Reichardt speak, please let me know whether you think he has the skills to help Branstad in this regard, and whether he could speak knowledgeably about issues facing state government.

I saw Libby Jacobs as a running mate who might be a liability for Branstad in the primary but could help him in the general election campaign. In contrast, I don’t see which groups Reichardt helps Branstad with in the primary or the general, unless he turns out to be a charismatic public speaker. Has the GOP been losing in Iowa because it didn’t have enough support among wealthy white insurance company executives?

I’ve been skeptical about the Reichardt rumors because I just can’t see what he brings to a Republican ticket. Then again, someone who’s a lot better-connected than I am insists he’s heard from at least a dozen people that Reichardt will be Branstad’s man. Take that for what it’s worth, and share your own thoughts about the Branstad campaign in this thread.

LATE UPDATE: From the November 5 issue of the Des Moines Register:

J. Douglas Reichardt will become chairman emeritus of Holmes Murphy & Associates on Jan. 1, the insurance brokerage announced Wednesday.

A spokeswoman characterized the move as part of the company’s leadership succession timeline. In the new role, Reichardt, 55, will support the growth of new business sales and client acquisition and retention, as well as represent Holmes Murphy in community leadership roles.

Holmes Murphy’s board will meet this month to discuss further leadership changes, including naming a new chairman, the spokeswoman said.

Reichardt, who started at Holmes Murphy in 1976, has been chairman since 1993.

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  • Branstad's #2

    The first rule for a running mate is, after all, “do your candidate no harm”. Using that standard, I suppose Reichardt would be alright.

    I still see Fong playing the Lt. Riker to Branstad’s Capt. Picard, though. The die-hards won’t like him (he donated to Elesha Gayman and hasn’t been able to backtrack from it), but Branstad won’t win the die-hards no matter what he does.

    • I'm not convinced Reichardt does no harm

      To primary voters, he reinforces concerns about the excessive influence of the Doug Gross crowd. To general election voters, he reinforces the narrative that the GOP stands for wealthy CEOs as opposed to ordinary Iowans.

      Fong might help Branstad with younger voters, but I have yet to find a Republican who thinks there’s any chance Branstad will pick Fong. Maybe that’s because I live in Polk County.