# Christian Fong

John Landon will represent Iowa House district 37

Despite finishing a distant third in the June 5 primary, John Landon won a district nominating convention last night to be the Republican candidate in the new Iowa House district 37. Since Democrats did not field a candidate in the Ankeny area district, Landon is in effect guaranteed a seat in the Iowa House for the next two years. I’ve posted background on Landon and the House district 37 campaign after the jump.

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IA-01: Ben Lange rolls out endorsements

This morning Ben Lange announced a “steering committee” of 57 Republicans supporting his campaign in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Lange’s endorsers include nine local or county elected officials, three former state legislators, six current or former chairs of county Republican parties, five former candidates for state or federal offices, and seven “tea party” or “9/12 group” activists. About half of the steering committee members live in either Linn, Black Hawk or Dubuque counties, which are home to roughly half of the registered Republicans in the new IA-01.

I’ve posted the full list of Lange endorsers below, along with background on some of the politicians named. The Lange campaign didn’t respond to my request for comment on rival candidate Rod Blum’s suggestion that Lange lacks the experience or record of accomplishments to be a strong Congressional candidate. I haven’t seen any rebuttals to Blum on Lange’s campaign website or Facebook page either. In a sense, rolling this steering committee is an indirect answer to Blum: dozens of committed Republican activists see something in Lange worth supporting.

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Weekend open thread and GOP presidential campaign links

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty sent out his first direct mail to Iowa Republicans this week. The mailer is a biographical piece, describing Pawlenty’s childhood and family background as well as key achievements as governor. Two prominent Iowa Republicans are co-chairing Pawlenty’s campaign in this state: former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong and Roger Underwood. Fong has carved out a niche as a promoter of conservatism among younger Iowa voters. Underwood has worked in the ag industry in Ames for the last three decades and was a policy adviser for Terry Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign. After the jump I’ve posted the Pawlenty campaign press release with more background on Fong and Underwood.

Black Hawk County Republicans still hope Representative Michele Bachmann will officially announce her candidacy in Waterloo this month, even though she already confirmed during Monday’s CNN Republican debate that she is running for president. In a web video released June 13, Bachmann said she had filed papers to run and promised, “With your common sense and with your energy, working together, we will take our country back in 2012.” Many presidential candidates become book authors, and Bachmann is shopping around a memoir, to be published this fall. State Senator Kent Sorenson is heading Bachmann’s campaign in Iowa; Iowa GOP State Central Committee member Wes Enos is a staffer for her political action committee. Enos was Mike Huckabee’s political director in Iowa before the 2008 caucuses.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s presidential campaign looks finished before it officially began. A few days ago Danny Carroll resigned as Moore’s Iowa campaign chair, saying Moore was not “going to be able to raise the money necessary for a viable campaign.” Sioux City Pastor Cary Gordon, a Moore supporter and prominent figure in last year’s campaign against retaining Iowa Supreme Court justices, told Bret Hayworth that he has advised Moore to drop the presidential bid he’s been exploring. Moore wasn’t raising enough money to compete in the Iowa GOP’s August straw poll in Ames, Gordon explained.

Parenting magazine just named Des Moines number 5 on its list of 100 “best cities for families,” citing good education, health and amenities as well as a low unemployment rate. Moving his wife and children to Des Moines for several months didn’t boost then-Senator Chris Dodd’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic caucuses. But at least Dodd wasn’t charging a school district back home in Connecticut for his daughters’ education in Iowa. When Rick Santorum was in the U.S. Senate, a suburban Pittsburgh school district paid big bucks for his children to use its internet-based school from their home in Virginia.

Speaking of Santorum, has anyone heard his Iowa radio commercial? His campaign didn’t release the size of the ad buy.

This is an open thread.

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Is Bill Dix the Iowa Senate Republicans' leader-in-waiting?

Civic Skinny’s latest column at the Des Moines weekly Cityview leads with a warning for Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley. Citing “top people in both parties,” Skinny speculates that “powerful party forces – and that’s code for Ed Failor Jr.’s Iowans for Tax Relief” want to replace McKinley with “one of their own – and that probably means Bill Dix […]”

Follow me after the jump for Skinny’s case as well as some additional supporting evidence and background on Dix, Iowans for Tax Relief, and longstanding Republican discontent with McKinley.

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Six Iowa Republicans who may live to regret marriage vote

After a crowded public hearing last night and about three hours of floor debate today, the Iowa House approved House Joint Resolution 6, a constitutional amendment that would ban all legal recognition for same-sex relationships in Iowa. All 59 Republicans present voted for the amendment, as did three House Democrats who represent rural districts: Kurt Swaim, Dan Muhlbauer and Brian Quirk. The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has pledged to keep it from receiving a floor vote.

Many of the 37 House Democrats who voted no on the amendment took to the floor to speak out against the bill. You can read excerpts from their remarks here, here, here and here. (UPDATE: Several of the House Democrats’ speeches from the chamber are on YouTube as well.)

In contrast, only a few Republicans gave prepared remarks supporting the amendment, including lead sponsor Dwayne Alons (rarely afraid to say something ridiculous) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rich Anderson. Anderson justified the amendment as serving the state’s interest in promoting childbearing:

“We want to drive procreation into a stable relationship and procreation only happens between a male and a female. See a male and a female can do something that a homosexual couple cannot: They can create children accidently. That’s the issue. It’s not about love. It’s not about romance. It’s about driving state policy toward responsible procreation.”

The Iowa Supreme Court addressed and rejected that argument on pages 59 and 60 of the Varnum v Brien ruling. Anderson also raised the familiar “slippery slope” concern that legal same-sex marriage would lead to state recognition of incestuous and polygamous unions. No one’s tried to do that in the other four U.S. states that recognize same-sex marriages, or in Canada or any of the European countries that do the same.

Given how strongly the Republican base supports overturning same-sex marriage rights, I was surprised more Republicans weren’t eager to explain their votes on the House floor. Tea party favorites Kim Pearson and Glen Massie even declined to yield to a question from Democrat Nathan Willems on whether the equal protection clause applies to all Iowans. House Majority Whip Erik Helland “answered” Willems’ question, but in a non-responsive way.  

It got me wondering: deep down, are they not proud of what they’re doing? Perhaps some of them secretly agree with former Republican State Senator Jeff Angelo, who has changed his position on marriage equality and now views a constitutional amendment as “government intrusion in the lives of law-abiding citizens.” Rarely do legislators vote to change the constitution, and Iowa has never before approved an amendment to limit the rights of citizens. If House Republicans believe the public interest demands putting minority rights up for a majority vote, they owe us compelling arguments.

Politically, it was probably wise for House Republicans to keep quiet during today’s debate. Many must realize that they’re on the wrong side of history, as public opinion polls show increasing support for same-sex marriage rights. A “loud and proud” statement for the public record supporting this bill could be embarrassing 10 or 20 years from now.

Still, I wonder if voting for House Joint Resolution 6 will ever become a political liability for any of today’s Republican lawmakers. During the 1980s and 1990s, decades-old opposition to school desegregation or other policies of the civil rights era occasionally became a campaign issue. I remember many politicians apologizing for things they said or votes they took in the 1960s and 1970s. During the 2008 presidential race, Republican candidate John McCain felt compelled to admit he had been “wrong” to oppose a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the jump I discuss a half-dozen members of the Iowa House Republican caucus who may one day wish they’d had the courage to be out in front accepting marriage equality.

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Early reaction to Branstad's choice of Kim Reynolds

A string of prominent Iowa Republicans spoke out today praising Terry Branstad’s choice of State Senator Kim Reynolds for lieutenant governor. IowaPolitics.com posted the Branstad campaign’s press releases with encouraging words from Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, Iowa House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, former Congressional candidate and tea party favorite Dave Funk, former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong, and Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman. Scheffler heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, and Lehman is a past president of Iowa Right to Life.

