Published June 05, 2010
After 11 years, Terry Branstad wants his old job back.
The Iowa Republican served 16 years as governor, leaving office in 1999 with a record he now boasts about on the campaign trail.
"I led Iowa back from the farm crisis and left the state with $900 million and 2.5 percent unemployment," he has said.
Things are different in Iowa today. The state budget deficit is at half a billion dollars and climbing. Unemployment is above 7 percent. They're two big reasons why Democratic incumbent Chet Culver's re-election prospects have dimmed.
Branstad is in position to capture the Republican nomination in next Tuesday's primary but he'll have to get by obstacles in both major parties first.
Social conservative Bob Vander Plaats is Branstad's main GOP rival. He vows to challenge the state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage in Iowa. That plays well to social conservatives who are some of the most dependable voters in the Iowa Republican Party.
"They'll walk over broken glass," Vander Plaats said. "They'll go out during the thunderstorm or during a tornado watch. They'll vote for us."
Vander Plaats, trailing in the polls, hopes he can come from behind just like his friend Mike Huckabee did in the 2008 Iowa GOP caucuses. Vander Plaats has the endorsement of the former Arkansas governor and Fox News contributor.
He hired Huckabee's Iowa campaign manager and is stumping with Huckabee pal, Chuck Norris.
"Huck and Bob are a lot alike," Norris said.
Branstad has the endorsement of former Alaska governor and Fox News contributor Sarah Palin but he's also been under fire from a special interest group called Iowans for Responsible Government, which labels Branstad a tax-and-spend liberal.
Behind this effort is Rob Tully, former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, who would not comment. But one party activist, Ed Fallon, who does a radio talk show with his wife Lynne, says this is a mistake.
"Iowans don't like dirty politics and this is dirty politics," Fallon said.
Branstad says the reason Democrats are targeting him early is simple.
"They don't want to have to run against me in the general election," he said, noting that in 10 contested elections, he's never lost.