After a 12 year absence from the governor’s office, Terry Branstad’s 2010 gubernatorial bid was dubbed the “back to the future” campaign.
Wednesday night Iowa’s longest-serving governor kicked off his campaign for a sixth term by asking: “Are you ready to build Iowa's future?”
“Four years ago, I came back to lead Iowa’s recovery,” the Guthrie County Republican said in announcing his 2014 re-election campaign at the Hy-Vee Conference Center in West Des Moines.
He took credit for leading a comeback that included restoring responsible budgeting practices, winning approval of education reforms, setting a goal of making Iowa the healthiest state in the nation, attracting $7.5 billion in capital investment to Iowa and creating more than 130,000 new jobs, and the largest property tax cut in Iowa's history.
The presumptive Democratic challenger, Sen. Jack Hatch of Des Moines, charged that Branstad has “misled Iowans about his accomplishments.”
“I really believe he has made mistakes and he has missed opportunities,” Hatch said.
Branstad, Hatch said, was elected on false promises and not only failed to deliver, but is trying to fool Iowans into re-electing him.
In asking for re-election, Branstad described an Iowa future “that builds on the best we have to offer; that embraces the challenges we face, and empowers our families and main street businesses for unparalleled success.”
“We have the opportunity to build a brighter future for all Iowans,” he told a crowd of more than 200. Branstad’s future Iowa will have more science, technology, engineering and math jobs, a lighter tax burden, more educational opportunities, a smaller less costly state government that will “provide our children and grandchildren with increased opportunity and greater prosperity.”
That is a “future we can build … must build,” Branstad said. “A future we will build. Together.”
The Iowa Democratic Party called the announcement speech “chock full of no ideas, no policies and no bold vision for Iowa.”
His “Building Iowa’s Future” slogan is an attempt to get Iowans to forget his “endless failures of mismanaging his administration and fudging his own job numbers,” Democratic Chairman Scott Brennan said.
“It’s clear that Terry Branstad is letting Iowa fall behind the rest of the country,” Brennan said. “Simply put, Terry Branstad would not build Iowa’s future, but move us further into the past.”
Nine-and-a-half months before the 2014 election, poll numbers and economic indicators suggest Branstad should have a clear shot at re-election.
“Nothing is inevitable,” cautioned Iowa GOP Chairman A.J. Spiker. “That’s why Gov. Branstad works as hard as he does.”
However, Iowa political observers said it’s unlikely anything or anyone will derail the Branstad juggernaut.
It helps that he’s “Teflon-coated,” Iowa State University political science Professor Steffen Schmidt said, comparing Branstad to Ronald Reagan.
The incumbent also has a “solid lead” over any Democratic opponent, Schmidt said, referring to recent polls showing the governor enjoying a 58 percent approval rating among Iowa voters.
It’s not just poll numbers that bode well for Branstad, according to Chris Larimer, UNI associate political science professor.
It’s also the “huge” policy achievements over the last two years – property tax relief, education reforms and the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan – as well as positive economic indicators -- low unemployment rate, balanced budget with rainy day and economic emergency funds full, and billions of dollars in business investment, Larimer said.
Although polling has shown Hatch is an unknown quantity to many Iowans, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said there’s plenty of time to change that – whoever is the Democratic nominee.
“I’m certainly going to wait to see who gets in, but I think we have a great field now,” Gronstal said. “I think Sen. Jack Hatch has great chance of securing this nomination and a great chance of beating Gov. Branstad.”
Given the success of his current term, Branstad can offer a vision of “staying the course,” which Dianne Bystrom of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University is likely to appeal to many Iowans who seem to prefer stability to change.
Given his focus on tax cuts and economic development, Drake political science professor Dennis Goldford said the argument the Democratic nominee can make is “whether he’s created the jobs he claims, and whether his policies will in fact create jobs.”
Coe College political science Professor Bruce Nesmith agreed, suggesting Branstad intentionally rolled out a low-key legislative agenda in his Condition of the State speech Tuesday because he anticipates “a coronation as long as he didn’t roil the water.”
Branstad will bring his campaign to Cedar Rapids Friday with a stop at Diamond V Mills, 25225 60th Ave. SW at 11:30 a.m. To RSVP, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/building-iowas-future-tour-cedar-rapids-tickets-10080552203. For the complete kick-off tour itinerary, visit http://branstadreynolds.com/events/