The Branstad campaign is anxious to avoid an embarrassing display of support for Bob Vander Plaats at this Saturday’s Republican state convention. Today they hit convention delegates with an e-mail blast and robocalls stressing Reynolds’ “conservative credentials.” The strong words from Scheffler and Lehman in support of the ticket may prevent any media narrative from developing about religious conservatives rejecting Branstad. The Iowa Family Policy Center (viewed by many as a rival to the Iowa Christian Alliance) backed Bob Vander Plaats in the Republican primary and vowed not to endorse Branstad against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. That group recently affirmed that Branstad would need to undergo a “fundamental transformation” to win their support in the general election campaign.

Lehman wrote at the Caffeinated Thoughts blog today that Reynolds’ “record speaks for itself.” Lehman’s long list of conservative bills co-sponsored by Reynolds in the Iowa Senate impressed Caffeinated Thoughts blogmaster Shane Vander Hart. He supported Rod Roberts for governor and was a leader of the petition drive lobbying Branstad to choose Roberts as his running mate.

To my mind, Reynolds’ record in the Iowa Senate says only that she sticks with the consensus in the Republican caucus. She has not taken any unusual positions or been outspoken on any major issues under consideration. An acquaintance I spoke with today, who spends a lot of time at the capitol every year during the legislative session, had not even heard of Reynolds before this week. That’s how low her profile has been during her two years at the statehouse. Reynolds may be a reliable back-bencher for conservatives, but I don’t see her as a strong advocate for the religious right. She doesn’t have the stature to drive the agenda if Branstad is elected. Like Todd Dorman wrote yesterday, the lieutenant governor gets to do “whatever the governor lets you do. And in a Branstad administration, if the past is an indicator, his mate will be the special director of the Department of Not Much.”

Nor is there any indication that Reynolds would urge Branstad to make social issues a priority. I think this pick indicates the business wing of the Iowa GOP is fully in charge–or at least one faction in that wing. Others in the business community appear to have been pushing for Jeff Lamberti or Jim Gibbons to be selected as Branstad’s running mate.

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge spoke about Reynolds today on behalf of the Culver campaign. She suggested that Reynolds may not help Branstad with the social conservatives who supported other candidates for governor, because she “comes out of the same camp as Terry and Doug Gross rather than out of the camp of Bob Vander Plaats or Mr. Roberts.” In a press release and news conference, Judge also emphasized that we don’t know much about Reynolds’ views on key issues, and that her learning curve will be steep, because she has relatively little experience at the statewide level: “It will take a lot of study on Kim’s part. […] If [Branstad] keeps her in the basement in a small office as he did [former Lieutenant Governor] Joy Corning, then she’s not going to have much of an opportunity to know what’s going on.” Say what you will about Patty Judge (I’m not a fan), but she did have a strong legislative record and eight years of holding statewide office going into the 2006 campaign. She has had real influence on policy in the Culver administration.

Being a blank slate may have its advantages, however. Iowa State University Professor Steffen Schmidt thinks Reynolds was a good choice because she is so unknown that she won’t turn voters off or take attention away from Branstad.

Share any thoughts about the Branstad/Reynolds ticket in this thread.

UPDATE: Jason Hancock pointed out at Iowa Independent:

Kim Lehman, another member of the Republican National Committee and formerly president of Iowa Right to Life, praised Reynolds’ selection and her legislative record, ticking through each of the bills she has sponsored since entering the state Senate in 2008 and concluding, “Reynolds went into office and took the bull by the horns and got busy.”

However, a closer look at the bills Reynolds signed on to reveals she only sponsored one piece of legislation on her own – a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources develop depredation plans to fill harvest quotas of antlerless deer in each county that have not been met at the end of the last established deer hunting season each year.

Other than that, she nearly always joins with all or a large majority of the state Senate’s 18 Republicans to push bills.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Reynolds gave an interview to Kathie Obradovich and spoke about being a recovering alcoholic. This is not going to be an issue.

The Branstad campaign is trying to counter opposition to Reynolds over her support for a recreational lake project that angered some property rights advocates. Today the campaign released an endorsement from State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, who tried to intervene in that dispute on the side of property owners.

“I remain dedicated to the fight for private property rights in this state,” said Kaufmann. “The last four years of Democratic control of the Legislature has yielded no strengthening of these rights.  The Democratic majority has not allowed debate of a single property rights bill despite overwhelming support for the 2006 landmark legislation.”

“Our attempts to protect property rights will be thwarted, as usual, by Governor Culver and Democratic leadership without Republican control of the Legislature,” added Kaufmann. “To me, all other property rights discussions are secondary to that goal.  I look forward to working with Kim Reynolds in the future to protect property owners in the future.”

The Branstad campaign also sent conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart a statement from Reynolds about eminent domain:

I fully support the 2006 legislation that curtailed the use of eminent domain to take private property. I do not support eminent domain for commercial development purposes. I support eminent domain only for essential public services.

That answer satisfied Vander Hart. However, one issue with these recreational lake projects (like ones proposed for Page County, Clarke County and Madison County in recent years) is that the advocates will claim the land grab serves an essential public service, like providing more drinking water. However, analysts dispute whether the lake is really needed as a drinking water source, or whether that’s a ruse to obscure the real goal behind the project. A few people stand to make a lot of money if the farmland they own can be developed as lakeshore property. So the question is whether the state would allow other people’s farmland to be condemned in order to create a lake that’s basically a private commercial development.

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New Branstad running mate speculation thread (updated)

Terry Branstad’s campaign is building up suspense surrounding his choice for lieutenant governor, promising to reveal the name first to those who sign up for campaign texts. Before that happens, I thought I’d invite Bleeding Heartland readers to another round of scenario spinning.

A unity ticket of Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats, who won 40 percent of the votes in the GOP primary, was never in the cards. I see that Branstad supporter Craig Robinson is making sure everyone hears that Vander Plaats allegedly demanded the lieutenant governor slot as his price for not running as an independent candidate. Making Vander Plaats into the bad guy now will help Branstad’s people discredit him if he tries to run as a spoiler. I’ll have more to say on that in a future post, but I can’t see how Vander Plaats could organize or finance a third-party bid. His key staffer, Eric Woolson, just took a job with Senator Chuck Grassley’s re-election campaign.

Getting back to Branstad’s running mate, the obvious choice is Rod Roberts, who finished a distant third in the June 8 primary. He was the best surrogate Branstad could have hoped for during the primary campaign, and the two men acted friendly toward each other during the third gubernatorial debate. A bunch of Republicans, mostly from western Iowa, are lobbying Branstad to pick Roberts, but Roberts is wisely not begging for the job in public.

Roberts might reassure some social conservatives about Branstad’s intentions, but a different way to unify the party would be to choose someone who endorsed Vander Plaats for governor. Retiring State Representative Jodi Tymeson might fit the bill; she co-chaired the Vander Plaats campaign and probably would have been his running mate had he pulled off an upset in the primary. My hunch is that Branstad won’t pick a Vander Plaats supporter. If Branstad felt he needed a Vander Plaats loyalist by his side to win in November, things might be different, but recent polls may have reassured him that he can choose whomever he wants. Why reward someone who was in the opposing camp?

Some people expect Branstad to pick a running mate from eastern Iowa, because about two-thirds of this state’s voters live east of I-35. Plenty of current and former state legislators from eastern Iowa endorsed Branstad during the primary campaign. I wouldn’t rule out former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong either. He didn’t endorse anyone before the June 8 primary, but key backers of his brief campaign, notably Iowans for Tax Relief, got behind Branstad. Fong would bring generational balance to the ticket. He has been building a new organization, the Iowa Dream Project, which is seeking to increase youngish conservative voter turnout. Since Branstad is copying the Obama campaign’s tactic for getting people to sign up for text messages, why not pick a running mate who is well-versed in Obama-style campaign rhetoric?

