Chris Rants walks a lonely road

Four years ago, Chris Rants was one of Iowa’s most powerful political figures. He won an Iowa House seat in his 20s and rose to the position of speaker in his mid-30s. But politics can be a tough business, as Rants learned when the Republican House caucus lost its majority in 2006 and replaced him as leader after losing more seats in 2008.

Since launching his gubernatorial bid last summer, Rants has logged more than 45,000 miles and discussed policies in more depth than anyone else in the field. However, the powers that be in the Iowa GOP don’t reward effort or substance. This week Rants announced that his campaign raised just $78,000 in 2009 and had $6,400 on hand at the end of December. Even State Representative Rod Roberts ended the year in a stronger financial position despite having a lower profile and entering the race later.

Rants knows how to raise money, as you can see from the Rants for State House Committee filings from the last five years (enter “Rants” in this search engine). During October 2008, ethanol baron Bruce Rastetter wrote Rants checks for $30,000 and $70,000. In other words, one major donor gave the then House minority leader more money in one month than Rants managed to raise in half a year for his gubernatorial campaign. Speaking to IowaPolitics.com,

Rants said fundraising froze and pledges never came through after [Terry] Branstad got into the race in mid-October. “The donor community just clammed up,” he said. “We couldn’t compete.”

Rants said most of his campaign finance money was spent on staff, research, Web development and just keeping his campaign going since last spring. The only ads he placed were online.

“The reality is Terry Branstad will raise more money,” Rants said. “But we will raise more issues. …If issues matter, we’ll have a good spring.”

Rants insists he is in the governor’s race for the duration and won’t seek re-election to the Iowa House. On one level I admire him for not packing it in like Christian Fong did after the money dried up. He is also correct to highlight the many contrasts between Branstad’s current campaign rhetoric and his record as governor.

But Rants’ experience underscores the importance of treating people well. As House speaker, Rants had a reputation for being a bully (or “intense,” driven and “abrupt,” as some of his friends have put it). When you’re up, maybe it works to be feared rather than loved. But when you’re down, people won’t be there for you. After all his years of service in the legislature, Rants has not found a single current or former Iowa House member to endorse his gubernatorial campaign, to my knowledge. Even Republicans will admit that Branstad isn’t too sharp and was a mediocre governor, but he is amiable and connects well with people on a personal level.

Ambitious pols everywhere, take note.

LATE UPDATE: Rants discussed his money problems with The Iowa Republican:

Rants admitted that, once former Governor Terry Branstad entered the race, his ability to raise funds ceased. He said a number of pledges to his campaign never came in, his phone calls were not returned, and raising funds became nearly impossible. When describing his fundraising situation, Rants told TheIowaRepublican.com, “If you are looking for loyalty, get a dog.” He contends that Branstad’s entrance into the race hurt him more than any other candidate in the race.

While Rants lacks the necessary funds to wage much of a traditional campaign, Rants gave no indication that he was about to get out of the race. When asked about how much money is in his campaign account, Rants knew the amount to the penny. “It’s enough to keep gas in the car,” Rants said.

Sounds like he will stay in to the end.

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