By James Q. Lynch and Rod Boshart
Branstad, who has made that tour en route to four terms as governor in the 1980s and 1990s, called the Republican “Iowa team” – including Auditor David Vaudt, Matt Schultz for secretary of state and Dave Jamison for treasurer — the strongest slate of statewide candidates he’s seen.
“These are hardworking caring people who will really represent you, the taxpayers of Iowa,” Branstad told a crowd that was twice as large as the one he spoke to in Marion the day before the primary. “I really believe this is the year it can happen.”
The GOP’s statewide tour might have been called the “road to unity tour” given the hard-fought primary battle Branstad faced for the gubernatorial nomination. Earlier Thursday, Steve Scheffler, one of the party’s two national committee members and leader of the Iowa Christian Alliance, said any party divisions are “going to heal pretty quickly.” He expects some conservative groups, like the Iowa Family Policy Center, that pledged to sit out the fall election if Branstad was the GOP nominee, to reconsider “because the alternative is unthinkable” to have Democratic Gov. Chet Culver win another four-year term.
“This is our candidate and he is 100 percent better than what the alternative is,” Scheffler said.
Longtime Linn County GOP activist Steve West of Hiawatha seconded that idea.
“I hope the party gets it together and makes this a big tent,” West said. “We’re the third largest party in Iowa – behind independents and Democrats. So we need all the Republicans, as many independents as possible and even a few conservative Democrats if we’re going to win.”
Branstad wants to meet with chief rival Bob Vander Plaats to bridge differences that emerged during the primary-election cycle, and GOP state Chairman Matt Strawn said he expected Republicans to close ranks quickly to focus on attracting independents and dissatisfied Democrats.
Also Thursday, Branstad unveiled a new television commercial touting his leadership skills in his previous stint as Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999.
“There’s something to be said for longevity,” Montijo Fink of Hiawatha said, adding that Branstad’s “track record and experience” make him the better candidate.
Branstad’s promise to take advice on budget issues from Auditor Vaudt and veto any legislation that circumvents state law limiting spending to 99 percent of revenues made sense to Tony Schmidt of Hiawatha.
“We need a change,” he said. Overspending by Culver and the Democratic-controlled Legislature has motivated him to be more active in this campaign than in the past. “I’ve donated money and made some phone calls.”
His wife, Nancy, has been a regular at the Branstad phone bank in large part because of Branstad’s pledge to lift educational achievement.
“We have seven kids together, so we see it at school,” she said. “When the funding is being cut and teachers are losing their jobs, there isn’t as much for them to do.”
Branstad called for returning to his administration’s practice of “rewarding performance, rewarding good teachers and good schools. We need to have the courage to change those that aren’t getting the job done for our students.”