Vander Plaats pins health care reform on Branstad

Developing a line of attack he has used before, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats asserted yesterday that Terry Branstad’s past support for Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska makes Branstad partly responsible for any health care reform bill Congress passes this year.  

From the Vander Plaats campaign press release of November 23:

“Ben Nelson gave Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid the vote he needed to get the 60 votes to steamroll Republican opposition. It means the Democrats will be able to proceed with legislation that will effectively destroy our private health care system while saddling businesses and working families with hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and limiting our access to care,” said Vander Plaats, who is seeking the 2010 Iowa Republican gubernatorial nomination. “Whatever happens from here on out, Terry Branstad is going to have to accept some responsibility because he was a very active supporter of Ben Nelson in his first campaign for the Senate.”

A few thoughts on this line of attack are after the jump.

The Vander Plaats statement continues:

Several Senate Democrats have said their vote for cloture over the weekend was merely in favor of allowing debate on the health care bill. However, their votes opened the process for a final vote that only requires 51 votes to win passage of any legislation.

“In other words, it’s more politics as usual where Ben Nelson will be able to vote against the bill later and insist he opposed the government takeover of health care. But the real vote was Saturday and the Democrat that Terry Branstad supported as a ‘conservative Democrat’ sided with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi,” Vander Plaats said.

Branstad, who contributed $1,000 to Nelson’s general election campaign on May 31, 2000 and $250 to Nelson’s 2006 campaign on July 17, 2002,  stood beside Nelson on May 31, 2000 at a news conference and endorsed the former Nebraska governor, saying, “It’s all right to help your friends. If he were in Iowa, he probably would be a Republican.”

Vander Plaats said, “We’re all going to pay an extremely high price for that friendship and that’s especially true for thousands of Iowans who work in the insurance industry. If Ben Nelson really did think like an Iowa Republican he would’ve voted no this weekend – just like Chuck Grassley did. Once again, this proves that elections have consequences and ideologies have consequences. The Democrats want to control us with our own dollars by taxing us more to pay for their ridiculous health care plan and Terry Branstad helped give them the leverage to do it.”

To my knowledge, Branstad did not get involved in Nelson’s unsuccessful 1996 Senate campaign against Chuck Hagel. By 2000, Branstad was no longer governor and probably never imagined he’d run for office again.

Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette mocked the Vander Plaats attempt to blame Branstad for health care reform, but my hunch is that this argument will resonate with some Republican primary voters.

The conservative noise machine has and will continue to whip up intense opposition to the Obama administration’s so-called “socialist” agenda. If Democrats defeat another Republican filibuster with exactly 60 votes, the media will emphasize that every Democrat voted to let the bill proceed.

By itself, Branstad’s past support for Nelson might seem insignificant, but it could reinforce doubts some conservatives already have about Branstad’s loyalty. Vander Plaats has gone out of his way to remind audiences that his running mate will share his values. Branstad picked pro-choice Joy Corning for lieutenant governor during his last two terms. Many of the business leaders who helped recruit Branstad for this race supported Mitt Romney for president, and Romney’s not the current favorite among Iowa Republicans.

The Branstad campaign struck a dismissive tone in its response to yesterday’s attack:

“Governor Branstad does not favor the health care reform bill being considered by the Senate. It spends too much money we don’t have and does nothing to create the jobs we so desperately need,” Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad, said in a written statement.  “Bob would do well to keep the focus on that and not violate Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment.”

They’ll have to do better than that as the campaign goes forward. There are plenty of vulnerable points in Branstad’s record, and Vander Plaats won’t be the only Republican attacker. Branstad is raising tons of money and rolling out endorsements, but Vander Plaats should have enough cash to get his message across statewide. He was featured on the cover of the November issue of Focus on the Family’s nationwide magazine, and last Friday, Chuck Norris hosted a $5,000 per couple fundraiser for Vander Plaats at his Texas ranch. If we’re lucky, national Teabaggers will get involved in this race too. They might be encouraged by the recent Des Moines Register poll showing Vander Plaats ahead of Governor Chet Culver.

I assume Branstad will have the resources to win the Republican primary next June. That said, I doubt he can spend the next six months asking his rivals to follow Reagan’s 11th commandment. Besides, Branstad has already broken his own rule by criticizing Vander Plaats’ proposal to halt same-sex marriage in Iowa by executive order. At some point Branstad will have to defend his past actions, and whatever he says probably won’t satisfy his detractors on the right wing.

Any thoughts on the Iowa governor’s race are welcome in this thread.

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