On the other hand, Craig Robinson has argued that Branstad doesn’t need help in the east, where he did well in the primary. Branstad’s worst performance was in central Iowa, so Robinson argues that Branstad needs a running mate who’s a social conservative well-known in central Iowa. He pushes former State Senator Jeff Lamberti, who might have beaten Leonard Boswell in a better year for Republicans, and unsuccessful Congressional candidate Jim Gibbons. (But wait, I thought Coach Gibbons “burned the boats!”) Other possibilities named by Robinson include former state legislator Carmine Boal, who has been policy director for the current Branstad campaign. Robinson didn’t suggest Tymeson or any Vander Plaats endorser, as far as I am aware.

Several members of the business community made Robinson’s “short list” for Branstad running mates, including Doug Reichardt, whose name I kept hearing in this context last fall, and Vermeer Corporation CEO Mary Andringa. Last year there was some speculation Andringa would run for governor herself.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Who would be a smart lieutenant governor pick for Branstad, and whom will he choose?

UPDATE: Tom Beaumont published a piece on Branstad’s running mate in the Sunday Des Moines Register. Christian Fong says Branstad hasn’t called him, which probably means he is not under serious consideration. (Branstad plans to announce his choice before the June 26 Iowa GOP state convention.) Also off the short list, according to Beaumont, are Vermeer CEO Andringa and former State Senator Chuck Larson.

However, former State Senator Jeff Lamberti is being considered and told the Register that while he is “certainly not looking for a job,” it “would be pretty hard to say no” if asked to be lieutenant governor. Jim Gibbons is also apparently on the list, and he is looking for a job, because he quit his last job to run for Congress.

Beaumont’s article indicates that Branstad is considering Rod Roberts, Iowa GOP chair Matt Strawn and State Senator Kim Reynolds of Osceola (Senate District 48). I know little about Reynolds and don’t see the advantage of choosing her over someone like Carmine Boal or Sandy Greiner, who have worked closely with Branstad. Reynolds is the only elected official I know of who has a protected Twitter account that points to a spammy-looking website.

New Branstad running mate speculation thread

James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette talked to Terry Branstad yesterday about the qualities he’s looking for in a potential lieutenant governor. If he wins the nomination, Branstad wants a running mate who is younger than he is (63), and also “intelligent, hardworking, conservative, a good communicator and someone who could serve as governor.” He told Lynch that “some Eastern Iowans” are on his list.

Branstad has promised social conservatives that he won’t pick another pro-choice running mate, so that rules out former State Representative Libby Jacobs of West Des Moines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Branstad choose Rod Roberts, although Lynch’s report says Branstad “downplayed” the possibility that he will pick one of the other gubernatorial candidates.

Any of the 20 state legislators who have endorsed Branstad for governor could be on Branstad’s short list. Or, he may look to someone from the business community, but it’s been months since I heard anyone predict that insurance company executive Doug Reichardt would be Branstad’s choice. Perhaps there’s some truth to the rumors that Reichardt isn’t interested in being lieutenant governor.

If Branstad looks east, one obvious contender is Christian Fong, the well-spoken former candidate for governor from Cedar Rapids. Last month State Representative Renee Schulte endorsed Branstad, and since Schulte’s husband was Fong’s campaign treasurer, I wondered whether some kind of deal was in the works. But Fong hasn’t endorsed any candidate since he dropped out of the race six months ago. Earlier this month he founded the Iowa Dream Project, a “nonpartisan” 501(c)4 organization designed to increase turnout among conservative voters under age 45 and discuss issues in a respectful “Iowa tone.” I doubt Fong would have rolled out this group now if he expected to be running for lieutenant governor full-time during the next six months. It sounds more like a good way for him to stay active, help the Republican cause, and boost his prospects for some appointed position in a Branstad administration.

Another eastern Iowa possibility is former State Representative Sandy Greiner. Choosing her would continue the Iowa tradition of female lieutenant governors during the past two and a half decades. Greiner is an experienced candidate with socially conservative views (even if a few wingnuts gripe about her). She is also well-connected to some major donors in the business community. She is president of the American Future Fund and created the “Draft Branstad PAC” last year. That 527 organization turned into the NextGen PAC after Branstad formed an exploratory committee to run for governor. I don’t think Greiner will be Branstad’s choice, though, because she filed to run for the Iowa Senate in district 45. That race is one of the Republicans’ best pickup opportunities in the upper chamber, and I doubt she would have become a candidate if she expected to be on the ticket with Branstad.

Though no one else has mentioned her name to me, State Representative Linda Miller seems like a promising choice. She has endorsed Branstad and is from Bettendorf, one of the Quad Cities. Republicans used to be dominant in populous Scott County but have lost ground there in recent years.

Some conservative activists have slammed Branstad for elevating Joy Corning to the office of lieutenant governor during the 1990s. Lynch asked Branstad about Corning, and he said she was a good choice “at the time”. He added that he disagrees with some of what Corning has done as a “private citizen.” Several years ago, Corning chaired a major capital campaign for Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa. Last year she publicly supported civil marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Corning backs Branstad’s current campaign and is privately urging fellow moderates to vote for him in the primary.

Bleeding Heartland readers, who do you think is on Branstad’s short list, and whom should he pick as a running mate?

Feel free to speculate about Bob Vander Plaats as well. From what I’ve heard, the consensus is that he would choose his campaign co-chair, retiring State Representative Jodi Tymeson. I consider Vander Plaats a long-shot for the nomination, especially with Rod Roberts splitting the conservative vote. But we haven’t seen any public polls confirming Branstad’s front-runner status. Vander Plaats does have a path to the nomination, and he keeps winning straw polls of Republican activists.  

Year in review: Bleeding Heartland on food and parenting in 2009

This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.

After the jump I’ve compiled links to posts on those topics in 2009. Some of the diaries were political, others are personal. The link I’m most proud of combined the two: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Any thoughts or suggestions for future topics to cover are welcome in this thread.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Fong suspends campaign for governor

The only Republican gubernatorial candidate from eastern Iowa suspended his campaign today. Iowa Politics has the full press release. Here’s the statement from Christian Fong’s campaign website:

“The message was right, and the vision remains unclouded. Commitment to the Iowa Dream means that while practical financial hurdles may prevent a run for Governor in 2010, I will continue to campaign for the Iowa’s future.”

– Christian Fong

Ed Failor, Jr. of Iowans for Tax Relief reportedly promised to help Fong raise enough money for a serious campaign, and Fong raised $100,000 in three weeks after entering the gubernatorial race this summer. However, it sounds like Terry Branstad’s return to politics dried up the money Fong was counting on.

Branstad was quick to release a statement today:

“I want to thank Christian for bringing his youth, energy and unique perspective to the Iowa governor’s race. Christian Fong epitomizes the Iowa dream, and I look forward to working with him on the critical need for Republicans to be a relevant voice for young people. We must provide a thriving business climate in Iowa that entices young professionals to remain in Iowa and raise their families here. Christian Fong is an exciting, energetic Republican and we’re fortunate to have him in our party.”

Does anyone think Fong might become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor next year? Lots of people in Polk County expect Branstad to choose Doug Reichardt for a running mate.

I am disappointed that we won’t have a chance to find out whether an Iowa Republican could get serious traction using Barack Obama’s playbook.

