Republicans trying to figure out how best to chase Chet from Terrace Hill are feeling nostalgic yearnings.
They’re thinking about going back to the ’90s, when one of their guys held the veto pen and the ribbon-cutting scissors and could call out the National Guard.
That guy was Terry Branstad. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put that four-term band back together for a 2010 encore.
A poll commissioned by TheIowaRepublican.com showed Branstad clocking Democratic Gov. Chet Culver 53-37. Culver beats GOP hopefuls such as Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants. But a retro rival could take him down.
“I learned a long time ago that you never want to say never. But my focus is here at Des Moines University,” Branstad, DMU’s president, said Monday. “It’s flattering. But you know, a poll is a poll.”
There’s just enough wiggle room there to make this intriguing. But is this really the way Republicans want to go?
It’s always tempting for a party lost in the weeds to look backward to get its bearings. Democrats went through it earlier this decade. That sentimental journey led many to think a back-to-the-future presidential candidate such as Hillary Clinton would be just the ticket. Early polls confirmed their leanings. The Clinton brand was still unbeatable.
But elections are about what’s next, not about nostalgia. Clinton found that out. Branstad could get the same lesson.
He would be formidable and favored early, but it’s unlikely that the growing sea of GOP candidates would simply part to make way for a Branstad candidacy. The former governor would almost certainly find himself surrounded in a competitive primary and beset by fresher voices, hungry to be the future of the party.
Frankly, a noisy primary focused squarely on the future is what the Republican Party in Iowa needs. And when the dust settles, Republicans should present Iowans with a new release, not an ’80s classic.
I came of age during the Branstad years and covered the final two years of his tenure. He understood Iowa, had sound political instincts and is still widely admired.
But his 16 years were also marked by serious budget problems and ugly fights with lawmakers, even after the GOP took control of the Legislature in 1996. The Branstad years weren’t all sunshine and cupcakes, no matter how good they look in the rearview mirror.
And in 2010, Republicans will be better off keeping their eyes on the road ahead.