IA-03: Robert Cramer closes out campaign on faith and family

From his first campaign press release to his official bio and opening television commercial, Robert Cramer emphasized his business background, fiscal and economic issues in his bid to represent Iowa’s third Congressional district. Remarkably, the former board president of the FAMiLY Leader organization led by Bob Vander Plaats even said he had no plans to introduce bills on social issues if elected to Congress.

But over the past six weeks, and especially during the final days of the GOP primary race, the Cramer campaign has emphasized faith and family more in its messaging. From where I’m sitting, that’s not a bad strategy in a six-man field where everyone wants to cut spending, reduce government regulations and repeal Obamacare. Bleeding Heartland covered Cramer’s first tv ad here. More commercials and family values talk from this “Christian businessman” are after the jump.  

Cramer first appeared on my radar when Governor Terry Branstad appointed him to serve on the Board of Regents in 2013. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate failed to confirm him, largely because of his close association with Bob Vander Plaats’ crusades, as well as Cramer’s efforts to remove two books from the Johnston High School freshman English curriculum. (Incidentally, one of them was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, who passed away last week.)

Cramer cited that “ordeal” during last week’s KCCI-TV debate as an example of how he’ll never back down from his values. The episode featured prominently in a 60-second radio ad Cramer’s campaign started running in late March. After speaking about Cramer’s experience as a business owner and employer, the female voice-over adds,

Raising a family. Robert and his wife Lori have two kids and have fostered sixteen children. Experience that prepared Robert to put Washington back in touch with our traditional values of faith, family, and the sanctity of human life.

Standing up for what’s right. When Governor Branstad appointed Robert to serve on the Board of Regents, Robert refused to apologize to Senate Democrats for his Christian beliefs for the sake of political power. Experience that prepared him to stand up to Washington insiders, defend the Second Amendment, and fight Obamacare […]

Cramer’s third tv ad, “Stand Up,” alluded to the Board of Regents fight too:

My transcript:

Male voice-over: When you build on strong foundations, you can stand up to powerful forces. [Viewer sees images of bridge construction, then Cramer working at his desk. Words on screen BUILDING ON STRONG FOUNDATIONS]

With a foundation of strong conservative principles, Robert Cramer stood up to Senate Democrats and refused to apologize for his Christian beliefs to get an appointment to an important statewide board. [viewer sees more footage of Cramer working at desk, then image of empty Iowa Senate chamber, with words on screen STOOD UP TO SENATE DEMOCRATS, then view of State Capitol building]

In Congress, Robert will stand up to insiders and special interests [photo of Cramer next to American flag, words on screen CONFRONTING INSIDERS AND SPECIAL INTERESTS]

and bring our Iowa conservative values back to Washington. [footage of Cramer talking with voters, words on screen BRINGING OUR VALUES BACK TO WASHINGTON]

Robert Cramer for Congress. [footage of candidate talking with other people]

Cramer’s voice: I’m Robert Cramer, and I approved this message.  [viewer sees Cramer smiling and standing in front of an attractive bridge his company built in downtown Des Moines]

Cramer’s second tv ad, “Giving Back,” had a strong focus on the candidate’s family and religious commitment:

My transcript:

Cramer speaks to off-camera interviewer: I was really fortunate to have two really good parents that gave us a foundation of learning how to have faith in God, and also how to give back to others. [As viewer sees Cramer talking, candidate’s name appears near bottom of screen]

Male voice-over: That’s why Robert’s family created an orphan center in South Africa. [viewer sees picture of building with words DEL CRAMER CHILDREN’S CAMPUS LIMPOPO, SOUTH AFRICA *named for Robert’s father]

And why the Cramers have opened their home to sixteen foster children. [viewer sees picture frames with photos of different kids, presumably some of the foster kids who have lived with the Cramers]

Cramer speaking on camera: Seeing that there were a lot of kids in need, we just felt like it was something we needed to do to give back.