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The Rants/Narcisse roadshow: a new headache for Culver

State Representative Chris Rants will “debate” former Des Moines School Board member Jonathan Narcisse on various issues during the first half of December. The Iowa Republican blog has the preliminary schedule for the debates in Bettendorf, Ankeny, Council Bluffs, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo, as well as footage from yesterday’s joint press conference by Rants and Narcisse.

Scheduling the “debates” is a clever move by Rants, who is running the best gubernatorial campaign in the GOP field so far. These events will not be good news for Governor Chet Culver.

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New Register poll has bad news for Culver

Governor Chet Culver has gone through a couple of very tough months, with the film tax credit scandal breaking in September and low revenue projections prompting a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut in October. Selzer and Co. polled Iowans for the Des Moines Register last week, and Culver’s numbers are at an all-time low. He’s at 40 percent approve/49 percent disapprove (Selzer’s last poll in September pegged his approval at 50 percent). The right direction/wrong track numbers are 34/57, the worst they’ve been in ten years.

Culver loses a hypothetical matchup with former Governor Terry Branstad 57 percent to 33 percent, and he loses a hypothetical matchup with Bob Vander Plaats 45 percent to 37 percent. Against Chris Rants and Christian Fong, Culver can’t break 50 percent. He’s ahead of Rants 42-35 and ahead of Fong 42-34.

The last governor to score as low was Branstad. In February 1992, as he grappled with that year’s recession and budget crisis, only 37 percent of Iowans approved of his performance.

The economy was in much better shape by the time Branstad had to face voters in 1994. Culver’s only got a year to turn things around. There’s no guarantee unemployment will be falling by then, especially if President Obama decides to act like Herbert Hoover during the next year. Iowa’s unemployment rate, though low by nationwide standards, is the highest it’s been since the mid-1980s.

The only good thing I can say about this poll is that it may convince conservative Republicans that Vander Plaats can win the general election. During the summer, Branstad looked like a hail-mary pass for the GOP.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Research 2000 found much better numbers for Culver a month ago. Either the budget situation has caused his approval to nosedive in the past month, or one of these polls is an outlier. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t bet on a Selzer poll being an outlier in Iowa.

Rasmussen’s Iowa poll from September found numbers similar to what Selzer found last week.

SECOND UPDATE: I agree with Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register:

Culver has kept up an optimistic tone, predicting Iowa will emerge from the recession in better economic health than most states. Several key statistics show Iowa’s overall economy and its state government have weathered the tough times better than other states. A report issued last week by the Pew Center on the States ranked Iowa as tied for second among states in terms of fiscal health.

But that message isn’t registering with Iowans.

That Pew report gave Iowa good marks for money-management practices, and put Iowa in the group of states “least like California” in terms of budget problems, but I don’t know how Culver can get that message across. Republicans have simple talking points: budget problems = Culver incompetence.

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Well-meaning bigotry, Midwest-style

Jason Clayworth published a big feature on Christian Fong in Wednesday’s Des Moines Register. I recommend clicking over to read the whole thing before it disappears into the Register’s pay-to-download archive. Fong’s campaign strategy has always interested me, especially his efforts to sound inclusive while remaining faithful to conservative Republican views on social issues.

I was tempted to write a post here making fun of Fong’s balancing act on gay rights. He told Clayworth that after passing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage,

Iowa lawmakers need to make sure such rights as hospital visitation and estate planning are equal for same-sex couples, he said.

“If a constitutional amendment were passed, it would be irresponsible to throw up our hands and say, ‘We’re done.’ ” Fong said. “There are going to have to be steps that are taken to make sure we treat all Iowans fairly and compassionately. Gay people, too.”

So I’m thinking about how “fair” and “compassionate” it is to let conservatives’ religious views override a minority group’s civil marriage rights, and I’m laughing at Fong’s continuing attempts to advocate for discrimination very respectfully.

And then a sidebar (available only in the print version) stopped me in my tracks:

Christian Fong says he feels a special responsibility as a racial minority candidate.

Growing up, Fong used his middle name, Shun-Bok, given to him by his Chinese father.

When he was considering medical school at the University of Iowa, he was told he should consider going by something other than Shun-Bok because the industry did not need more Asians in medicine.

He’s gone by Christian–his first name–ever since.

That kick in the gut (dressed up as a helpful hint) got me thinking about the mixed messages minorities get from nice, polite Midwesterners.

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Branstad underwhelms and other highlights from the GOP fundraiser

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty headlined the Republican Party of Iowa’s fall fundraising dinner on Saturday night, but I was more interested in the remarks by Republican candidates for governor. O.Kay Henderson and Craig Robinson live-blogged the proceedings, and the video is available at C-SPAN’s site.

Former Governor Terry Branstad wasn’t at the top of his game, stumbling at times, reading from notes and messing up his applause lines. Kathie Obradovich observed,

The audience of about 500 at the Republican Party of Iowa’s “Leadership for Iowa” dinner was polite. But there was no sense of excitement for the candidate who many believe is the favorite for the nomination.

Follow me after the jump for highlights from the candidates’ pitches, along with a little commentary and fact-checking.

UPDATE: Also read John Deeth’s take:

Terry Branstad’s first appearance as an all but official candidate fell flat on Saturday night, and illustrates one of the dilemmas he’ll face going forward. He’s now competing with all the other gubertatorial candidates on the same level, instead of as an above the fray Dream Candidate.

Sometimes, dream candidates turn out to be All That, as Barack Obama illustrated. But more often, the dream turns into an awkward and embarrassing morning after, as the one-time next best thing takes the walk of shame off the political stage. […]

Branstad has the worst of all worlds: he’s a dream candidate with a long record.

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Talk about missing the big picture

Craig Robinson has a post up at The Iowa Republican on efforts by the Scott County GOP to “turn the tide” for Republicans in eastern Iowa and statewide. The problem:

Just over a decade ago, Republicans held eight of the nine legislative seats in Scott County, today Republicans only control three of those seats. […] Currently, Republicans control only five senate seats and sixteen house seats east of Polk County. If you want to understand why Republicans have lost their majorities, one need[s] to look at what has happened to the state of the Republican Party in eastern Iowa.

In January of 2000, there were almost 5,000 more registered Republicans in Scott County than there were registered Democrats. Today, Democrats enjoy a registered voter advantage of 8,622 over Republicans. The 13,000 person swing in registered voters explains why Republicans have struggled to win elections in Scott County, the first congressional district, and statewide.

In the late 1990’s, Republican statewide candidates could win if they were able to perform reasonably well in Polk County. Many times, western Iowa counties as along with eastern Iowa Republican strongholds like Scott County could offset the margin that Democratic candidates could build in Polk and Johnson counties. Unfortunately, those were the glory days of Republican politics. In recent years, the only area of the state in which Republicans can build significant margins over Democrats is in northwest Iowa.

Here’s a name you won’t find in Robinson’s piece: Jim Leach. In the “glory days,” Jim Leach represented Scott County in Congress. But other Republicans attacked Congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks last year because she praised Leach’s work (even though she disagreed with his pro-choice position).  Now Christian Fong, the only gubernatorial candidate from eastern Iowa, assures voters that he is a social conservative and ducked a question about whether he’d ever voted for Leach.

In the “glory days,” most of the statehouse Republicans representing eastern Iowa were moderates. But in the 2006 Republican primary in Iowa Senate district 41, right-wing interest groups helped David Hartsuch oust pro-choice incumbent Republican Maggie Tinsman. Legislators on both sides of the aisle respected Tinsman, which can’t be said of Hartsuch. Getting rid of Tinsman helped social conservatives gain more power in the Iowa GOP, but I doubt it helped the Republican brand in Scott County.

The Republican Party in Iowa and nationally has simply become too conservative to compete in much of eastern Iowa. The same process has turned many longtime Republican districts in Illinois and Wisconsin blue.

