Branstad campaign awash in funding


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Four months stand between victory and defeat between one of the longest running U.S. Republican governors and a relatively fresh-faced Democratic counterpart. And with that gap shrinking by the day, respective campaign trails and strategies for the Iowa governor’s mansion have become inherently different, from national endorsements to the sheer number of dollars raised.

Seeking a politically unprecedented sixth-term as Iowa’s chief executive, 67-year-old Gov. Terry Branstad and his 54-year-old Republican lieutenant governor running mate, Kim Reynolds, have continued to rake in campaign fundraising dollars in recent months that far and away exceed that of their rivals.

“This far out, the Hatch campaign is very invisible,” said Dennis Goldford, a politics and international-relations professor at Drake University of Branstad’s Democratic challengers.

“They’ve got to get visible very quickly, and that takes money.”

Branstad campaign officials have amassed nearly 20 times what their Democratic adversaries, 67-year-old real estate developer Jack Hatch and 56-year-old Cedar Rapids City Councilor Monica Vernon have raised, according to a May 30 report released by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

Advertisements peddling Branstad’s successful political track have flooded television airtime, and a throng of high-profile national-party leaders have visited governor fundraisers.

At the end of the most recent reporting period, May 30, the Branstad-Reynolds campaign dubbed “Building Iowa’s Future” had nearly $4.7 million in cash on hand, compared with $241,859 for the Hatch-Vernon ticket, according to the Disclosure Board.

“The Branstad campaign has more money than it knows what to do with at this point,” Goldfold said.

The Branstad administration’s deep pockets are translating to fruitful results, Goldford said, because Branstad operation officials have felt comfortable enough with their recent lead in several state polls to switch from negative attack ads to a “humanization” effort for Branstad to keep him relevant in a likable way in the eyes of the state’s residents.

“I am pleased to see energized and enthusiastic support across Iowa for our campaign and for all Republicans running in this year’s election,” Branstad said in an email statement Tuesday to The Daily Iowan.

Following the June 3 primary, Branstad and Reynolds launched a 14-city tour across Iowa, which featured stops in Oskaloosa, Mount Pleasant, Fort Dodge, Dubuque, and Cedar Falls.

A visit by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie headlining a Branstad-Reynolds gubernatorial re-election campaign event on July 17 at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport is expected to have one of the most closely watched turnouts in recent times for Iowa Republicans. 

“… We saw impressive turnout at each visit. Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I love to visit every county, every year, to listen to the people of Iowa, and we will continue to work hard in this election to make it my best campaign yet,” Branstad said in the statement.

On June 23, Branstad officials released three new statewide broadcast television advertisements: “Working Hard for Iowa,” “Results,” and “It’s About Our Future” — which featured testimonials from state residents on the five-term governor’s political legacy.

Tommy Schultz, the communications director for the Branstad-Reynolds administration, said that to date, more than 15,000 donors across the state’s 99 counties have contributed to re-election efforts

However, it will be the campaign that properly defines its opponent — not just name recognition and fundraising — that will lead to victory, Goldford said.

Though Hatch and Vernon lag behind in public awareness with the absence of a bevy of statewide TV ads or get-out-the-vote initiatives, Goldford said the polls could swing in their favor if they can argue and back up claims that the incumbent office has failed Iowa citizens.

The Branstad administration has come under fire for alleged illegal occurrences since March, when the Des Moines Register reported that the state paid more than $282,000 over the past three years in secret settlement deals with former employees that claimed they lost their jobs because they have ties with the Iowa Democratic Party.

Litigation regarding the Branstad administration’s involvement in the settlements is still pending.

Vernon has run her lieutenant-governor campaign on the notion of a “fresh start,” particularly in appearances at the Iowa Democratic Party state convention on June 21.

Recent stumps across the Democratic campaign trail have included stops in Fairfield, Des Moines and a Tuesday visit to Cedar Rapids.

“People want competency to come back to the top of the administration,” she said, citing the need for increased transparency that she said is lacking under the Branstad helm. “It’s not about how much money you raise from outside sources, outside of Iowa, it’s about the people you are.”

John Hedgecoth, a press spokesman for Hatch, said as the end of May, the campaign has raised $262,000 with $318,000 of cash on hand.

He said campaign officials have no targeted fundraising goal, but raising the name recognition of Hatch and Vernon — two small-business leaders — and continuing to illustrate the contrasting policies of the Branstad administration are two paramount goals.

Teaching voters the differences between the two campaigns and calling to mind what he called Branstad’s failed attempts at job-creation are a priority, Hedgecoth said.

Defending her campaign’s choice to ramp up statewide advertisements, Vernon said voters should expect more visibility toward the end of the campaign season in November. She did not elaborate on when more advertisements will be released.

Because the summer months are full of Little League games and vacation outings, she said, campaign officials do not seek to bombard Iowa residents with political matters at this time.

Since Iowa voters are “temperamentally conservative,” Goldford said, the Hatch-Vernon ticket could be faced with many Iowa residents resting on an adage about backing Branstad: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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