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Iowa Politics Roundup: Insiders Expect Branstad Win in Primary PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 04 June 2010 13:25

Iowa political insiders and analysts are putting their money on Terry Branstad to win the Republican Party's top-of-the-ticket race in Tuesday's primary election.

One longtime insider to GOP politics predicted this week that Branstad will win with roughly 50 percent of the vote, with Bob Vander Plaats just under 30 percent and Rod Roberts at about 16 or 17 percent. That insider said he would be "shocked" if Branstad didn't win the nomination.

But Dennis Goldford, a political-science professor at Drake University, gives the social-conservative backing behind Vander Plaats a little more credit than that. "I'd be surprised if Branstad lost the primary, but I wouldn't be shocked," he said. "It may well be that Branstad wins. I wouldn't say he got it, [that] it's done."

A Research 2000 Iowa Poll of 600 likely Republican-primary voters taken May 31 to June 2 and released Thursday evening by KCCI-TV showed Branstad ahead by 15 points: He'd win 44 percent of the vote, followed by Vander Plaats at 29 percent and Roberts at 12 percent.

A separate poll of 474 likely Iowa Republican-primary voters taken May 25 to 27 by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, and released this week also showed Branstad would win by 15 points: He'd win 46 percent of the vote compared with Vander Plaats' 31 percent and Roberts' 13 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Goldford said: "The thing I would caution [is that] the kind of support in Vander Plaats' corner tends to a great extent to be under-the-radar support. They've got [it] through churches, they've got their ways of organizing and meeting. There's a certain passion there among Vander Plaats supporters that is not there among the Branstad supporters."

Vander Plaats is counting on that and maintained this week that his internal polling shows the race is much closer than publicly portrayed, and the poll of likely Iowa Republican primary voters misses the independents and others who will vote Republican on Tuesday.

"Everything is setting up exactly as we had planned. I think we're going to be successful on June 8," Vander Plaats said. "Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday June 8, our campaign is going to have a significant portion of that primary. If we don't win the majority of the votes ... we will be very, very close to a close second."

Meanwhile, Branstad campaign spokesperson Tim Albrecht said the campaign's get-out-the-vote efforts are focused on turning out supporters for Branstad by working with its 300 county chairs across the state.

Most analysts place Roberts, a state representative, a distant third in the contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. But Republicans say they're hearing in the activist and volunteer community that Roberts rose in popularity following the three televised Republican gubernatorial debates, and that some view him the most acceptable candidate next to Branstad. They said some of the attacks launched by Vander Plaats may have backfired.

Roberts acknowledged to that he's the underdog in this race but said his campaign has a plan to win that includes television, radio, newspaper, and Internet advertising.

"But in addition to these paid advertising efforts, we've also launched statewide, grassroots, get-out-the vote efforts," Roberts said Wednesday. "These efforts include neighbor-to-neighbor phone-calling, door-knocking, use of social networking tools, and other forms of person-to-person contact to turn out votes for our campaign. Finally, our campaign will be traveling extensively all across the state as part of our Whistle-Stop Victory Tour over the next 7 days. We think the combination of these efforts is going to help us pull off an historic come-from-behind victory in the June 8 Republican primary election for governor."

Culver Campaign Mum About Preferred Opponent

Democratic Governor Chet Culver kicked off his re-election campaign last month with a 41-county tour, and state Democrats have launched a new stage of their coordinated campaign by moving into a new office on the west side of Des Moines. Campaign events are scheduled for throughout the summer and into the fall.

"We're just waiting to see who we will face in the general," Culver campaign spokesperson Ali Glisson said Wednesday.

Glisson said a poll released this week on the Republican gubernatorial primary shows that "the whole thing is still in flux." She declined to say that Democrats would prefer to have former Governor Branstad win because of his baggage, only saying: "I don't think we're going to take any of that for granted. We'll just see who we face. I wouldn't want to speculate about one candidate's going to be easier to beat or another."

Should Branstad win the nomination, attacks made against him by his fellow Republicans in the primary election are expected to resurface in the general election. They include his record of having raised taxes during his 16 years as governor, and his criticizing Culver's I-JOBS bonding-for-infrastructure program but having bonded during his tenure.

Meanwhile, results of several polls showing that Branstad would beat Culver in a head-to-head matchup haven't gone unnoticed by the Culver campaign. "The polls would certainly indicate that we've got a real race on our hands no matter what," Glisson said. "We're going to do the best that we can to win."

Glisson dismissed national criticism of Culver, such as a recent piece in the Washington Post saying that the governor is in deep electoral trouble. She said the author of that article isn't from Iowa. "We know what we need to do to win, and that's what we're focusing on," she said. "We're going to keep our eye on the prize and sort of focus on that. We're not going to get into the back-and-forth."

Conlin Still Expected to Win Senate Nomination Despite Recent Hits

Despite numerous hits taken in the past two weeks by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Roxanne Conlin, political analysts and insiders still expect the former U.S. attorney and 1982 Democratic nominee for governor to easily win the nomination over Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause on Tuesday.

"If Fiegen or Krause were to come out of nowhere and come within 10 points, that would be shocking and bode poorly for Democrats in an already tough year," Goldford said.

A Research 2000 Iowa Poll of 600 likely Democratic-primary voters taken May 31 through June 2 and released Thursday evening by KCCI-TV showed Conlin backed by 48 percent of respondents, compared with 13 percent for Krause and 12 percent for Fiegen. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

A separate poll of 406 likely Democratic-primary voters released this week by Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, North Carolina, produced similar results. It showed Conlin with 48 percent of the vote, with 31 percent undecided, Krause with 13 percent, and Fiegen at 8 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percent. More than 70 percent of likely Democratic primary voters had no opinion of Krause or Fiegen, and both candidates are in negative territory among voters who do have an opinion.

But expect issues raised during the primary to come back to haunt Conlin in the general election, political analysts and insiders say. "She's got a base, especially among women in the party," Goldford said. "In some ways, she's Iowa's Hillary Clinton. But she carries baggage -- she carries major baggage."

In three televised candidate debates, Fiegen zinged Conlin on everything from tax credits to her lack of knowledge about agriculture to her connection with a Monsanto lobbyist. He later questioned her campaign expenditures on campaign office rent, makeup, a car wash, and a trip to Hawaii, although the Conlin campaign said most of those expenses were actually paid with Conlin's personal checkbook.

The Des Moines Register then endorsed Fiegen instead of Conlin, saying: "We were surprised and disappointed she was not knowledgeable about and so oversimplified the details of important policy." All of this hurt Conlin and a "lot of those ghosts will be resurrected in September and October," one insider said.

Goldford said: "When you're the presumptive front-runner, you might think it's not a primary; it's a coronation." But he said while Conlin "didn't blow anybody away" at the debates, her two opponents also lost a moment to re-frame the race. "The other two need a breakout moment," he said. "Absent of breakout moments, she probably will get that nomination."