Robinson praises Brian Kennedy’s organizing and fundraising work as the finance chair of the Scott County GOP. He argues that rising unemployment in eastern Iowa has created an opening for Republicans in 2010. For that reason, Kennedy wants GOP candidates to focus on “job creation and the economy.” But clearly, there is no room in the GOP for candidates who don’t accept all of the religious right’s positions, whether or not they talk about jobs.

Until the Republican Party makes room in the tent for people who admire Jim Leach, they won’t regain a dominant position in places like Scott County. A weak economy can help the GOP make up some ground next year, and raising more money can improve their grassroots organizing, but that won’t solve their fundamental problem.

Eastern Iowa Bleeding Heartland readers, tell me if I’m right or wrong and why.

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Make up your mind, Christian Fong

Are you going to be the GOP’s hopeful, inclusive-talking guy, or are you going to do stuff like this?

Chinese communists swept to power in the last century without mentioning plans to nationalize businesses or institute forced abortions, Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong told supporters of the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps on Saturday.

“They came in promising hope and change,” Fong said. “Sound familiar?”

The Minutemen are hardly a significant movement in Iowa, but that doesn’t make it ok for mainstream Republicans to fuel paranoid fantasies about the Obama administration. Fong did tell the Minutemen that

tighter borders and the need to learn English must be tempered with open arms for those [immigrants] who use proper channels, he said.

Fong added in a later interview that it is good politics for Republicans to sound more welcoming for the growing number of “new Iowans.”

“It’s important for the Republican Party to not sound so angry,” Fong said. “Otherwise, we lose that whole bunch.”

If Fong’s main rivals for the gubernatorial nomination were still Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants, I would understand his warning against angry rhetoric. But the bigfoot in the Republican field is Terry Branstad. He can be a vicious political brawler, but you won’t catch him sounding angry. Kathie Obradovich put it well in her column about Branstad today:

He’ll try to take the high road to avoid engaging with his opponents when it suits him, and then rabbit-punch them under the table.

Fong launched his gubernatorial campaign soon after Branstad insisted he wasn’t going to run for governor. With Branstad in the race, who’s going to support Fong as a vehicle for restoring traditional Iowa values? Fong raised some big money in July, but I can’t imagine checks are rolling in now that Branstad’s people are making the big money calls.

Fong doesn’t have good options now, but if he can’t make a case for himself as a superior alternative to Branstad, he should bow out of this race sooner rather than later. Maybe he’s auditioning for a role as Branstad’s running mate, but I would guess that pandering to fringe groups isn’t going to help his cause there either.

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Branstad campaign news roundup (w/poll)

“Sources close to [former Governor Terry] Branstad” tell WHO-TV’s Dave Price that Branstad will announce his candidacy for a fifth term as governor this Friday. Whatever the date, it’s obvious Branstad has committed to the race.

Join me after the jump for recent news and unintentional comedy from the Branstad camp. You’ll also find a Bleeding Heartland reader poll at the bottom of this post.

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Early Republican reaction to Branstad's move

Terry Branstad shook up the Iowa governor’s race yesterday when he formed an exploratory committee headed by Mary Andringa, the CEO of Pella’s Vermeer Corporation. (Republican power-brokers tried and failed to recruit Andringa to run for governor earlier this year.)

Election-watchers like the Swing State Project and Campaign Diaries bloggers immediately recognized that Branstad is the toughest potential challenger for Governor Chet Culver. But some Iowa Republicans have doubts about going back to the future:

Drew Ivers, a longtime social conservative Republican leader, said some party activists object to the growth in the state budget during Branstad’s tenure. The budget Branstad approved in 1983, his first year in office, included $2.05 billion in general fund spending. In 1998, his last year in office, he approved general fund spending of $4.5 billion.

“The party needs to get back to the Goldwater definition of conservative: that which governs least governs best,” said Ivers, of Webster City, who is uncommitted in the race. […]

Branstad brings many assets, but not a fresh face, noted Roger Hughes, a longtime Iowa Republican strategist.

“I would be hard-pressed to vote against my friend Terry Branstad, but I think we need some new folks,” said Hughes. “I’m not sure him running is good for the party.”

The Republican primary field will narrow if and when Branstad formally becomes a candidate, but no one dropped out in response to yesterday’s news. Updates on the other Republican gubernatorial candidates are after the jump.

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Setting the Branstad record straight

UPDATE: Branstad did file papers to form an exploratory committee today.

The Iowa Republican blog reported today,

This morning, former Governor Terry Branstad will file paperwork with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board (IECDB), essentially launching his campaign for governor.

All state candidates are required to file with the IECDB once they spend or raise more than $750.00. While some candidates have claimed that filing this paperwork is like opening an exploratory committee, there are no special distinctions allowed under Iowa law for such committees, meaning that when you file with the IECDB, you are announcing that you are a candidate.

Branstad announced this summer that he would decide in October whether to run for governor again. It’s been clear he was planning to be a candidate since the Draft Branstad PAC started raising big money and running statewide radio ads last month, so why wait? Some people think Branstad, now president of Des Moines University, wanted to make his decision known to that university’s Board of Trustees at this month’s scheduled meeting before announcing his candidacy.

I have been wondering whether Branstad wanted to remain outside the campaign during September so that the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll by Selzer and Co. would measure his support at the highest possible level. After he formally enters the race, his record will face tougher scrutiny, and his favorability ratings are likely to go down. The Register’s poll (released on September 20 and 21) showed that 70 percent of Iowans approved of his performance as governor, but only 48 percent thought it would be a good idea for him to run again. That poll did not include a head to head matchup against Governor Chet Culver. Republican firm Rasmussen conducted a one-day poll on September 22, which showed Branstad leading Culver by 20 points.

In the coming months, rival Republican candidates are likely to open three main lines of attack on Branstad:

1. During his first three terms as governor, Branstad kept two sets of books in order to run illegal deficits. His fiscal mismanagement was the main factor driving support for then Congressman Fred Grandy during the 1994 Republican primary. State Representative Chris Rants has already started hitting Branstad on this front. Last week he asserted,

“Culver’s repeating the mistakes Branstad made in the 80’s. He moved money on paper and delayed payments from one fiscal year to another until it finally caught up to him and he raised the sales tax to square the books. He could only hide his deficits for so long. It’s these kinds of accounting gimmicks that caused the fallout between Auditor Johnson and Branstad.”

“We Republicans need to be better than that if we expect to earn the trust of Iowans,” added Rants.

Richard Johnson, state auditor during most of Branstad’s tenure, is now co-chairing Bob Vander Plaats’ campaign. Expect to hear more from him in the future.

2. During his four terms as governor, Branstad didn’t deliver on various issues of importance to conservatives. Branstad selected a pro-choice lieutenant governor and didn’t get an abortion ban through the legislature even when it was under Republican control during his final term. Vander Plaats has already promised not to balance his ticket with a moderate, and if Branstad announces a pro-choice running mate, a lot of the Republican rank and file will be furious.

Branstad campaigned every four years on a promise to reinstate the death penalty, but he never got it done as governor.

Last week Rants promised to press for an amendment on gun rights to the Iowa Constitution. Perhaps we’ll hear more in the future about Branstad’s failure to do enough on this front.

3. Branstad raised sales taxes, the gas tax, and favored other tax increases as well.

Tax hikes are never popular with the GOP base, and Rants and Vander Plaats are certain to educate primary voters about Branstad’s record. If Christian Fong decides to stay in the race, we’ll be hearing from him about this issue too. Ed Failor, head of Iowans for Tax Relief, is one of Fong’s key political backers and fundraisers.

