During the 2010 election, there were a couple of big themes that helped Gov. Terry Branstad win a fifth term.
First, people were weary of the Culver administration, which seemed, at times, to be operating to the tune of “Yakety Sax.” There were foibles and pratfalls and flop sweat. Trust and good will eroded, and Iowa voters who rarely make a gubernatorial change made one.
Second, they saw Branstad as a competent, experienced manager who could step in at a troubling moment and put things back in order. The foibles would fade. The pratfalls would end.
So in 2010, two big advantages. Now, in 2013, as he preps to run for term six, Branstad gets two warnings.
One came along Highway 3 in north central Iowa on Aug. 27, when Branstad’s trooper-driven SUV was caught, yet again, speeding. The latest incident spawned a full rewind of the much-reported April saga when Branstad’s SUV was clocked by the State Patrol doing 84 mph in a 65-zone, but was not stopped. An investigation, a lawsuit and bad press followed. And remain in hot pursuit.
In July, Branstad declared no more speeding. He put his foot down on putting the hammer down. Six weeks later, flashing lights in Franklin County. On Monday, he vowed to put his driving trooper on notice, while reminding us, again, that he was in the back seat, not the driver’s seat.
Warning two came in The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll on Sunday, which found Branstad with a glowing 54 percent job approval rating. However, 55 percent of respondents said he’s been in office long enough, including 62 percent of independents.
The problem with the speeding stuff isn’t that it’s earth-shaking, it’s that it dents Branstad’s image as a strong manager, a pro in command at all times. He ran in 2010 to grab the wheel and take charge, not sit in the back seat. And Branstad’s recent headline-making troubles have involved public safety functions, including problems at the Toledo juvenile home. That’s the basic stuff voters expect to be run competently.
A self-depreciating sense of humor and a willingness to swiftly take responsibility could have served the governor well, especially in this social media age of molehills tweeted into mountains. Neither skill has surfaced. Beware the faint sound of saxophones in the distance.
As for the poll, now that circa 2010’s crisis of confidence largely has passed, a fair number of Iowans are wondering whether there’s really a compelling reason for Branstad to hold power for an unprecedented 24 years. The poll would seem to reflect those misgivings.
Still, if Democrats don’t nominate a challenger who can make a clear, persuasive case for change, it won’t matter much. Iowans will probably stick with Branstad, again.