By The Sioux City Journal
In its history, no elected state leader has impacted Iowa quite like Terry Branstad.
More than four decades after winning his first political race for the Iowa House at the age of 25, the 66-year-old Branstad remains a powerful political figure. Seemingly retired from public office in 1999 after three terms in the House, one term as lieutenant governor and four terms as governor, Branstad returned to the political arena in 2008 by winning a fifth term as governor. He is the longest-serving governor in Iowa history.
He has never lost an election. From high-profile Democratic challengers like Roxanne Conlin, Lowell Junkins, and Don Avenson, to Republican primary challengers like Congressman Fred Grandy and Bob Vander Plaats, to Gov. Chet Culver, Branstad has defeated everyone he's faced on a ballot.
The biggest political question in Iowa today is whether he will seek a sixth term next year.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last month contributed to discussion and speculation in the state about Branstad's future, largely because more respondents said he does not deserve another term (43 percent) than said he does (42 percent). The same poll showed 49 percent of Iowans approve of his job performance vs. 31 percent who disapprove.
As for whether Iowans believe Branstad's been in office long enough, consider some recent Iowa history: Robert Ray served 16 years as governor; Tom Vilsack, two terms as governor; Charles Grassley is in his sixth term in the U.S. Senate; Tom Harkin is in his fifth term in the U.S. Senate; Steve King, sixth term in the U.S. House; Tom Latham, 10th term in the U.S. House; Leonard Boswell served eight terms in the U.S. House until losing to Latham last year after redistricting; Bruce Braley, fourth term in the U.S. House; Dave Loebsack, fourth term in the U.S. House.
As a rule, in other words, Iowans like incumbents, regardless of what they might say to a pollster.
Myriad unforeseen circumstances (including personal considerations) can affect the outcome of the governor's race between today and November 2014 and anyone who knows anything about politics knows absolute election certainties do not exist, but this much is clear: Should Branstad run again, he will be the prohibitive favorite and a formidable opponent for any Democrat who wishes to challenge him due to his continued popularity, the aforementioned force of incumbency in Iowa and the strength of the state's budget and economy.
If he doesn't run, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will. Even the most casual political observer can sense Branstad is grooming Reynolds for the job whenever he's had enough.
As we were by Harkin's decision to retire, we could be surprised by Branstad's decision, but he simply doesn't strike us as a man who's counting down the days to when he can ride off into the Iowa sunset. He looks and sounds every bit like a man with unmet goals and fire in his belly to pursue them. Another sign of re-election plans is the fact Branstad quietly has begun to assemble a campaign team.
So, will he or won't he? Does Branstad want four more years, for a total of 24?
We believe he does.
Our money says Iowans should expect to see Branstad's name on the ballot again next year.