The Iowa Democratic Party has already started responding to the Draft Branstad PAC’s revisionist history, and will continue to call attention to how Branstad governed. I’ve posted the Iowa Democratic Party’s response to the first pro-Branstad radio ad after the jump. The IDP has also created the entertaining Iowa Knows Better website, with information about all of the GOP candidates for governor. Here is the page on Branstad, with details on Branstad’s two sets of books, tax increases, use of state bonding, and failure to pay state employees what they had earned.

Branstad will have more money and institutional support than the other Republican candidates and will be heavily favored to win the primary. But I doubt public approval for his work as governor will still be at 70 percent six months from now.

UPDATE: Swing State Project is now calling the Iowa governor’s race a tossup.

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Branstad hit piece speculation thread

A few days after an unregistered group distributed a flyer attacking former Governor Terry Branstad from the right, a YouTube has appeared portraying Branstad as just like Governor Chet Culver on fiscal matters:

The comparison is ridiculous, since Culver never kept two sets of books to conceal deficit spending. Also, contrary to the claim made in this video, Culver didn’t try to sell the Iowa Lottery.

Still, the YouTube is a preview of attacks Branstad will face if he enters the governor’s race. He probably would win the nomination anyway, but the question is whether he wants to get mired in this kind of fight. I don’t know whether all of these claims are true; for instance, I don’t recall Branstad trying to end federal deductibility, although that may have happened while I was living outside Iowa.

I take as a given that no rival candidate directly authorized the creation of the flyer or the YouTube. People usually try not to let this kind of hit piece be linked to a campaign. Supporters of other Republican candidates may have acted independently, though. They have an obvious interest in keeping Branstad out of the race. Bob Vander Plaats is the front-runner now, but his prospects drop sharply with Branstad in. Most if not all of the other candidates would have no hope of competing against Vander Plaats and Branstad at the same time.

Over at The Iowa Republican blog, Krusty Konservative sees visual and stylistic clues in the YouTube pointing to Victory Enterprises, a firm working for Christian Fong’s campaign. I have no idea whether Krusty’s right, but consultants working for Fong stand to lose a lot of money if Branstad forces Fong from the race several months before next June’s primary.

Share any thoughts or speculation about the attacks on Branstad or the Republican primary campaign in this thread.

LATE UPDATE: Krusty followed up with another piece explaining why he believes someone at Victory Enterprises produced this video.

Fake objectivity in action

Disappointing stuff from Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong has refused to take down his statewide radio ad, despite complaints and threats of legal action by the Iowa Democratic Party.

“We have no intention to take down the ad,” Marlys Popma, Fong’s campaign manager, told IowaPolitics.com today. “We’re very confident that everything in the ad is completely accurate.”

Fong on Monday launched the 60-second ad called “Iowa Dream” that focuses on introducing himself and outlining his story for Iowa Republicans, but also says: “We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills.” Popma said the $830 million I-JOBS program will actually cost the state about $1.4 billion by the time it’s paid off.

Campbell goes on to quote Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan’s statement calling the ad “materially false and misleading.” Finally, Campbell quotes Popma as saying the Fong campaign hasn’t heard directly from the Iowa Democratic Party.

This is a perfect example of bogus “objective” journalism that offers readers nothing but “he said/she said.” If Campbell has spent even 10 seconds wondering whether the state of Iowa is borrowing a billion dollars to pay its bills, you’d never know it from her story.

Yet Fong’s claim can be disproved by minute or two of online research. The I-JOBS program is funding special infrastructure projects, not line items from the budget. If Iowa were borrowing money to meet ongoing spending commitments, the state would not have a AAA bond rating, and the I-JOBS bonds would not have a AA rating.  

For whatever reason, Campbell makes this story about Republican confidence and Democratic “complaints” instead of about the accuracy of Fong’s ad.

I recommend that the folks at IowaPolitics.com read this piece by Philip Meyer on “The Next Journalism’s Objective Reporting.” Excerpt:

True objectivity is based on method, not result. Instead of implying that there is an equal amount of weight to be accorded every side, the objective investigator makes an effort to evaluate the competing viewpoints. The methods of investigation keep the reporter from being misled by his or her own desires and prejudices.

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Would Fong ban cities and counties from lobbying?

Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman published his take on the first statewide radio ad from Republican Christian Fong. Dorman’s not buying into Fong’s promise to “end the use of taxpayer money to fund lobbyists.” He makes some excellent points:

For starters, I don’t think leaving the lobbying playing field to non-government interests only is smart. I’m not sure how the public interest is advanced by allowing, for example, a corporation to lobby for loosened pollution rules while barring state regulators from pushing the other way.

Second, lawmakers would lose a pretty important resource. I can’t tell you how many times I saw members of a legislative committee get stuck in the complex details of a piece of legislation before turning to the audience and finding a department lobbyist who swiftly cleared up the confusion. Walling off one branch of government from another is going to slow down a process that’s already painfully slow.

Third, it really doesn’t bother me that state departments pursue legislative agendas. It’s not OK for the attorney general to lobby for tougher criminal penalties? The Department of Public Health should be barred from advocating for pandemic preparedness funding?

I agree totally, and Fong should be prepared to refute Dorman’s points if he is a serious thinker about policy, as opposed to a candidate taking cheap shots.

My only problem with Dorman’s column is that he cites this Des Moines Register report as saying that “state departments spent $1.8 million on lobbying state lawmakers” during the past year. In fact, the Register arrived at that figure by including lobbying expenses of “state agencies, municipalities, county agencies and associations where member dues are paid by taxpayers, such as the Iowa League of Cities.”

Ask anyone who has spent time at the statehouse; the League of Cities and State Association of Counties are forces to be reckoned with. It’s not hard to see why, since a lot of bills considered by the legislature affect city and county governments. I wonder whether Fong really thinks the governor should ban cities and counties from making their voices heard with state legislators.

In related news, Fong still hasn’t corrected his ad’s demonstrably false statement about the I-JOBS bonding initiative. He knows how financial markets work, and it doesn’t reflect well on him that he would mislead voters by claiming the state of Iowa is borrowing money to pay our bills.

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Looks more like a lieutenant governor candidate to me

State Senator Jerry Behn of Boone is officially launching his gubernatorial campaign today, after appearing at numerous Republican events around the state this summer. Radio Iowa posted Behn’s news release here. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before: he wants to rein in “excessive spending” and let Iowans vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage (as if we subject minority rights to a majority vote in this country).

Behn also touts his experience as a farmer growing corn and soybeans: “Common Sense is an integral part of farming. You also learn firsthand lessons in freedom, individual responsibility and self reliance.” I’ll wager that Behn’s business model depends on getting subsidy checks from the federal government every year. Most small business owners have to do without those.

Getting back to the news of the day, I see no promising niche for Behn in the Republican field. Whether or not Terry Branstad decides to run for governor, Behn looks to me like he’s fishing to be someone’s running mate. He has nothing to lose by staying in the race, since he was just re-elected to represent Senate district 24 in 2008.

Speaking of gubernatorial candidates with no hope of getting the nomination, Senate minority leader Paul McKinley was a no-show at the Black Hawk County Republican dinner on Sunday. He is not even pretending to run a real campaign.

As for serious contenders, Bob Vander Plaats will officially launch his campaign on Labor Day. Christian Fong was the first candidate to go up on radio statewide. State Representatives Chris Rants and Rod Roberts are still in the exploratory phase but have actively campaigned this summer. Branstad has said he will decide by October whether to run for governor again.

UPDATE: What a joke. After claiming his main issue is balancing the budget, Behn tells Kathie Obradovich and Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register that he would have the goal of eliminating Iowa’s state income tax to increase Iowa’s population:

He looks to no-tax states like Texas, Nevada and Florida as models. (And notes that South Dakota also has no income tax.)

