Now that only the trivialities of voting stand between Gov. Terry Branstad and a divinely mandated sixth term, we can begin speculating on just when, exactly, this guy might stop running the state of Iowa. And will we have flying cars by then?
Various scenarios are being spun by the official scenario spinners.
On the straightforward side, after defeating state Sen. Jack Hatch in November, Branstad serves out his sixth term and finally decides enough is enough. Boor-ring.
He runs for a seventh term. Astoun-ding.
Or, at some point during term 6, he steps down to allow his heir apparent, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, to take the reins, and then run for a full term as an incumbent.
It’s that last one that has captured the imagination of those so desperate to find any imagination in politics.
On Friday, while taping Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program that aired over the weekend, the governor did not end this speculation fest. He confirmed that Reynolds is being groomed as his replacement. Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson asked him if he planned to serve out his term or step down to make way for Reynolds.
“It’s my intention to serve the entire term as governor. But, you know, life, you have to take one day at a time, and you try to do the very best you can,” Branstad said.
“It’s my intention” is not as definitive as “I pledge, promise, swear and vow.” Although it is, as any parent knows, much stronger than “We’ll see.” Also better than “prolly.”
Today, the governor told journos that he’s “intending to serve a long time.” Follow up, what’s your definition of “long time” anyway?
And he’s not ruling anything out. I also bet everything’s on the table. Never say never. A year is a lifetime in politics. See, imagination is lacking.
So why would Branstad feel the need to step down to help Reynolds? Political realities, says Bleeding Heartland:
Having been a country treasurer rather than a well-known local activist before winning her Iowa Senate seat, she has no natural constituency in the Republican base. Social conservatives don’t fully trust her, nor does she have many fans on the “Liberty” wing. Why else would the governor’s campaign feel compelled to turn supporters out to precinct caucuses, if not to head off any challenge to her as the 2014 lieutenant governor nominee?
I don’t see any way Reynolds could win a statewide primary in today’s Iowa GOP. However, a year or more time to campaign and fundraise as the incumbent governor could give her a fighting chance in a 2018 primary. Even then, other ambitious Republicans might seek the office, but she would have some advantages she couldn’t bring to a campaign in her current position. If Branstad is re-elected, I expect him to recognize that reality and step down at some point after he has cemented his place as the longest-serving governor in American history.
I agree with the political assessment. But I’m still not convinced that Branstad will punt early, unless there’s a health issue or some other problem that affects his ability to do the job. If he stays healthy and popular, I think he will remain governor, maybe even keep running for governor. Exhibit A: he’s been governor for almost 20 years already. I get the feeling he likes it. A lot.
He’s a calculating politician through and through, but a bait and switch like this seems like too much calculation. I have a hard time imagining Branstad packing it in before he has to. And I don’t think voters would respond positively. Being cleverly anointed actually could put Reynolds at a disadvantage. Republican primary voters have shown, repeatedly, that they don’t like to have their candidates picked by the powers that be. Branstad’s seal of approval has had limited value in legislative races, for example.
At some point, I think Branstad is going to have to be more definitive about his plans. Yeah, he’s a shoe-in, I know. But voters like to know these things. They deserve to know.
But I expect the governor to play it straight, and keep playing. He will leave office in a flying car. Heard it here first.