Tag Archives: Campaign 2010

ChetChase 2010 – The Week

It was a very active week in the race to become your Iowa governor.

Party of Five — Five Republican gubernatorial candidates/near-hopefuls/explorers met in a forum sponsored by Iowa Politics.com. If you couldn’t be there, I was not, Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson graciously posted the audio here.

There were gobs of agreement between Bob Vander Plaats, Chris Rants, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn and Christian Fong. Another possible possibility, Paul McKinley, had a conflict and couldn’t make it.

They’re not crazy about the smoking ban, but nobody showed much interest in relighting that coffin nail.

Casinos? No more needed. State Budget? Chet messed it up big time. Medical marijuana? No thanks, although Sen. Behn, R-Boone, did wax nostalgically about the days of kinder, gentler pot. That’s just what he heard, anyway.

Speaking of nostalgia, the candidates were asked whether they’d welcome former Gov. Terry Branstad in the race. Polls show the old guy is still fly with folks who still use the term “fly.”

Here is the candidates’ composite answer, “I’d welcome such a fine statesman’s ideas. But, please, don’t dilly dally. Oh, and I’d just like to say future, future, future, future, future and, in conclusion, future.”

I wrote about the Branstad saga.

Kathie Obradovich did a better job here.

There were some disagreements at the forum. Rep. Roberts, R-Carroll, was the only one who doesn’t favor reinstating the death penalty. And although they all dislike gay marriage, only Vander Plaats thinks you can stop it with a magical/illegal executive order.

I guess Vander Plaats hasn’t explained to his rivals just how much fun impeachment would be.

So who won? You got me. Fong showed that he can hold his own and doesn’t need any training wheels. Rants had the best command of the issues. Vander Plaats didn’t stumble, but he also didn’t offer much evidence to prove why he’s the clear front-runner at this early date.

2. Roberts Fails to Tweet — What’s up with Rod Roberts, thinking he can get into the governor’s race with a thougthful speech to a room full of supporters that was all wordy with bio and viewpoints and stuff. Doesn’t he know he was supposed to send out a tweet?

Roberts does have a Web site, with a cool flag that waves. Neat!

3. That’s not My Name — Christopher Rants, who did tweet his announcement, is now Chris Rants, for the purposes of running for Iowa’s highest office. And he has a new Web site. It’s orange and blue, like the national champion Florida Gators. No waving flag, but there’s an odometer to show you how fast he’s wearing out his car.

He Chris, time for an oil change!

4. If I had $100,000 — I’d send out a press release, just like Christian Fong did earlier this week. His campaign reports raising that tidy sum in just its first three weeks of existence.

So who gave him the money? It’s a mystery that won’t be solved until disclosure supports are filed in January. Suspense is already building.

Perhaps the whiz kid will  use some of that scratch to finish his Web site.

5. Chetanooga Choo Chooo — Gov. Chet Culver will be riding the rails Sunday to officially promote passenger rail service. Any resemblance to a campaign whistle stop tour is completely coincidental.

Culver also started handing out I-Jobs bonding dollars for road and bridge projects. But then some pesky economists interviewed by The Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth questioned whether the huge program would actually stimulate anything.  

What? The governor couldn’t hear that over all the train noise. Sorry.

Retrolection 2009 — Democrat Harold Hughes and Republican Robert Ray were the big winners in last week’s retro gubernatorial primaries.

Hughes took 48 percent of the vote, holding off Tom Vilsack with 26 percent. Herschel Loveless and Ansel Briggs tied for third. Culver was 5th.

On the GOP side, Ray took 40 percent to Branstad’s 29. Samuel Kirkwood got 15 percent.

That sets up a dream Ray-Hughes match up.

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Don’t Go Changin’

State Rep. Christopher Rants stopped by my office Tuesday afternoon for a chat. I’ll be columnizing on our conversation over the weekend.

I’ve been writing about Rants for 12 years, since I was a cub Statehouse reporter for his hometown Sioux City Journal. And during all that time he’s been Christopher Rants.

House Majority Leader Christopher Rants, House Speaker Christopher Rants, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants etc.

Now that he’s exploring/running for governor, he’s going by Chris Rants.

I gave him some mild guff for making me change my ways. He explained.

“We walked around and…what do people assume my name is? They meet me for the first time?” Rants asked me.

“Chris,” I conceded.

“Exactly,” Rants said.  “I’ve got 2 million people I’m trying to meet. So you don’t start by telling them, `No, my name is something else.’

