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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

2012 Preview in Iowa?

I try not to react–much less overreact–to every sparrow that falls to the ground from the Gods of Public Opinion, but there is a survey just out today that is really interesting.
From PPP, it represents the first publicly released data from the Iowa Republican gubernatorial contest in many months. As expected, former Gov. Terry Branstad is leading Bob Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts. But unexpectedly, Brantstad is under 50%, and leads Vander Plaats 46-31, with Roberts receiving 13%.
Dean Debnam of PPP had this to say:

It’s going to be very interesting to see if Terry Branstad is the next victim of the Tea Party movement. He’s still ahead but the momentum seems to be on Vander Plaats’ side.

If so, that’s worth noting for two reasons. The first is that Vander Plaats does not look to be a very strong general election candidate against Democrat Chet Culver, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. That matters a lot to Iowans.
But for the rest of us, the interesting thing is that the Branstad/Vander Plaats primary is something of a surrogate fight between Republican factions who will face off in the 2012 presidential nominating contest in the same state. Vander Plaats was Mike Huckabee’s Iowa campaign chairman in 2008, and the Romney campaign in Iowa was run by people close to Branstad. Unsurprisingly, Huckabee’s endorsed Vander Plaats this year, and Romney’s endorsed Branstad. Huckabee famously beat Romney in the 2008 caucuses, despite being outspent by about a gazillion to one.
If Vander Plaats were now to beat Branstad, in a primary, not a caucus, and despite being heavily outspent, and despite running a less than impressive campaign, and despite Branstad looking much more electible–then we’d probably be entitled to conclude that hard-core conservatives are really and truly in charge of the Iowa Republican Party these days. This would not be very good news for Mitt Romney, who is pretty much stuck with a 2012 campaign that makes him the mainstream establishment candidate who’s got money and is relatively electible.

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