IA-Gov News roundup

I've been posting less often at MyDD lately because Iowa campaign news is keeping me busy at my home blog, Bleeding Heartland. From time to time I will keep MyDDers up to date on our highest-profile races: Roxanne Conlin's bid against five-term Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Governor Chet Culver's re-election campaign against four-term former Governor Terry Branstad.

After the jump you'll find lots links on the Iowa governor's race since Branstad won the June 8 primary with about 50 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Bob Vander Plaats and 9 percent for Rod Roberts.

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IA-Gov: Branstad looks set to win GOP primary

Three recent Iowa polls show former Governor Terry Branstad in a position to win this year's Republican gubernatorial primary on June 8. The Sunday Des Moines Register published results from the latest Iowa poll by Selzer and Co, which surveyed 501 likely Iowa Republican primary voters. About 57 percent of respondents plan to vote for Terry Branstad, 29 percent plan to vote for Bob Vander Plaats, and 8 percent plan to vote for Rod Roberts. The poll was in the field from June 1 through June 3, and results for the likely Republican voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Two other Iowa polls by Public Policy Polling and Research 2000 for KCCI have found Branstad below 50 percent but comfortably ahead of Vander Plaats and Roberts. Public Policy Polling had Branstad with 46 percent, Vander Plaats with 31 percent and Roberts with 13 percent. Research 2000 for KCCI put Branstad at 44 percent in the GOP primary, Vander Plaats at 29 percent and Roberts at 12 percent.

In Iowa's 2002 Republican primary, Vander Plaats did much better than his final poll numbers, but he benefited that year from a highly negative campaign between front-runners Steve Sukup and Doug Gross. Vander Plaats announced James Dobson's endorsement on Thursday and held rallies around the state with Chuck Norris on Friday and Saturday, but I doubt it will be enough to overcome the hurdles he's facing in the primary.

This race might have played out differently had Vander Plaats had more resources to make his case. About 34 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the new Des Moines Register poll weren't sure whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Vander Plaats, and 60 percent said the same about Roberts. Branstad not only is much better known, he also scored highest on attributes like "best ideas for bringing new jobs to Iowa" and "best able to curb government spending" (which is laughable when you consider Branstad's record on fiscal issues).

Public Policy Polling's survey had Vander Plaats slightly ahead of Branstad among Republican primary voters who had heard of both candidates. Branstad's lead among self-identified conservatives was much smaller than his lead among those who called themselves moderates. Vander Plaats has campaigned as a more conservative candidate, a stauncher opponent of gay marriage, and the only Republican in the field who supports an Arizona-style immigration law in Iowa (though Branstad and Roberts have done plenty of pandering on the immigration issue too).

I will never understand why the Club for Growth and other national right-wing organizations declined to get involved in the Iowa governor's race. Given the way the national conservative movement pushed Marco Rubio against Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the U.S. Senate primary, you'd think they would have some issues with Branstad. During his four terms as governor, he received a "D" grade from the Cato Institute, greatly increased the state budget, borrowed money to pay bills and kept two sets of books to hide illegal deficits.

Assuming Branstad is the Republican nominee, Democratic Governor Chet Culver has a tough road ahead. Every poll on the race since last fall has shown Branstad leading Culver, and in many cases Branstad was above the 50 percent mark. Last week Public Policy Polling's survey showed Branstad ahead 52-37, while Research 2000 for KCCI had Branstad leading Culver 51-42. The Des Moines Register hasn't published general election numbers yet for its latest poll by Selzer. Culver's approval ratings have been below 50 percent since last fall, and he will need to bring them up a bit and make this election a choice rather than a referendum on the incumbent. He also needs to hope that social conservatives and tea party activists who favor Vander Plaats either stay home or vote third party in the governor's race. Some conservatives have already pledged not to support Branstad against Culver.

Any thoughts about the Iowa governor's race are welcome in this thread.

Palin's Iowa endorsement could hurt her in 2012

If Sarah Palin runs for president in 2012, she will regret endorsing former four-term Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in the Iowa Republican primary for governor.

First thoughts on how this will play out are after the jump.

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IA-Sen: Conlin (D) launches first tv ad

Roxanne Conlin, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, begins television advertising across Iowa this week. I'm not able to embed the commercial, but click here to watch. The Conlin campaign released this transcript:

“I’m Roxanne Conlin. Taking on the special interests has been the cause of my life. Like taking on the big banks to help family farms at risk of foreclosure. I took on corrupt politicians and corporations who violated the public trust. I’m running for U.S. Senate to take this fight to Washington. Fight for relief on Main Street, not more bailouts for Wall Street. Because the special interests have had their turn. Now, it’s our turn. I’m Roxanne Conlin and I approved this message."

