Why does Terry Branstad keep talking up Brenna Findley?

Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad has become the most prominent booster of Brenna Findley, the GOP candidate for Iowa attorney general. Branstad brings up Findley’s candidacy “in every speech” while campaigning around the state. He also talked up her candidacy on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press program and in the first gubernatorial candidates’ debate.

Findley has an unusual resume for an attorney general candidate. A longtime staffer for Representative Steve King, and before that for Iowa statehouse Republicans, Findley hasn’t practiced law in some time. According to Cityview’s Civic Skinny, Findley doesn’t even hold an active license to practice law in Iowa. She doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp of the attorney general’s job either. Her campaign began with a focus on job creation and has since shifted to the alleged unconstitutional nature of health insurance reform.

But for the purposes of this post, I’m less interested in Findley than in why Branstad talks about her so much. After the jump I explore some possibilities.

1. Promoting Findley’s candidacy is a good way for Branstad to present himself as a team player who didn’t come back to politics solely for his own glory. The down-ticket challengers don’t get nearly as much attention as the candidates running against Governor Chet Culver. It’s politically wise for Branstad to stay out of the contested Republican primaries for the offices of state treasurer and secretary of state, but Findley is the only candidate running against Tom Miller, whom Republicans left unchallenged four years ago.

2. Talking about Findley may be a “dog whistle” for Branstad to reach conservative constituencies in the Iowa GOP. Many activists are wary of Branstad because of his record as governor, and because insiders on the business wing of the party recruited him back into politics. But no one is going to question the conservative bona fides of a top staffer for Steve King. It probably doesn’t hurt that Findley was home-schooled before college, and many home-schoolers are politically active social conservatives.

Branstad often brings up Findley in the context of federal health care reform, as during his recent Iowa Press appearance:

Iowa has among the lower health care costs in the country, and Des Moines University has the largest medical institutions training doctors in this state and we’ve been a leader in promoting wellness and exercise and training future leaders that can go out all across this state and this country to promote wellness. That’s the way we should be approaching it. Not a federal mandate. Not a whole bunch of tax increases. Not a mandate that’s going to force people to have to buy health insurance against their will. That’s why I so strongly support Brenna Findley. It’s the attorney general’s responsibility to challenge this. Fourteen states have done. Brenna Findley will do it. She is a bright 34-year woman who will be the next attorney general of Iowa, if I have my choice.

That’s some good red meat for the Republican base. Branstad sounds so convincing on this score you’d never suspect he recommended in 2007 “that Iowa impose universal health insurance coverage by requiring individuals or businesses to purchase policies.”

3. Republican candidates have faced a “gender gap” nationally and in Iowa for some time. For the primary and general election campaigns, Branstad would benefit from reaching out to women. What better way than to praise a bright, articulate woman everywhere he goes?

4. Talking about other people is a good way to for Branstad to use up time and avoid discussing policy specifics. Branstad’s been running for governor full time for months, yet he’s offered few details on how he will keep his promises. For instance, Iowa legislators passed the budget for fiscal year 2011 a month ago, but Branstad hasn’t said which spending would he cut to put us on track to reduce government spending by 15 percent over five years.

Branstad’s recent Iowa Press appearance was a masterpiece of filibustering (click here to watch the video or read the transcript). Asked to reconcile his record on health reform with his current claims about the constitutionality of the federal law, Branstad talked about a bunch of things he did as president of Des Moines University, then segued to why he supports Findley. Associated Press correspondent Mike Glover tried to bring the conversation back on topic, but Branstad was having none of that:

Glover: Let’s move away from the attorney general’s race and get back to the governor’s race.

Branstad: Well, you know, we want — let me talk about it, though —

Glover: Governor —

Branstad: I was governor and I never had an attorney general of my party on my side, on my team. that’s why this time I not only want to win the governor’s race, I want to have an attorney general as the lawyer for the state of Iowa that will fight for the taxpayers along with me and I also want to have a republican legislature to work with too.

Kathie Obradovich later commented that Branstad “went on and on” about Findley during the Iowa Public Television program. That’s true, but he also strayed off topic or gave long-winded answers to other questions. Rookie politicians should watch that whole show for tips on how to handle journalists.

5. Maybe Branstad just doesn’t like Tom Miller. During the first gubernatorial candidates’ debate, Branstad remarked,

You know all the time I was governor, Democrats controlled the attorney general’s office. And it’s terrible to have your own lawyer working against you. That’s why I want [Brenna] Findley to be the next attorney general of Iowa. She’ll be on our team.

Miller served as attorney general during Branstad’s first, second and fourth terms as governor. Bonnie Campbell was attorney general during Branstad’s third term; Miller left the office in 1990 to run for governor but lost the Democratic primary.

Did I miss any political reasons for Branstad to be a “cheerleader” for Findley? Post your own theories in this thread.

April 25 UPDATE: I see Branstad was praising Findley in his speeches to the Iowa GOP district conventions on April 24. Findley got an enthusiastic reception from the delegates, who either aren’t aware or aren’t bothered by the idea of an attorney general who hasn’t maintained an active license to practice law.

NOVEMBER 2010 UPDATE: At a campaign stop on October 31, Branstad said he didn’t want to have to deal with Tom Miller again because “He wouldn’t defend my item vetoes.”

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