Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds had a busy week in the middle of their campaign for re-election, speaking at the Dubuque Rotary, touring businesses and going to Sioux City for an anti-bullying event and the American Pop Corn Company’s 100th anniversary.
Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger in the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, state Sen. Jack Hatch, was canceling television ads in Sioux City and in the Quad Cities area as well. Ads pending in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids market were on hold.
Hatch’s campaign clearly has been in the kind of steep uphill climb you would expect when running against an incumbent whose official visits for the state can have the same impact as a campaign stop. That Branstad had a whopping 22 times more campaign money than Hatch had mid-summer has made Hatch’s bid to unseat Branstad even more difficult.
“If you want to characterize it as an uphill climb it’s almost like going up Everest or something,” Christopher Budzisz, associate professor of politics at Loras College in Dubuque and director of the Loras Poll, said. “It’s more like a mountain to climb than a hill when you have that type of difference in spending.”
The latest Loras Poll showed Branstad leading Hatch among 1,200 likely Iowa voters questioned about their preferences Sept. 2 through 5 by a 55.5 percent to 33.5 percent margin, give or take the poll’s margin of error of 2.8 percentage points. Other polls since then also show Branstad leading among likely voters.
Branstad’s campaign had $4 million on hand at the end of the last campaign finance disclosure period on July 19. Hatch had $183,142, disclosure figures show.
While Hatch has traveled across Iowa to make up for that gap, introducing himself to people and getting them to listen, Branstad has been able to campaign simply by being governor, making official visits with Reynolds and issuing press releases about state business.
“Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announces statewide STEM female mentoring effort,” read a press release from the governor’s office on Sept. 24.
Branstad has used visits to various parts of the state to touch on issues and initiatives he has pushed at the legislative level: a bullying prevention tour, a business summit, businesses creating jobs and an honor flight pre-flight dinner, among his September visits.
But the campaign value is huge for these visits funded by the state, or in some cases involving business trade trips, an economic development foundation.
Jimmy Centers, spokesman in the governor’s office, said the Branstad-Reynolds campaign reimburses the state Iowa Department of Public Safety, of which the Executive Protection Unit that transports the governor and lieutenant governor is a part, for the costs of campaign visits that are combined with a visit for state business.
That amount through Sept. 23 was $7,363.24, records the governor’s office gave IowaWatch show.
The campaign reimbursed the state at a rate of 39 cents per mile for 184 trips covering 18,880 miles, the records show.
That rate was set by the director of administrative services in 2008, when pump prices fluctuated greatly from just under $3 a gallon to a little more than $4 a gallon during the summer and then below $2 a gallon at the end of the year for a brief period, and has not changed since. It is based on the cost per mile that the state pays to operate one of its vehicles, Centers said. It also is the rate paid a state employee for using a personal vehicle for state business, he said.
JACK HATCH’S PATH
Hatch has reached large audiences during televised debates with Branstad. One was held Aug. 14 at the Iowa State Fair and a second was held Sept. 20 in Burlington. A third is scheduled for Oct. 14 in Sioux City.
“I’ve got the governor just where I want him,” Hatch said shortly after the Burlington debate when IowaWatch asked him about running against the power of incumbency and Branstad’s huge campaign fund advantage.
“I think we’re going to have enough money to get through this campaign,” Hatch said. “We are an active campaign. The governor certainly has a lot of money but it depends on how you spend it.”
Hatch has hammered Branstad for several controversial moves Branstad has made the past four years, including closing Workforce Development offices and the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. The list goes on: shifting the classification of some state jobs to political appointments, secret settlements made to state employees dismissed from their jobs, payments to employees to remain silent about being dismissed, a do-not-hire list for state jobs, the firing of a state trooper who complained about a speeding incident involving a trooper driving the governor, and Branstad’s handling of a discrimination lawsuit filed by the gay former Workers Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey.
“I’m going to have my trust in Iowans. We’re going to make this campaign work. We’re going to go out and meet people. We’re going to capture the imagination of the people of this state,” Hatch said.
“And we’re going to bother all you guys,” Hatch added, referring to reporters asking him questions after the debate. “We’re going to make sure that when we come into a town that we meet with you, and that you help us at least invite your listeners and your readers to come in and talk to us.”
Iowans have been talking with Branstad. He and Reynolds went to all 99 counties this year on official state visits. They have done so in all four years of their terms for a total of 2,454 visits once they completed this year’s tour in Louisa County in August, the governor’s office reports.
Branstad consistently reminds voters of those visits. “We are not conceding anywhere,” Branstad said. “We’re working hard everywhere. We love this state. We think that we have got a record to be proud of but we’re not done.”
Branstad defends himself against Hatch’s attacks by saying he has been open and has answered multiple critical questions about all of the moves Hatch criticizes.
Hatch shifted attention in the last gubernatorial debate from the condition Iowa is in to investigations and questions raised about Branstad. He called Branstad’s administration the most scandal-ridden in Iowa history.
Budzisz said candidates who know they are trailing in fundraising and name recognition need to keep campaigning for the unexpected. “You can never say never in politics,” he said.
“It’s uphill, but it makes sense for state Senator Hatch to keep plugging away and hope that some things beyond his control work in his favor,” Budzisz said. “But it’s very difficult.”
For Branstad, that means the following, Budzisz said: “The simplest answer is to not make any unforced errors.”
WHAT VOTERS THINK
Hatch supporters know what they are up against in the last month of this campaign. Don Harter, a Democrat from Burlington, is among those who will say Hatch is running a good campaign.
“I like the factual part of it,” Harter said about Hatch’s campaign. “I just wish Mr. Branstad would also express, actually, specific things that he’s planning on doing, rather than just alluding to the fact, ‘oh, I’ve been able to get more jobs’ and so on.”
But Melody Slater, a Republican from Montrose in southeast Iowa, is okay with hearing about Branstad’s tenure as governor.
“It really gives you a good hope and a good feeling,” she said. “He’s really emphasizing all the positive things that he’s been doing the last two years in Iowa. And that is just, really just a nice take instead of having negative things.”
Branstad said he has focused on the future. “And we’re going to continue to focus on things like ‘Connect Every Acre’ (a move to connect the entire state to high-speed internet), and make sure that we have a workforce development system that’s coordinated with our economic development system, and that we focus on reducing student debt and making college more affordable for Iowans,” he said.
Another Loras Poll is to be done soon, and a second one seems likely as well before the Nov. 4 election, Budzisz said.
A Rasmussen Reports poll of 750 likely voters, taken Sept. 17 and 18, showed Branstad leading Hatch 46 percent to 40 percent in a poll that had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Branstad’s lead was wider in a Quinnipiac University poll that showed him with a 60 percent to 37 percent lead among 1,167 likely Iowa voters the week of Sept. 10 through Sept. 15.
One result in that Quinnipiac poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, might be more telling than others:
Four of every five voters in the poll – 82 percent – said their mind already is made up.This IowaWatch story was published by The Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA), The Courier (Waterloo-Cedar Falls), The Telegraph Herald (Dubuque) and Sioux City Journal under IowaWatch’s mission of making its stories available for republication. Please support our nonprofit journalism with a tax deductible donation at this link.