But, he said, he doesn’t have a plan for replacing the revenue needed to run the state.

Raise your hand if you want Iowa’s schools and other public services to sink to the levels found in those no-income-tax states. I didn’t think so.

Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson comments,

Unfortunately, Behn forgot to mention his get-rid-of-state-income-taxes idea during his half-hour discussion with reporters from Radio Iowa and The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Nor did Behn bring that up during his interview with WHO-TV or during his interview with IowaPolitics.com.

Not ready for prime time.

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Analysis of Fong's first radio ad

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong is introducing himself to Iowans with a 60-second radio ad (audio here). Like Fong’s campaign website and early media interviews, this ad focuses on restoring “the Iowa dream” his family has lived.

Fong reads the script himself, beginning with a few details about his father’s life. Fong says, “After tax cuts in ’61, the U.S. was booming. Nelson Fong, a Christian in Hong Kong, was drawn by the promise of freedom to the United States in ’63.” By the way, tax rates after those 1961 cuts were still substantially higher than today’s rates, which didn’t slow down the U.S. economy during the 1960s. But I digress.

About halfway through the ad, Fong shifts from his family’s story to how he sees the American dream slipping away. Echoing the false talking point we hear from other Iowa Republicans, Fong claims, “We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills.” Of course, the I-JOBS bonding initiative was for infrastructure projects, not for ongoing government programs. Like national credit analysts and institutional investors, Fong should understand the difference between borrowing for capital investments and borrowing to pay bills.

Fong then promises that as governor, he would “end the use of taxpayer money to fund lobbyists and veto any budget that is not balanced.”  

The first point refers to a recent Des Moines Register report showing that  government (“state agencies, municipalities, county agencies and associations where member dues are paid by taxpayers”) spent approximately $1.8 million of at least $13.7 million paid to lobby the Iowa Legislature during the past year. A lot of that expense is for state employees who answer legislators’ questions about various proposals. Republicans would be happy to let business groups spend unlimited amounts lobbying the legislature, with no opportunity for state agencies to discuss the broader implications of industry wish lists. Sounds to me like a prescription for more giveaways like Iowa’s new nursing home law.

Fong obviously doesn’t want anyone to view him as the moderate in the GOP field. This ad ends with a female voice saying, “Paid for by Iowans for Christian Fong, conservative Republican for governor.”

UPDATE: Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan called on Fong to take down this “materially false and misleading” ad. I’ve posted Kiernan’s statement after the jump.

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When solving one problem creates another

The Republican Party appears to have learned at least one important lesson from the 2008 Iowa legislative races: making social issues like abortion the centerpiece of the campaign was a poor strategy in competitive districts.

This year Republican leaders in the legislature and the state party apparatus have talked much more about economic and fiscal issues than about the religious right’s agenda. Even in the weeks following the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling, the state party said little about gay marriage.

Republican candidate Stephen Burgmeier is sticking to the new GOP script in his campaign for the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90. The “views” page on his website doesn’t spell out his views on abortion or same-sex marriage, and his first television ad focused on the state budget and taxes. The decision to downplay social issues doesn’t seem to bother the Iowa Family Policy Center, which has one of its staffers working on the ground in district 90.

However, some social conservatives don’t appreciate being told to keep their mouths shut while doing heavy lifting for Republicans. One of them is Dan Cesar, who ran in House district 90 last year on the Fourth of July ticket when Republicans declined to field a candidate against incumbent John Whitaker. Cesar is running in the special election too and is bashing Burgmeier:

“[Burgmeier] has avoided the words pro-life in everything he says. He’s avoided the fact that he’s a Catholic and belongs to a faith community. I take exception to that. His handlers are telling him to do that.” […]

“The [Republican] party told me they don’t want to focus on pro-life,” he said. “So I either run again as a third party or shut up. Shut up and let a coward run as a Democrat and someone I consider a sellout run as a Republican. I stood up and said I will run.”

Cesar also doesn’t like Burgmeier’s record of raising taxes as a county supervisor.

The Iowa GOP will likely repeat the district 90 playbook across the state next year, especially if Burgmeier wins on September 1. Social conservatives won’t appreciate being marginalized. If Democratic candidate Curt Hanson prevails in district 90, the religious right-wingers will probably be even more angry, claiming that social issues could have won the day.

This argument is sure to continue during the Republican gubernatorial primary, which will come down to Bob Vander Plaats against someone backed by the business wing (Terry Branstad, Chris Rants or Christian Fong). Vander Plaats believes the GOP can win by embracing “core principles” and “bold-color conservatism that inspires faith, family and freedom.”  

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Generation Branstad?

I was thinking about something the other day, and I thought I would share it with you. Just some numbers to consider, I'll leave the analysis to you.

62-year old Terry E. Branstad was first elected governor in 1982 and last elected governor in 1994. His last full day in office was January 14, 1999.

On Election Day 2010:

The youngest person to have voted for Branstad in 1982 would be:  46

The youngest person to have voted for Branstad ever would be: 34

The youngest person to have a political opinion of the Branstad administration (assuming political opinions form around age 12-13) would be: 24

The youngest person to have any memory from the Branstad administration (assuming memory forms around age 4 or 5, counting such memories as “that guy with the funny mustache on TV”) would be: 16

The youngest person to have been born during the Branstad administration would be:  11


When Terry Branstad was elected governor in 1982:

Bob Vander Plaats was 19

Chet Culver was 16

Chris Rants was 15

Christian Fong was 5


Chet Culver's job approval rating among 18-34 year olds ***:

Approve: 36%

Disapprove: 54%

Unsure: 10%

* This represents the age group with the lowest percentage approving and the highest percentage disapproving among those surveyed. For comparison, among those aged 35-49, Culver has a 40% approval rating in this poll.

** Survey of 600 persons by SurveyUSA, released 6/18/2009 and available here.

Fong announces ten campus coordinators

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong responded to a weekend of renewed speculation surrounding Terry Branstad by announcing that his campaign has recruited campus coordinators at all of Iowa’s leading universities and several colleges. Radio Iowa posted the Fong campaign’s press release, which listed the ten college coordinators and provided this none-too-subtle analysis:

Marlys Popma, Fong campaign manager, added, “Considering we are several weeks away from classes starting on campuses across Iowa to already have College Chairs in place is a testament to Christian.  His ability to inspire Iowa’s youth should not be lost on Iowa Republicans as we look to restore the Republican Party.  We’ll continue to work until we have a presence at every university, college and community college in Iowa.”  

The message to Republican bigwigs is clear. Fong is serious about this campaign and is building a strong organization in the GOP’s weakest area: the youth vote. Since colleges will be on summer break by the time next June’s primary rolls around, Fong’s campaign will have to implement an aggressive absentee ballot strategy. Early voting happens to be another area where Iowa Republicans have been getting mauled in recent years.

Perhaps some major donors will give Fong more consideration before leaping to the conclusion that Branstad is their only hope for keeping the nomination away from Bob Vander Plaats. If Branstad stays out, some of the people currently recruiting him might move toward Fong.

Alternatively, if Branstad jumps in, Fong is making himself attractive as a running mate.

When school is back in session, I would welcome diaries, comments or e-mails from Bleeding Heartland readers about how the Republican campaign looks on your campus. Will Vander Plaats have a strong presence at the regents universities and community colleges as well as at some small Christian institutions?

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Open thread and links on the Republican race for governor (updated)

I’m going to start posting open threads every weekend so Bleeding Heartland readers can share what’s on your mind.

I didn’t attend this week’s IowaPolitics.com forum featuring five possible Republican candidates for governor (Bob Vander Plaats, Chris Rants, Christian Fong, Jerry Behn and Rod Roberts). Iowa Politics coverage is here. Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register emphasized the candidates’ comments on capital punishment and the smoking ban, even though they spent most of the forum talking about economic issues like taxes and spending.