Voice-over: Faith. Family. Service. Robert Cramer for Congress. [Viewer sees image of Cramer and his wife Lori standing together in their home.]

Cramer’s voice: I’m Robert Cramer, and I approved this message.  [viewer sees Cramer talking with voters]

You could hardly be less sympathetic to Cramer’s political causes than I am. Here’s a guy who strongly backed Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial aspirations and the 2010 anti-retention campaign against Iowa Supreme Court justices, then chose to volunteer as board president for the FAMiLY Leader, with its strange and sometimes dumb choices of hills to die on. From my perspective, these priorities are disqualifying in a Congressional candidate. I wouldn’t want Cramer or anyone like him representing me.

Yet even I watch Cramer’s commercials and come away thinking, he seems like a pretty good guy. I imagine that they would create a strongly favorable impression among Christian conservative voters.

In his stump speech, Cramer presents himself as the total package:

“It seems like a lot of times in Republican politics we have to choose between someone coming from the business community and someone who shares our values, [is] really going to fight, has the courage to fight for our values,” Cramer said, adding that he is the candidate that can represent both factions.

I think he should have stuck with that theme throughout the primary campaign. Full-spectrum conservative, best of both worlds, however you want to phrase it. A candidate with ties to business who won’t sell out social conservative voters.

Instead, Cramer’s final tv ad, which started airing in early May, developed the theme of the candidate as a political outsider. Here’s “Growing Gap”:

My transcript:

Cramer speaks directly into camera: Lately, there’s a growing gap between the people of Iowa and those representing them in Washington. [candidate’s name appears near bottom of screen]

Male voice-over: The disconnect between Washington and the people of Iowa is growing. [Viewer sees footage of fast-paced traffic moving in Washington, with the Capitol in background, then tranquil image of Iowa farm field]

Iowa needs an outsider like Robert Cramer. [viewer sees Cramer walking and talking with someone at a Cramer and Associates work site; OUTSIDER appears on screen.]

Cramer speaks to camera again: Like you, I want free-market solutions to the Obamacare mess, and a balanced budget, just like I have to make at my business, and you do at home. [after he starts talking about budgets, view shifts to footage of Cramer working at office desk]

Male voice-over: Conservative Robert Cramer. Outsider for Congress. [viewer sees Cramer talking with voters]

Cramer speaking to camera: I’m Robert Cramer. I approved this message to bridge the gap between Washington and “we the people.”

I know I’m not the target audience, but I see this commercial as less successful than Cramer’s other spots. For an outsider, he seems pretty well-connected. Lots of candidates try the “businessman, not a career politician” angle. I guess it makes sense when his competition in the IA-03 primary includes State Senator Brad Zaun, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, and former Congressional staffers David Young and Monte Shaw. Still, in a crowded primary I feel Cramer should have stuck with language that appeals more explicitly to religiously-motivated Republicans.

Two weeks ago, Cramer got his biggest endorsement yet, from former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. From the campaign’s press release:

“We need Christian businessmen like Robert Cramer in Congress. His no-nonsense approach and traditional values will make him an effective leader for Iowa families. We need his help as soon as possible to take on the broken, insider culture of Washington,” Governor Mike Huckabee said.

“Robert is the right man to take on the career politicians and their special interests because he serves a higher calling, and won’t compromise his values. I’m proud to support him,” Huckabee added.

Robert Cramer responded to today’s endorsement, “It is an honor to receive Governor Huckabee’s endorsement.  I am proud to say I am not a career politician, but as a small-businessman, I appreciate the importance of having a strong, conservative hand at the wheel of our economy.  I will work tirelessly to advocate for a balanced budget and to repeal job-killing regulations like Obamacare.  As a parent and foster parent, I believe in the value of faith and family and receiving the endorsement of a leader like Governor Huckabee is very exciting.”

Huckabee used almost identical phrasing in a Facebook post on June 1 and in a robocall that many IA-03 voters (myself included) received the evening of June 2.

