This diary is actually a response to a desmoinesdem post earlier today. I was going to make a comment, but my response was more robust, so here are my two cents that attempts to answer the burning question:
How did former Governor Terry Branstad avoid a Tea-Party challenger, when so many other Republicans around the U.S. have not?
Let’s be clear. Everyone knows that Terry Branstad was not a pure conservative while he was governor of Iowa. However, this year we have seen several candidates who were challenged from the right because many believed that they were not conservative enough, whether it be Charlie Crist in Florida, or Senator Bob Bennett in Utah. To be clear, this is happening on the Democratic side too (i.e. Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania), so this is not only one party’s quest for purity. However, this post is about the GOP.
Fact: Terry Branstad had a center-right record while he was governor of Iowa, but not really a right record, and certainly not a far-right record. Thus, it’s a minor marvel that in a year where moderates, center-rights, and even mainstream conservatives, are being challenged by party purists, the former Governor was never really hit hard by the Club for Growth or the Tea Party movement.
However, there are a few reasons why this might be the case, while say, in Charlie Crist’s case in the Florida Senate race, it's different.
First, Terry Branstad has not been making a lot of “out of state” noise. Whatever campaign team member who shared this idea deserves a raise. This is not the year for gubernatorial candidates to make national waves. Focus on local…which TB has been doing.
Second, BVP is a social conservative, and not a “natural” tea party candidate who built his career on fiscal sanity, while Rod Roberts has not gained a lot of traction. Therefore, there is no “natural” tea party candidate to support in Iowa’s gubernatorial race.
Third, it's a state race. Senate races have national implications, when it comes to national spending and the national debt. Iowa's fiscal house is a lot less “criticize-able” than D.C.'s fiscal house, and therefore a candidate can maintain a lower profile, especially in a smaller state like Iowa. This has worked to TB’s advantage.
Fourth, I think that national tea party leaders only have so many resources, and IA-Gov is probably not a high priority. There are far more interesting targets than Governor Branstad.
Fifth, in regards to Charlie Crist’s issues in Florida, I think the GOP has a vested interest in seeing Marco Rubio, a strong Latino conservative, succeed. I'm sure the GOP is frustrated that more Latinos are not members of the GOP, as I’ve heard many Republican leaders say that their party is the “natural” party for Latinos. If immigration wasn't an issue at all, they might be right, but immigration certainly is the elephant in the room when it comes to the relationship between Latinos and Republicans. Marco Rubio might be able to make that case to Hispanics a lot better than, say, Mitch McConnell. Bottom line, the national GOP would love to have Marco Rubio as a United States Senator. I’m not convinced that the national GOP would love to have BVP or Rod Roberts as governor. Not that they would be angry, but Rubio is probably more important.
Sixth, Terry Branstad does not have any connection to the bank bailout, the stimulus, or any of the other debt-increasing things over the past year. Charlie Crist in Florida has a closer connection to that controversial $1.5 trillion in spending. TB has no connection at all to that, which, again, is a good move on his part.
Seventh, Branstad has run a very good campaign which has coupled nostalgia for better days in the past with a conservative message that will play well in 2010. It would seem that TB is a stronger conservative in 2010 than he was 12 years ago. This has been a solid strategy that has clearly paid dividends in the primary, by helping him avoid a target painted on his back by the national Tea Party movement.
Finally, Terry Branstad’s photo ops have not been as controversial as Charlie Crist’s.
Charlie Crist’s primary hopes were sunk by a more centrist political ideology and a picture of Charlie Crist being very close to President Obama, one of conservatives’ least favorite people.
Sound familiar? It should, because Democrats did the same thing to Joe Lieberman in 2006. Lieberman’s primary hopes were sunk by a more centrist political ideology and a picture of Lieberman being very close to then-President Bush, one of liberals’ least favorite people
What pictures am I referring to here? Just Google Image search “Crist Obama” and “Lieberman Bush” and you’ll find all the pictures that you need. Bottom line, Terry Branstad has not had any high profile photo ops like the ones that Crist and Lieberman had.
To sum up, there have been at least eight reasons why Terry Branstad avoided a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate. For the Iowa Republican party, and for the national Republican Party, it’s probably a good thing for two reasons.
1. Branstad gives the GOP the best chance of retaking the Iowa Governor’s Mansion
2. Branstad’s victory demonstrates that the GOP has a bigger tent, than it would have had, if Vander Plaats had won the nomination.