The Register’s Kathie Obradovich thought Fong did well and wasn’t impressed by Behn. I was more interested to learn from her column this week that central Iowa business Republicans including Doug Gross are still hunting for a gubernatorial candidate. They are conducting focus groups before the mystery candidate announces.

It’s long been known that the GOP business elite didn’t think Bob Vander Plaats or Chris Rants could beat Culver, but there was some speculation that they might unite behind Fong. This week Fong’s campaign announced raising $100,000 in three weeks (checks in hand, not pledges), but Gross and his allies in the Iowa First Foundation are not yet sold. I wonder which candidates they are testing with focus groups. Former Governor Terry Branstad is the obvious choice. Maybe also former State Senator Jeff Lamberti?

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: Looks like some Republicans who want Rants out of the race leaked a story to Jason Clayworth:

Rep. Christopher Rants, a Republican candidate for governor and outspoken critic of Gov. Chet Culver’s handling of the state budget, left his peers in roughly $200,000 of debt after the 2008 elections.

Rants, of Sioux City, was House Republican leader during the time the debt was racked up, but GOP legislators voted him out of the leadership role soon after the November elections. […]

Rants didn’t answer questions about the Majority Fund and didn’t return phone calls Friday or Saturday. Instead, he issued a statement e-mailed through a campaign spokeswoman:

“It is my understanding that the House Majority Fund is in good standing with the Republican Party of Iowa and I have heard nothing to the contrary,” Rants wrote in the e-mail.

The House Majority Fund is one of nine funds overseen by the Republican Party of Iowa. Democrats have similar accounts.

Unlike individual candidate campaign reports, Iowa law does not require the parties to disclose the transactions broken down by each account. Instead, the parties are allowed to file reports that cover all of the accounts together.

It means that public records do not show the debt, but several Republican sources confirmed to the Register that the debt was roughly $200,000 when Rants was voted out of his leadership seat.

I don’t know why Cityview’s Civic Skinny is so bullish on Rants. I see no path to the GOP nomination for him, and certainly no chance for him to beat Culver.

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Republican field for governor becomes more crowded (updated)

Today State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll formally announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a possible gubernatorial campaign. The Des Moines Register’s political columnist Kathie Obradovich covered the press conference on Twitter. (May I suggest the hashtag #iagov instead of #iaguv?)

It seems Roberts plans to run as a likeable version of fellow State Representative Chris Rants of Sioux City: Iowa needs a change, he’s for “rights of unborn” and “traditional marriage,” he’ll be “careful with your money,” he wants to amend constitution to ban gay marriage, and he thinks the Bob Vander Plaats approach of ending gay marriage by executive order won’t resolve the problem.

Douglas Burns knows Roberts and made the case for him as a strong candidate here. I have a hard time seeing his path to the Republican nomination. As an ordained minister, Roberts must have better people skills than Rants. As a veteran of the Iowa legislature, he has more political experience than Christian Fong. His stance on gay marriage shows that he is more pragmatic than Vander Plaats. Still, I don’t see how he distinguishes himself from the Republican pack on any issues. Maybe someone will ask him about this at tomorrow’s Iowa Politics forum for gubernatorial candidates. Does he have an answer other than saying that being relatively unknown is his advantage?

According to Obradovich, the Roberts committee includes Steve Siemens (who I assume is this motivational speaker), State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, and former Lieutenant Governor Art Neu. Frank Severino, an experienced lobbyist at the Iowa statehouse, will manage the Roberts campaign.

Other prominent Iowa Republicans attended Roberts’ press conference: onetime gubernatorial candidate David Oman (who worked for Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad), former RNC committeeman Steve Roberts, RNC committeewoman Kim Lehman, and Iowa Family Policy Center head Chuck Hurley. It’s not yet clear whether any of those people were endorsing Rod Roberts.

Steve Roberts is one of the “moderates, old-money and business Republicans” thought to be shopping around for an alternative to Vander Plaats and Rants. Unless Rod Roberts has lined up some major backers in central and eastern Iowa, I can’t see how he can raise enough money to be competitive in the Republican primary.

In related news, Paul McKinley told Mike Glover of the Associated Press that he will step down as Iowa Senate minority leader if he decides to run for governor. McKinley formed an exploratory committee a few weeks ago and is constructing a campaign narrative based on his experience as a 1980s small business owner. My prediction: McKinley won’t raise the money for a serious gubernatorial campaign and will decide to stay where he is in the Iowa Senate.

UPDATE: Fong’s campaign manager Marlys Popma stepped on Roberts’ big day by announcing that Fong has raised $100,000 in the past three weeks (checks in hand, not pledges). It appears that GOP donors are buying the non-threatening conservative package Fong is selling, with its strong echoes of Obama-like post-partisan, empowering rhetoric.

SECOND UPDATE: This piece at Iowa Independent reminded me that Rants has suggested Roberts should stay out of the governor’s race to deprive Democrats of a chance at winning his Iowa House seat (district 51). Democrats have not fielded a candidate against Roberts for several election cycles, even though they are competitive with the GOP in terms of party registration in House district 51.

Fong advocates discrimination very respectfully

Christian Fong is in “reassure the base” mode as he introduces himself to Iowa Republicans. He chose not to confront Steve Deace during his first appearance on the right-winger’s WHO radio show. Then he hired Marlys Popma to run his gubernatorial campaign. A former head of Iowa Right to Life, Popma is well-known to social conservatives.

I’ve seen some bloggers describe Fong as the “moderate” among Republicans running for governor, but it would be more accurate to say he is campaigning as a non-threatening conservative. He promises to expand the Republican Party’s appeal without changing what the party stands for. He’ll do it by talking about the issues in a way that won’t alienate voters outside the GOP base. So, he embraces diversity and a “welcoming environment.” He uses inclusive, empowering language with echoes of Barack Obama. He wants a “pro-family agenda” to go beyond social issues.

We saw this strategy in action during Fong’s first major televised interview, especially in the way he handled the question about same-sex marriage rights.  

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Poll confirms Vander Plaats is GOP front-runner (updated)

The Iowa Republican blog continues to release results from the poll it commissioned on the 2010 governor’s race. Last week we learned about Governor Chet Culver’s approval, favorability and re-elect numbers. This week we’ve seen some numbers about same-sex marriage and a hypothetical rerun of the 2006 race. I’ll have more to say about the wording of this poll’s questions in a future post. (Todd Dorman identified a glaring problem with the marriage question here.)

In today’s installment, Craig Robinson highlights results from a straightforward question:

Question: If the Republican primary for Governor was held today, who would you vote for between Chris Rants, Bob Vander Plaats, Paul McKinley, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn, and Christian Fong?

   Republican Primary Voters

   Bob Vander Plaats: 46%

   Don’t Know: 27%

   Chris Rants: 14%

   Neither/Other: 5%

   Paul McKinley: 3%

   Christian Fong: 3%

   Rod Roberts: 1%

   Refused: 1%

   Jerry Behn: 0.2%

   (Republican Primary Voters N=394 – Margin of Error ±5.0%)

Join me after the jump for some early thoughts about Bob Vander Plaats’ front-runner status.

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Christian Fong dusts off Obama's playbook

Given Barack Obama’s Iowa caucus breakthrough and convincing general-election victory here, it was only a matter of time before someone else built an Iowa campaign around his strategy. I didn’t count on a Republican being the first person to try, though.

Enter Christian Fong, who made the Republican race for governor a lot more interesting last week.

Some early impressions of Fong’s personal narrative, political rhetoric and electoral prospects are after the jump.  

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