During the past week, Cramer’s campaign has made some of its most explicit appeals to religious conservatives. This press release came out on May 27:

Faith Based Leaders Endorse Robert Cramer for Congress

Leading the way from the national front is former pastor, governor and presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. In his endorsement, Gov. Huckabee said, “We need Christian businessmen like Robert Cramer in Congress. His no-nonsense approach and traditional values will make him an effective leader for Iowa families.”

Locally, Robert Cramer has received strong support from Christian leaders all across the district, including

Bob Vander Plaats, Chuck Hurley, and Greg Baker of The FAMiLY LEADER

Dr. Gary and Barb Rosberg of America’s Family Coaches

Dr. Jim and Beth Blessman of Blessman Ministries

Steve Deace, nationally syndicated talk show host and author

Mark and Matt Moeckl of Wildwood Hills Ranch.

Pastors throughout the district are also rallying to endorse and support Robert’s candidacy for Congress.

Pastor Terry Amann

Rev. Dr. Albert Calaway

Pastor John Heth

Pastor Barry Hill

Pastor Dave Olson

Pastor Gary Pilcher

Pastor Bob Deever

Pastor Darrick Young

Pastor David Beroth

Pastor Michael Hunsberger

Pastor Shawn Oberg

Pastor Dave Heistercamp

Pastor Chris Tjapkes

Pastor Mike Demastus

Pastor Jeff Sanderson

Pastor Bill Wenig

Pastor Kevin Subra

Pastor Dan Hudson

Rev. Brian Bopp

“I am honored and humbled to have received the support of these pastors and Christian leaders. They are undoubtedly respected and influential members of their faith communities and I appreciate them making their voices heard. With the support of these people and many like them across Iowa’s 3rd District, we will be successful on June 3 and again in November,” said Cramer.

(All endorsements are personal, with organizations listed for identification purposes only.)

The Facebook feed for Cramer’s campaign featured posts on lots of different issues earlier this spring before settling on mostly faith and family themes during the final days of the primary race. From a post on May 23:

Robert and Lori knew they wanted to teach their kids to serve others, so they took them on a mission trip to Nigeria and brought in many foster kids at home.

A post on May 25 featured a photo of a smiling baby captioned, “I am 100 percent pro-life. -Robert Cramer” above the status update,

Do you want a representative in Congress whose life reflects his pro-life values? Support Robert Cramer for Iowa’s 3rd District!

Be sure to vote in the June 3rd primaries, and sign-up to volunteer for Robert here: http://cramerforcongress.com/v…

On May 26, a different smiling baby photo, captioned, “Every life deserves to be protected. -Robert Cramer.”

Pro-life is more than a political stance for Robert Cramer! Over the years, he and his wife Lori have loved and cared for foster babies and children from troubled backgrounds. For the Cramer’s, pro-life is a way of life!

SHARE to support Cramer for Congress!

A similar status update was posted below a photo of the Cramers with a pro-life message on May 27.

On May 28:

Servant-leadership is what Robert saw in his parents, and it’s what he sought to show his kids.

Robert believes Iowa needs leaders that look out for the people! Share if you agree!

From a post on May 29:

Robert and Lori really prayed before they decided to enter this race.

They believe Robert can help to turn this ship around and bring common sense solutions back to Washington for the good of Iowa.

Share if you believe that too!

It goes on: a May 30 post touting the idea of a “servant-leader representing Iowa’s 3rd district in Congress,” and another post the same day mentioning Cramer’s “pro-life and pro-traditional marriage values.” There were a few scattered posts about business sense and lower taxes, but the faith and family theme was strong.

Despite the competitive primaries for U.S. Senate and IA-03, early voting was low among Polk County Republicans. As of June 3, the Polk County auditor’s office had received just 1,350 absentee ballots. I’ve heard that turnout was relatively low at polling places today too. My wild guess is that Cramer benefits from a low-turnout environment, because the Huckabee strain of religious conservatives will be more highly motivated than mainstream Republicans. But we’ll find out in a few hours.

Any comments about the IA-03 race are welcome in this thread.  

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