“It’s the name that my teachers in school called me. My Sunday school teacher called me Chris. My neighbors call me Chris. So it’s not like it’s a big deal.”

No, it’s not. And it could be worse. He could have shortened it to C-Ra or something like that. Chris also takes up less space than Christopher, which is a bonus for a columnist trying to squeeze his long-winded pontifications into a shrinking piece of newspaper real estate.

And lots of politicians make little changes when they think about climbing the political ladder. It’s not unusual.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, lost his mustache and updated his discount wardrobe a few years ago when he toyed with the idea of running for governor.  Former Senate President Jeff Lamberti, R-Ankeny, also shaved his mustache before he ran for Congress in 2006.

Names sometimes get shorter. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Conn. insisted that Iowans just call him Joe when he ran for president in 2004. It made him so appealing here that he opted to skip the caucuses.

The pretentious-sounding Malcom Stevenson Forbes Jr. became just good old flat-taxing Steve Forbes when he tried, twice, to win the caucuses.

The emerging 2010 GOP gubernatorial field is full of short names – Bob (Vander Plaats), Rod (Roberts), Paul (McKinley), Jerry (Behn) and Chris (Rants). Vander Plaats has run for governor enough times to also earn the JFK-esque shorthand moniker “BVP”

Christian (Fong) is an exception, but his name has its obvious advantages.  

And of course the winner will be up against Democratic Gov. Chet, not Chester, Culver.

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Stupid System

Christian Fong’s campaign for governor sent out a news release today trumpeting that the Cedar Rapids Republican raked in $100,000 in campaign donations in the three weeks since he jumped into the race.

Swell. Then I sent a reply to Victory Enterprise’s Brian Dumas, who sent the release, asking  if he has a  list of donors and donations. He replied:

We do, but we will file when required by law and at that time you’ll be able to review the disclosure and see the numbers are accurate.

Unfortunately, the time required by law is Jan. 19, 2010. So trumpet in July, check back in January.

Of course, it goes without saying, that the real story is exactly who gave to Fong and how much they gave.  And, obviously, 1,000 $100 donations would say one thing about Fong’s campaign and four $25,000 donors would tell an entirely different story.

Instead, we get a big number and some happy talk about how Fong’s campaign is off and running.

To be fair, Fong’s campaign is simply playing a time-honored game, by the rules as written. But I say it’s the rules need changing.

Every time I hear people talk about complex campaign finance reforms and tight limits and public financing, I roll my eyes. All I want is a system where candidates, especially statewide candidates,  are required to report often. Once a month. Maybe once a week.

Why should a half-dozen-and-growing field of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, be able to shake the money tree all through 2009 and not report a dime until 2010? They shouldn’t.

Paid for by Ranting Hacks for Openness.

Fong’s release is below:

Fong Raises $100,000 in three weeks.

For Immediate Release: July 21, 2009 Contact: Marlys Popma 515-238-6564

(Cedar Rapids, IA) The campaign of Cedar Rapids businessman Christian Fong (R) announced today it had crossed the $100,000 mark in financial contributions. Fong launched his campaign three weeks ago.

“Despite an economic recession and a multi-candidate field, Christian has surpassed his initial targets in regards to fundraising. The $100,000 number is not commitments or pledges, but checks that have been written. Christian’s vision of restoring the Iowa Dream is being well received and Republicans are responding,” said Marlys Popma, Fong campaign manager.

Popma continued, “Considering Christian entered this race with no donor base, crossing this early threshold is a clear indicator that the campaign is off and running. We know we have a long way to go to reach our internal primary fundraising goals, but our quick start is extremely encouraging.”

Christian Fong graduated from Underwood High School in Southwest Iowa at the age of 16 and then attended Creighton University, graduating at age 19. After college, he and his wife, Jenelle, located in Cedar Rapids and Christian started work at AEGON. Fong put his career on hold to attend Dartmouth, earning his MBA. He and his family returned to Cedar Rapids, where they reside today and attend River of Life Ministries church. When the floods of 2008 hit Cedar Rapids, Fong founded and still serves today as the CEO of Corridor Recovery, a non-profit flood relief organization that coordinated recovery efforts. The Fongs have three children.

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Column — Republicans Thinking Retro

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.

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ChetChase 2010 – The Week

This week’s developments in Iowa’s race for governor.

1. Vander Poll— TheIowaRepublican.com continued releasing tasty tidbits from its  612-part poll, including numbers that showBob Vander Plaats leading the big ‘ol field of GOP hopefuls and potential hopefuls. Vander Plaats got support from 46 percent of Republicans polled, followed by Don’t Know at 27 percent and state Rep. Christopher Rants at 14 percent.