I noticed a small omission from that transcript: in the commercial, Conlin says, "As a prosecutor I took on corrupt politicians..." That's important, because many Iowans may not remember that she served as U.S. attorney for Iowa's southern district from 1977 to 1981.

This ad is a shorter version of the introductory video Conlin's campaign released last fall, which I discussed here. It's a fairly basic message for Iowans who haven't heard of Conlin, and it makes sense for her to raise her profile just before the June 8 primary. Though this ad doesn't mention five-term Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley, it starts building the case Conlin will make later in the campaign: Grassley has stood up for special interests throughout his career. I believe Grassley voted for the financial reform bill last week in order to undercut the narrative Conlin will build against him.

Iowa's primary election takes place on June 8. Two other Democrats are challenging Grassley: Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen. Most people expect Conlin to win the primary easily. She began the race with more name recognition and has campaigned in all 99 counties since the start of the year. Conlin has already raised more money than all of Grassley's previous challengers combined. She out-raised Grassley in the first quarter and had about $1 million cash on hand as of March 31, while the Krause and Fiegen campaigns had less than $1,000 on hand between them.

Late last week Conlin called on Grassley to denounce Kentucky Republican Rand Paul's comments about civil rights. Paul suggested that private businesses should be allowed to discriminate. Without mentioning Paul's name, Grassley's spokesperson told Iowa Independent,

Sen. Grassley’s position is that if a place is open for business it should be open for everyone. You may know that Grassley was a co-sponsor of the 1982 and 2006 reauthorizations of the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 companion to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was in the middle of the agreement reached on the 1982 legislation. Grassley also supported the 1991 extension of the Civil Rights Act. That was the last major amendment to the Civil Rights Act. It was broadened in 1972, after its passage in 1964.

Grassley is wise to put some distance between himself and Paul's views. As Assistant Iowa Attorney General in the 1970s, Conlin prosecuted the first cases under our state's civil rights law.

IA-Gov: New Branstad ad airbrushes his record

Former four-term Governor Terry Branstad, the likely Republican nominee against Governor Chet Culver, launched his campaign's third television ad today, about a month after his first commercials started running statewide in Iowa. The latest ad depicts Branstad as "the real conservative change we needed then... and now."

Here's the ad script:

The farm crisis ... Budget deficits... Skyrocketing unemployment...

That’s what Terry Branstad faced when he was elected governor.

But this Winnebago County farm kid put his rural values right to work, recruiting thousands of jobs, cutting out half the state agencies and taxes $124 million – leaving us record employment, and a $900 million surplus.

Terry Branstad is the real conservative change we needed then... and NOW.

Time for a reality check.

Branstad was first elected governor in 1982, near the bottom of an economic cycle (at that time the most severe recession since World War II) and was fortunate to retire near the peak of the Clinton boom years. However, job gains during Branstad's tenure as governor did not fulfill promises he made during his campaigns.

Iowa reorganized state government in 1985, eliminating some agencies and merging others into larger departments. On the other hand, total state government employment increased from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999. Total receipts in the state's general fund increased from $1.899 billion in 1983 to $4.881 billion in 1999. That 166 percent increase was more than the rate of inflation during the same period, and Iowa's population was no larger when Branstad retired than it was when he was first elected.

The huge growth in the general fund budget would not have been possible without various tax increases Branstad signed into law. Increased revenue from two sales tax hikes dwarfed the $124 million in tax cuts highlighted in Branstad's new commercial. Those cuts came primarily from reducing income and estate taxes, delivering most of the benefits to wealthier Iowa families. Unfortunately, Branstad's sales tax increases disproportionately hit lower-income families, who spend a greater share of their money on essentials.

Branstad was far from reluctant to raise taxes. He asked the state legislature to increase the sales tax in his very first budget address, within days of being inaugurated in 1983.

I expect Branstad to win the Republican primary on June 8 despite his accountability problem. Bob Vander Plaats is a strong speaker but doesn't have the financial resources to publicize his case against the former governor. Rod Roberts isn't trying to make a case against Branstad, as far as I can tell. His function in the campaign seems to be to prevent Vander Plaats from consolidating the conservative vote in the primary.

However, during the general election campaign, Branstad will face an opponent with the resources to compare his record with his rhetoric. I wonder how many conservative Republicans will either stay home in November or check the Libertarian box in the governor's race.

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