Branstad sticking with Doug Gross playbook

Terry Branstad made it official this morning, picking State Senator Kim Reynolds to be the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Reynolds is a former Clarke County treasurer and past president of the Iowa county treasurer’s association who was elected in 2008 to represent Senate district 48 in southern Iowa. The Des Moines Register’s Tom Beaumont published more background on Reynolds here. His piece depicts her as “solid on core GOP issues” and “focused on economic development.”

Looks like Branstad has picked precisely the kind of candidate his former chief of staff Doug Gross would want on the Republican ticket.

Gross was one of the powers behind the throne during Branstad’s four terms as governor and was the Republican nominee against Governor Tom Vilsack in 2002. Last spring and summer, Gross was among a group of business-oriented Republicans shopping around for an alternative to the leading GOP candidates for governor. A poll the Iowa First Foundation (headed by Gross) commissioned at that time became the opening salvo in the project to draft Branstad back into politics. Gross cited the poll in asserting that GOP front-runner Bob Vander Plaats was unelectable because social issues like same-sex marriage were too “central” in his campaign.

Gross laid out what he saw as the winning strategy for Republicans in an interview with the Sioux City Journal’s Bret Hayworth last October:

First of all, the issue environment should be such that it will be a great Republican year. It is the midterm for [a] Democrat incumbent president, the voters are really focused on economic issues that are important for Republicans – jobs, economic development, the fiscal issues, taxes and government spending – those are all issues that are all right in the Republicans’ wheelhouse. The key is having candidates who can appeal to the public on those kinds of issues. And my concern – I’ve been pretty outspoken about this – is that it is fine for us to be socially conservative – I happen to be (socially conservative) myself, in terms of those issues – but those are not the issues we should lead with. We should lead on the economic issues, because those are the ones we can win with.

From that perspective, Reynolds is a perfect choice. Her political career has focused on fiscal and economic issues as a county treasurer and member of the IPERS board. I see no sign of moderation in her voting record; she has stuck to the party line in the Iowa Senate. Scanning the list of bills she has sponsored, I see one anti-abortion bill but otherwise nothing that screams “religious right.” Google searches of her name with keywords like “abortion” or “gay marriage” don’t bring up much. So, Reynolds fits the Gross model of being socially conservative but not talking about it in public.

Unlike some statehouse Republicans, Reynolds hasn’t made news fighting marriage equality. She steered clear of Bob Vander Plaats’ plan to overturn gay marriage by executive order, and she hasn’t taken the Rod Roberts position of demanding that legislators vote on a marriage amendment before the governor signs any state budget. Craig Robinson observed at The Iowa Republican blog,

She carries herself in a very professional and impressive manner, which will likely excite potential supporters.  However, while she doesn’t have a record that appears hostile to socially conservative issues, she will likely do very little to appeal to values voters who supported Rod Roberts and Bob Vander Plaats in this post-primary season.

Reynolds was in the State Senate when the Varnum v. Brien Iowa Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage came down and failed to take any sort of leadership role in opposing the Court’s ruling.  She has also been the target of criticism for her failure to protect the rights of private property owners as related to an eminent domain action in her own Senate District in which developers sought to obtain lands that would not only become a water reservoir, but also a recreational waterfront area.

The Vander Plaats supporter with the largest megaphone, WHO radio personality Steve Deace, brought up the eminent domain controversy as soon as Reynolds emerged as a likely running mate for Branstad. Wouldn’t you know, Doug Gross was right in the middle of that dispute over seizing private land for recreational lakes, according to this 2006 piece from the Des Moines weekly Cityview.

I tend to agree with Robinson that putting Reynolds on the ticket leaves no clear successor to Branstad if he wins in November. A better-known lieutenant governor like Jeff Lamberti would have immediately become the front-runner in the next GOP gubernatorial campaign.

Over at the Radio Iowa blog, Kay Henderson surveyed Iowa’s political tradition of women candidates for lieutenant governor, which goes back to the mid-1980s.

Final note on Reynolds: Beaumont’s piece for the Register discusses her drunk driving arrests in 1999 and 2000. I doubt those will become a significant campaign issue. Reynolds has indicated that she’s been sober since 2000.

UPDATE: One more thing worth noting: Branstad promised repeatedly that people who signed up to receive text messages from his campaign would be the “first to know” about his running mate (e.g. here, here, here and here). The reality was that Branstad “began calling key donors about the decision late Wednesday.” In other words, people who could afford to write five-figure checks got the word a day before the suckers who joined the “lieuTEXTant governor” drive.

SECOND UPDATE: Jonathan Martin of The Politico reports that the Branstad campaign sent an e-mail blast and robocalls out this morning to delegates to the GOP’s state convention this Saturday.

“Kim is a pro-life, pro-family, pro-taxpayer, limited government conservative,” reads the email from Branstad campaign manager Jeff Boeynik [Boeyink] that was sent Thursday morning to delegates slated to attend Saturday’s state Republican convention. The robo-call makes the same case.

Reynolds has sponsored a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, a flashpoint issue in a state that legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, as well as legislation aimed at changing how judges are appointed, the email notes. […]

“Kim’s conservative credentials are impeccable and her 14 year career as a county official and current service in the Iowa Senate make her an ideal running mate for Governor Branstad,” writes Boeynik [Boeyink], urging delegates to review her record and biography. […]

“We are doing a number of outreach efforts to educate the delegates about Senator Reynolds and her positions on a variety of issues important to Republican activities,” said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. “Once they know her, we are confident they will enthusiastically support her selection.”

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  • One term?

    Is it guaranteed that Branstad would only serve one term?  Boy, that would really upset social conservative activists like Danny Carroll who’ve been trying to recruit a movement conservative in the Governor’s office for years.  Maybe Jim Nussle was that movement conservative?

    • I don't think anything is guaranteed

      Most people don’t expect him to serve more than one term if elected, but most people didn’t expect him to quit his job at DMU either.

  • I don't mind the texting thing

    I knew Obama had chosen Biden before anyone got their texts in 2008…and I certainly did not sign up to receive on.

    • yes, it was a game

      in both cases to try to increase media interest in covering the pick.

      It’s just typical Branstad to make promises to the little people while taking special care of the wealthy people.