Vander Plaats was happy to grab front-runner status. John Deeth says that’s good news for Culver. Bleeding Heartland says, not so fast, it’s too early to be doing any anointing.

The TIR poll also showed Vander Plaats and Rants within striking distanceof Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in early head-to-head match ups. Culver led Vander Plaats 48-39 and beat Rants 46-36.

2. Parental Supervision— Republican candidate Christian Fong announced this week that Marlys Popma, a veteran Republican activist, will be guiding his upstart campaign.

The good news is that Popma lends some conservative heft to Fong’s fledgling effort. She’s got church cred with the religious right and could help Fong convince some skeptical conservatives that he’s the real deal, even though he contributed to a few Dems and says Republicans shouldn’t emphasize the whole gay marriage thing.

Popma also worked for Phil Gramm, Gary Bauer and John McCain, so she doesn’t always pick a winner.

3. Republican Roberts Reveals Readiness — State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, has called a Statehouse press conference Tuesday, apparently to jump into the governor’s race. He’s an ordained minister who has served five terms in the House. And he promises to add a dose of much-needed alliteration to the campaign.

4. Fallon Out of Lug Love — Former state rep. and failed governor/congressional candidate Ed Fallon says Culver is in trouble unless he dances cheek-to-cheek with the Democratic Party’s liberal base. Some flowers might also be nice. Maybe a spa day.

Fallon contends Culver has sidestepped issues such as campaign finance reform that are important to liberals. Fallon also contends that although it’s nice to be important, it’s also important to make your former rivals feel important.  He laid out his arguments in an an op-ed piece:

Few leading Iowa Democrats will admit it publicly, but Governor Culver is in deep trouble. If something doesn’t change, and soon, he could be the first incumbent Iowa Governor ousted from office since Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes in 1962.

Gov. Erbe could not be reached for comment.

5. Nostalgia Polling— TheIowaRepublican also jumped in the wayback machine, releasing polls on how a 2006 rematch between Culver and Republican Jim Nussle would look today. They also matched up Culver against former Gov. Terry Branstad. There’s been some buzz lately that Branstad might try for a comeback.

Culver edged Nussle, but a Branstad reunion tour pasted Culver 53-37.

That gave me the idea to do some legacy polling of my own. This week, you can vote in the Republican and Democratic nostalgia primaries. Next week, the general election.

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Fallon Says Culver’s In Trouble

This op-ed piece arrived in our inbox this afternoon from former state lawmaker/candidate for governor/congressional hopeful Ed Fallon. He says Gov. Chet Culver could be the next Norman Erbe unless he dances with the Democratic base:

Culver Needs to Learn to Dance

by Ed Fallon

Few leading Iowa Democrats will admit it publicly, but Governor Culver is in deep trouble. If something doesn’t change, and soon, he could be the first incumbent Iowa Governor ousted from office since Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes in 1962.

A litany of woes afflicts Governor Culver. Most notably, he has had issues with issues.

• Iowans have seen little to no progress on key front-and-center concerns such as climate change, labor law, campaign finance and the regulation of corporate hog confinements, to name a few.

• Right or wrong, there’s a broad perception that flood recovery efforts and the budget crisis have been mismanaged by the Governor’s office.

• Iowa’s economy continues to struggle – a situation somewhat beyond the Governor’s control, but depending upon his response, one that inevitably affects his popularity.

Governor Culver’s problems are reflected in a recent SurveyUSA poll that found his overall approval rating a dismal 42%. Among that all-important block of voters known as “independents,” it was 35%. (By comparison, Senator Grassleyscored a 58% overall approval rating, with 59% approval among independent voters, and Iowans gave President Obama a 57% approval rating, 50% among independent voters.)

Yet the Governor has another problem, a deeper problem, one that is frequently overlooked. While Culver may be out of favor with the vast majority of independent voters, even among Democrats, his approval rating is only 62%. That’s indicative of a profound dissatisfaction within Culver’s base.

Candidates – even incumbents – rarely prevail if their base is not with them.

Culver seems to have forgotten the all-important maxim “dance with the one that brought you.” A disturbing number of Party activists have told me they’ve been snubbed by the Governor, as have many elected officials. While failing to maintain good relations with one’s political base is always a bad idea, snubbing one’s base in advance of re-election is a recipe for political suicide.

