What's the smart play for Vander Plaats?

Bob Vander Plaats had a strong showing in the Republican primary for governor, winning 41 percent of the vote despite being massively outspent by Terry Branstad. He hasn’t endorsed Branstad yet, and the post-primary meeting between the two candidates reportedly “did not go well”. That sparked chatter about Vander Plaats running for governor as an independent candidate. He ruled out that option during the Republican primary campaign, but notably has said nothing during the past week to dispel the rumors. I figured he was trying to keep Branstad guessing in the hope that Branstad would choose a Vander Plaats loyalist as a running mate (perhaps retiring State Representative Jodi Tymeson). But no one from the Vander Plaats camp even made Branstad’s short list, and the final choice, Kim Reynolds, looks straight out of the playbook of the religious right’s nemesis Doug Gross.

Vander Plaats will be the featured guest on Steve Deace’s WHO radio program today at 5 pm, on the eve of the Iowa GOP’s state convention in Des Moines. Like Terry Branstad, I won’t be listening to Deace’s show, but I do enjoy a little scenario spinning about the options facing Vander Plaats.

UPDATE: Vander Plaats said he hasn’t decided yet whether to run as an independent candidate. First thoughts on his comments today are after the jump.

Option 1: Be a good Republican soldier, endorse the Branstad/Reynolds ticket now. I think we can all agree Vander Plaats isn’t headed in this direction. If he planned on being a team player, he could have organized a statement or joint appearance with Branstad, or at least ruled out an independent candidacy.

During the second Republican gubernatorial debate, Vander Plaats said the GOP nominee has a responsibility “to authentically earn the endorsement and support of the peers in the race as well as the peer’s followers in the race.” Branstad has done little to reach out to Vander Plaats since winning the primary.

Option 2: Announce that he’s keeping an open mind now and may endorse Branstad later depending on the kind of campaign Branstad runs. If Vander Plaats is considering a third-party bid for governor, he has until August 13 to collect and file signature petitions with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.

I don’t see how this course increases his leverage with Branstad, though. If Branstad were interested in making concessions to Vander Plaats, we’d have already heard about them. Like John Deeth keeps saying, losers don’t get to dictate terms to winners.

Option 3: Try to embarrass Branstad at the GOP convention by having supporters place Vander Plaats’ name in nomination for lieutenant governor. Some Vander Plaats backers are considering this option, and they may be waiting for a signal from the candidate himself. Branstad’s people are clearly worried about it, because they reached out to convention delegates yesterday to brag about how conservative Kim Reynolds is.

No one believes Vander Plaats has enough diehard supporters to keep Reynolds from being nominated as lieutenant governor. I don’t see what a convention spat accomplishes other than denying Branstad the kind of media coverage he wants for this weekend. If Vander Plaats announces on the radio today that he wants to be nominated as lieutenant governor and it turns out to be a total flop, the incident could embarrass Vander Plaats more than Branstad.

Option 4: Announce that he’s running for governor as an independent candidate. Though I’d love to see Vander Plaats split off some conservative votes in November, I find it very hard to believe he will take this leap.

Vander Plaats finished the primary without much left in his bank account. His campaign manager, Eric Woolson, has since joined Senator Chuck Grassley’s campaign staff. His campaign co-chair, Jodi Tymeson, told the Des Moines Register’s Tom Beaumont this week that “she expected to endorse Branstad”:

“If Branstad picks someone so wildly liberal, that’s the only way I could not support the ticket,” said Tymeson, a state representative from Winterset. “I don’t think he’s going to do that. I do expect the party to be united.”

Tymeson also told Beaumont that “she had not discussed an independent campaign” with Vander Plaats. During the primary race, Vander Plaats said Tymeson was one of his closest advisers.

I just can’t see who would staff or fund an independent campaign by Vander Plaats. Does the Iowa Family Policy Center really want to pour their resources into this, when they could be helping right-wing Republicans running for the Iowa House and Senate? State legislators and statehouse candidates who endorsed Vander Plaats during the primary will probably be forced to turn their backs on him if he runs as an independent. He would end up more marginalized than he is now.

Des Moines Register blogger (and former Republican) Graham Gillette laid out the case for Vander Plaats running:

in many ways, the Vander Plaats folks would prefer a Culver victory over one for Branstad.  They do not like Culver, but Branstad’s victory in November would limit options for them in years to come – like who gets to be Party chair, who controls Party resources and who is in charge of the messaging carried and heard by conservatives.  The heart of the battle in Iowa is not about winning an office, but for who controls the Republican/conservative/Tea Party cause.  Vander Plaats is not ready to go into that good night and Branstad puts a significant dent into the aspirations of many who support Vander Plaats.

If Vander Plaats walks away, he is a three time loser.  If runs as a independent candidate and Branstad wins, Vander Plaats gets to call himself a martyr for the cause.  If he runs and Culver wins, Vander Plaats supporters will say that the wrong guy won in June and will continue to inveigle their way into the Party apparatus.  

