Iowa Republican governor hopefuls should aim not to embarrass party

BY ADAM SULLIVAN | JULY 13, 2009 7:15 AM

Iowa is home to maybe the first gubernatorial bid announced via Twitter.

Unfortunately, that’s about the most interesting thing that has come from the pool of Republicans vying for Gov. Chet Culver’s position in the 2010 election.

I don’t think a Republican will emerge that can oust Culver from his Des Moines office. The best we can hope for is that the Republicans put up a candidate good enough to prove that Iowa’s GOP is still relevant.

Of the possible Republicans in the race, my favorite so far is Christian Fong. Last month, Fong — a Cedar Rapids resident who had led some of that community’s flood-recovery efforts — posted to Twitter that he would seek the GOP nomination to run for governor.

Fong is an unlikely politician … actually, it might be more accurate to say he’s an unlikely Republican: He’s young, Asian, and the child of immigrants.

That he’s from eastern Iowa is appealing to me. But he also has a trademark issue that I care about: finding ways to keep young professionals in the state.

Fong’s unlikely gubernatorial bid isn’t entirely unviable; he has support from some prominent state conservatives such as Ed Failor, the leader of Iowans for Tax Relief, and Tim Palmer, who runs a prominent conservative blog and heads the Linn County GOP.

But, despite that support, Fong has no prior political experience and is only 32 years old. Those factors will undoubtedly turn into serious handicaps when Iowa Republicans cast their primary votes.

Instead, some old white guy will probably be picked to run against Culver. The front-runner right now appears to be Bob Vander Plaats.

The Sioux City politician has the backing of former presidential hopeful turned Fox News personality Mike Huckabee. That support undoubtedly has considerable weight among many Iowa conservatives.

Additionally, Vander Plaats’ big issue is gay marriage. He has called on Culver to make some clearly unconstitutional move which would squelch gay marriage until Iowans are allowed to vote. That hard-line stance will undoubtedly help in winning over the “conservative base.”

Unfortunately, those conservative credentials that will likely carry Vander Plaats through the primaries won’t have much weight with Iowa voters at large. While most Iowa voters still aren’t cozy to gay marriage, I don’t think they care enough about the issue to base their vote on it. But those voters who are looking to cast their governor vote against gay marriage can just as easily vote for Culver, who also doesn’t support gay marriage.

Culver is a mediocre governor, most Democrats aren’t jumping for joy to have him in their corner, but most Republicans aren’t out for his blood, either. I predict the biggest bloc of moderate and independent voters won’t be able to find enough wrong with Culver to vote against him. After all, Iowa’s economy is flaunting its resiliency, schools are performing moderately well, and there are no sign of an impending attack by the Minnesota National Guard.

Culver isn’t unbeatable, but it won’t be easy. The Republicans’ real challenge, though, is to choose a candidate who will leave irrelevant social issues alone, even if he doesn’t personally agree with them; someone who will speak out against high taxes and even higher spending, even on the state level; and, finally, a leader who can help reorganize a party that is injured on both the state and national levels.

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