Friday, August 18, 2006

Iowa Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 18, 2006
81 Days Until Election Day

Iowa Governor

Status: Democrat Open
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

The contest to become the next Governor of Iowa looks likely to be one of the closely contested races in the country and possibly the GOP’s most opportune chance for a Gubernatorial pickup.

After serving eight years as Governor, Democrat Tom Vilsack has national aspirations and is not seeking reelection. His term has been fairly up and down as far as his popularity is concerned, with it currently being at a reasonably high level. If Vilsack wants to be a serious Presidential contender, it is certainly in his best interest to see to it that the Hawkeye State elects another Democrat. For their part, Republicans have begun to realize that it may not be enough to ignore Vilsack and only focus on the party’s current nominee, but they must also highlight what they see as negative aspects of the Vilsack Administration.

The Democrat nominee is Secretary of State Chet Culver, a scion of a famous political family, and somebody who emerged from a reasonably difficult Democrat primary process, in which he comfortably outdistanced his closest rival, but a stronger than expected showing from a very liberal underdog nearly sent the nomination to be decided by a raucous convention, per Iowa law. That would have probably been the case, had Culver not succeeded in luring another statewide constitutional officer out of the Governor’s race and into the position of being his running mate before the primary.

The Republican nominee is Congressman Jim Nussle, a powerful player in Washington as Budget Committee Chairman, who like Culver, also tapped a primary opponent to be his running mate before the first round of voting as a show of party unity. Since that candidate was Nussle’s only opposition, he had a much easier path to his party’s nomination and was able to stockpile money for the general election season.

Iowa is seen as a swing-state on just about every level and this race is likely to be one that goes down to the wire. Polls throughout the year have shown a very close race, with Culver having a small lead in most of them, while Nussle had been faring better against the other Democrats who sought their party’s nomination. The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll has Culver with a scant lead of 41-38, which shows a lead cut in half, and an increase in undecided voters since their previous survey. Clearly, this race has a lot of persuadable voters who will be greatly targeted as the race heads down the homestretch.

Democrats will attempt to paint Nussle as a Washington D.C. Congressman who is responsible for unpopular budget decisions in the Beltway. Nussle will attempt to show that his federal government experience will be useful to the state as Governor, particularly as it relates to getting things for the state from Washington.

Nussle have a somewhat challenging task in convincing voters that it is time for a change in Des Moines and away from some of the Vilsack initiatives and priorities. He does have the benefit of having been elected to Congress in fairly strong showings, from a very competitive district where Democrats have a good deal of strength. The fact that Nussle has previously garnered such strong support in some of the more Democrat friendly parts of the state is definitely a plus when the strongly Republican parts of the state can also be expected to be in his column.

A factor to consider is that Iowa’s status as the first in the nation Presidential caucus will bring additional attention to this race as well as campaign appearances by a wide variety of Presidential hopefuls in both parties. Just last weekend, many of them attended Iowa’s State Fair.

In light of a disappointing 2006 primary season for Governor Vilsack in Iowa where his preferred candidates, including the candidate whom was believed to be his choice for Governor, lost their races, and after a Des Moines Register poll showed Vilsack running a distant third among Iowa Democrats, it looks likely that nobody will be conceding Iowa to Vilsack if he runs for President. It would be interesting to see if Culver as Governor would actually endorse another candidate over Vilsack, but ambitious Democrats from around the country will want to get on his good side nonetheless. The 2008 GOP Caucus will of course also be very important and therefore numerous Republican hopefuls will continue coming to the state on behalf of Nussle and other Republicans on the ballot in 2006. A 2007 endorsement by the man who is elected Governor of Iowa this year could go a long way in determining whom the next nominee of that Governor’s party will be.

A Culver vs. Nussle contest has all the makings of a tossup race and one that could easily swing to either side. Culver is a proven vote getter and somebody who hopes to benefit from an anti-Republican and anti-Congressional sentiment against Nussle in this during this midterm election. However, Nussle is a very effective and aggressive campaigner who has is said to have his message very focused on the campaign trail this season. While Culver definitely remains a contender and the polls certainly back that up at this point, there has been some talk that the Democrat nominee is acting a little off his game since the primary and needs to step it up. There has even been talk about how Culver’s waistline seems to be noticeably expanding as he campaigns across the Hawkeye State.

After eight years of a Democrat Governor in the state, I tend to think that any sort of mood in favor of change in Iowa could actually benefit Nussle more than it hurts him and his proven political success in a part of the state that is typically not friendly to Republicans make Jim Nussle a very narrow favorite to take back the Governorship of Iowa for the GOP.

Nussle campaign link:

2006 Governor races Predicted thus far: 2 D, 11 R
Post-election total of Governors predicted thus far: 10 D, 17 R