Several people I’ve spoken with privately have expressed the same opinion: Vander Plaats would rather see Culver re-elected, because if Branstad wins, the social conservative wing will be in the wilderness for a long time.

I agree to some extent, but Vander Plaats’ people will only have leverage in a future Republican civil war if Branstad loses all on his own. If Branstad loses because Vander Plaats took 5 or 7 percent of the vote, many GOP activists will never forgive the tea party activists or Iowa Family Policy Center types who worked against the Republican nominee. If Vander Plaats runs but Branstad wins anyway, Vander Plaats won’t be a “martyr for the cause,” he’ll be a punch line.

Post your own opinions about what Vander Plaats should do or what he will do in this thread.

P.S.- When I’ve been reading Iowa Republican blogs during the last couple of seeks, it’s reminded me that supporters of the winner do their candidate no favors when they trash and ridicule the loser. I have absolutely no sympathy for Vander Plaats as a candidate, feeding on paranoia about gun rights, government-run health care, immigration and of course same-sex marriage. On the other hand, when I see Branstad loyalists taunting Vander Plaats backers on blogs, I remember the feelings that prompted me to write one of my longest posts ever, Friendly advice: How to talk to non-supporters about Obama. Winners need to be gracious toward whose in their party who preferred a different candidate.

UPDATE: Jason Hancock listened to Vander Plaats on the Deace show. He’s going to leave us all guessing for a while:

He said his meeting with Branstad last week did not go well, and he was told by the former governor’s advisers that “this race would be won with independents.” He said since the meeting there have been no attempts to garner his endorsement.

“I have not even been invited to the state convention,” he said, although he indicated he’ll likely still attend.

The only way he would ever consider running as an independent candidate, he said, was if he had a real chance of winning and “if I believe that was the only way to be a voice and champion for these issues.”

He said he has no interest, no desire, no intent to run as an independent, but if he thinks Branstad won’t push an agenda that will re-energize the party’s base, he may enter the campaign.

Vander Plaats said he asked whether the Branstad campaign is concerned about the conservative voters who have said they won’t support the GOP nominee.

“The answer was, ‘no, who else are they going to vote for,” he said, later adding that the Republican establishment has shown complete disdain for it’s own base.

If Vander Plaats is serious about not running unless he has a real chance to win, then it’s safe to conclude he won’t run. On the other hand, Branstad is going to be focused on independent voters from here on out, so Vander Plaats may well conclude that “Branstad won’t push an agenda that will re-energize the [Republican] party’s base.”

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? It wouldn’t be hard for Vander Plaats to collect 1,500 signatures, but I still can’t see how he would put together a serious general election campaign. At tomorrow’s state GOP convention a lot of delegates who voted for Vander Plaats in the primary will probably endorse the Branstad/Reynolds ticket.



If Vander Plaats follows through with an independent run, King said he would be disappointed. “Because if you were to convene your war room of the smartest political brains in Iowa or America to try to devise a plan to give Chet Culver a second term as governor, this would be exactly it.”

THIRD UPDATE: Kay Henderson has a good write-up at Radio Iowa on what Vander Plaats said on the Deace show:

“Win or lose, you walk off the field with your head help up high and so I’m walking off the field with my head held up high, but I’m not leaving either,” Vander Plaats said on WHO.  “I mean, I am going to stay in the game because I believe I owe it to a lot of people to be their voice, maybe to be their face on a lot of issues.”

According to Vander Plaats, he has not been invited to Saturday’s convention, but Vander Plaats would consider attending if delegates nominate him for lieutenant governor. Vander Plaats said he’d find it difficult to decline the nomination if he were to win the convention voting over Kim Reynolds, Branstad’s choice.

“Branstad would have to acknowledge, you know:  ‘Do you want to honor the voice of the people?  Do you want to honor the voice of the delegates?’ There is a piece of that as well,” Vander Plaats said on WHO.  “But for me, for someone who has championed the voice of the people…the party, the delegates – it’d be awfully hard to say to the delegates, ‘Thanks for having your voice, but you know what? That’s not for me.'”

There is no way a majority of convention delegates will vote for Vander Plaats over Reynolds as lieutenant governor, but Vander Plaats isn’t doing anything to discourage people from trying.

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  • Ultimately I think Bob just likes to read his name in the paper

    I welcome him into the race of course though.  (:  This is one of the many reasons why I am glad Iowa has no sore loser law, of course I’m in the minority and sick of the party system all together.

    I think it is just give Jesse Ventura who threatens to run for every office in Minnesota and for President.  Bob is just using this for a few more weeks in the spotlight.  To be perfectly honest I wasn’t sure Franken would ever take the full leap and run for office either even after he opened his PAC.