I encourage other disgruntled Democrats to share their stories. Sometimes, it’s cathartic, even necessary, to air one’s dirty laundry. In a nutshell, my story is this:

After a series of meetings in July of 2006, Culver promised me that, as governor, he would advocate for campaign finance reform and support legislation to control urban sprawl. After nearly two-and-a-half years of mostly unreturned phone calls and of trying to build a working rapport with him and his staff, I finally shared my discontent publicly this past April.

What was the Governor’s response? He or his staff could have called. They could have addressed the substance of my dissatisfaction. But instead of offering to dance, Culver’s staff chose to publicly deride my concerns.

Some conventional political strategists argue that cultivating one’s base isn’t that important. They argue, in this case, that even if Democrats are deeply dissatisfied with Culver they’ll still vote for him. Those strategists may want to spend more time hob-knobbing with the rank-and-file, who tell me they may not vote for a Republican, but unless something changes, they don’t plan to vote for Culver either.

And what happens on Election Day is contingent upon the strength of a candidate’s organization leading up to Election Day. In 2006, I spoke on behalf of Culver at numerous events. I raised money for him. I actively encouraged everyone I spoke with to vote for him.

This time around, unless something changes, that’s not going to happen.

Like so many other disgruntled Iowa Democrats, I’m tired of being asked to be a campaign foot soldier only to be ignored – and to have the issues I care about ignored – once the election is over.

Governor Culver needs to turn over a new leaf. He needs to demand that his staff be more responsive. He needs to follow-through on the issues he promised to address. He needs to stop stepping on so many toes.

And he needs to dance with those of us who helped bring him to Terrace Hill. Otherwise, the next Iowan calling the tunes at the Governor’s Office could well be a Republican.

So is this unfair friendly fire from a snubbed pol with a healthy ego and no access, or is Fallon speaking hard truth to Lug?

Some of the points Fallon makes are valid. But he sort of loses me when he complains about his own inability to crack the administration firewall. I feel my eyes about to roll.

Still, his central point, that Culver made lots of promises to the base that he didn’t manage to keep, is an obstacle to re-election that the governor needs to navigate.

And again, much will depend on who Republicans nominate. If they veer hard right, they’ll make Culver’s base-repair job much easier.

Speaking of Republicans, they’ll love Fallon’s piece. Although I doubt he’ll get much acces to Gov. Rants’ office either.

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Thursday Column — In with a tweet, and lots of questions

So Christian Fong couldn’t wait.

The Republican Cedar Rapids marketing executive kicked off his run for governor with a Twitter tweet. Contrast that with the last GOP nominee, Jim Nussle, who entered the 2006 race with glitzy fanfare usually reserved for presidential hopefuls. We’ve gone from bunting and balloon drops to 140 characters on my BlackBerry.

Nussle burst in with the stature of a congressional power-broker known far and wide. Fong, 32, looks as if he’s still growing into his suit. He’s well-known and well-regarded locally. Elsewhere, he’s a question mark.

And questions swirl. Will Republicans send someone born in the days of disco to the big dance, to go toe-to-toe with the Big Lug? Can Fong’s bid to make history, as the youngest governor and the son of a Chinese immigrant, overcome his troubling lack of an electoral history? Can he convince the agitated right that “progressive conservative” isn’t shorthand for a squishy moderate who contributed bucks to Democrats?

Can a guy whose name rhymes with “wrong” weather the shots he’ll get from seasoned pols eager to take him out?

And will Iowans make a blogger governor?

Many candidates blog. Most offer small treats. Fong blogs in treatises.

Still, for a fresh face, there’s plenty of boilerplate. There are calls for investments and zones and a task force on tax policy. Big government is “too often the problem.” Teachers should be paid more if they meet higher standards. Rural schools are great. Marriage is between one man and one woman.

It’s not all bad. Just not all new. But there are glimpses into how Fong might shake things up.

He warns against practicing single-issue, ideological politics and urges the rejection of a “bizarre stream of conservatism that values ideological loyalty above all.” Fong decries labeling opponents as “extremist” in what he calls a “playground insult war.”

He might want to share that with one of his top backers, Iowans for Tax Relief chief Ed Failor Jr., who recently told a GOP crowd the Democrats’ agenda is Nazi-like.

Fong toes the party line on marriage, but he also wrote this before the Legislature adjourned: “The GOP needs to stop playing political games. Their frantic calls for a marriage amendment, ‘or it’s too late,’ are counterfactual to the realities of how the constitutional process works … let me suggest that turning a moral issue into a political chip is both disrespectful to the people involved and trivializes an important debate.”

But will he say that at a Sioux County soup supper? We’ll have to wait and see.

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