I emerge from the Republican primary with a few lessons learned. This is my first year in politics and I got to see it up front and personally. As many of you know, I was very much on the inside of Dave Funk's campaign. Dave is a very classy guy, and handled his defeat tonight with grace.
As a delegate to the Iowa Republican party, and as a guy trying to hawk my wares to the various Republican candidates, I made a lot of relationships. Additionally, I was key to the formation of the Tea Party here in Iowa and Patriot247 and the brainstorming group... I motored my way into politics. With that said, here's my summation of the 3rd District Congressional race, in which Dave (21%) lost a 7-way race, first to Iowa wrestling legend and well-moneyed candidate, Jim Gibbons (28%), and ultimately to State Senator and former mayor, Brad Zaun(43%):
The gubernatorial race is just as instructive. Bob Vander Plaats (41%) lost to former 4-time governor, Terry Branstad (51%). Here's why:
- Brad Zaun won the race for one reason and one reason only: strong and established relationships. Iowa is a place where personal friendships matter, and the long-time and experienced politician had the relationships necessary to win. Election success is all about getting bodies into the voting booth. Political relationships and an experienced team make that happen.
- Jim Gibbons had more money than any candidate, but he hid from the debates and from the voters - in part, because he doesn't even live in this district. At the convention, the only people who cheered for him were the teenagers he brought with him. He managed a second-place showing tonight because he raised about a quarter million and spent endlessly on advertising.
- Dave lost because he didn't raise enough money. Had he raised more money, he would have been able to get his message out to more people. Attracting money is a means of weighing a candidate's viability. It was a challenge for Dave.
- On the other hand, Dave did as well as he did because he had strong and passionate supporters and he articulated the argument for freedom better than anyone. No one could beat Dave on the issues. He won the debates. For his first political race ever - and in a crowded field and with not much money - he did pretty good. Another candidate with more money, Mark Rees, only got 4%. And Rees got the nod from the state capital's paper, the Des Moines Register.
- While the press tries to spin his loss as a reason to disregard the tea party crowd, they miss the point - whether it's intentional or just lazy thinking, I can't say. I mean, if Dave's loss with 21% of the vote means that the grassroots movement is worthy of dismissal, wouldn't that mean that we can similarly dismiss the Register's endorsements because Mark Rees' loss with only 4% of the vote? But here is the point: a bunch of political novices have just started establishing their lifelong political relationships with each other. If they continue, they'll grow their influence. I told the crowd of supporters this as I introduced Dave at the end of the night. They can't afford to buy into the media's denunciation of their involvement: their country and their children's futures are at stake.
What's next for me in politics? I dunno. I think a break for a while - but wow - I sure learned a lot.
- Again, relationships played a factor, but less so than the 3rd District race. Bob has run for governor twice previously, so he had the relationships. So did Terry. A third candidate, Rod Roberts, couldn't crack double digits. It was his first run at governor, so he didn't have the relationships.
- Vander Plaats is an amazingly gifted speaker. Far better than Branstad. He started his campaign last year. Branstad started much later. Vander Plaats had deeply passionate supporters. Branstad was well-known to have to have kept two sets of books while he was governor, hence his nickname of "Two-Book Terry." So why did Vander Plaats lose? Because he didn't raise quite as much money, and because he made social conservatism the centerpoint of his campaign. He openly said how he would issue an executive order regarding gay marriage once he became governor. He molded himself in the form of Huckabee, who surprisingly won the caucuses in Iowa in the last presidential election. Right down to the Chuck Norris endorsement, Vander Plaats emulated Huckabee in his third run for governor. And he lost. Though the devout will never admit it, social conservatism (aka making Christian government a priority) does make not a winning campaign. I would suggest that it's because social conservatism is not founded in the American principle of freedom of religion. It turns off a majority of voters, except for the devout. When only 41% of the Republican base in Iowa vote for the pronounced social conservative in the race, and he's a better speaker and has the solid base and has money, social conservatism can't be ignored as a factor in the loss. I have to say it: gay marriage is not the really big issue confronting Iowa today. Vander Plaats stubbornly missed that memo, to his harm.
- Finally, Iowans don't like change much. Branstad is a known entity. Vander Plaats was less known. We tend to keep our Senators around (Harkin and Grassley) despite their various and frequent faux pas. Branstad was a four-term governor. Change? It's tough for Iowans. They tend to keep what they know.