Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)
Key question: What will Terry Branstad do?
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

The next big election in Iowa is the 2018 Gubernatorial race. What the field looks like is up in the air and right now I have more questions than answers.

1. What will Iowa Governor Terry Branstad do?

Will he seek a 7th term?

***Update**** Jennifer Jacobs with Bloomberg Politics reports after this article was published that Branstad has been offered and has accepted the ambassadorship to China.

Governor Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) is the nation’s longest serving Governor and he has made no indication of what he will do in 2018 so all we can do is guess at this point. My gut feeling is that he will not run for reelection. I would not be surprised if he did, but I don’t anticipate that happening. He is 70-years-old. He has been grooming Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, and Republicans are in a strong position to win should the seat become open.

On the flip side he has not accomplished everything he has set out to do, but with a Republican controlled legislature he may be able to accomplish more of his agenda in the last two years of this term than he has been able to do before. Another scenario that I’ve heard floated would be if he felt Reynolds was not in a position to win a contested primary he would run again. Again, I don’t see that happening, but that is the speculation. All this is predicated on the next question not being answered affirmatively.

Will Branstad receive (and accept) an appointment in the Trump administration?

I think this is more likely than his running for a seventh term. The most likely role that is being floated around is Ambassador to China. Branstad hasn’t shot the idea down. The Des Moines Register reported¬†that Branstad expressed a willingness to consider it when asked at his birthday bash last month.

“I am not ruling anything out,” Branstad said.¬†“But you know my focus has always been here on Iowa and I want to serve the¬†people of Iowa. I¬†am really proud of what we did in this election and I am going to continue to work hard and accomplish as much as we can.”

It makes sense. Branstad is friends with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he has led trade missions to China, and knows more than a few government officials. Trump has also singled him out for this role. Bloomberg reported:

¬†Two days before the Nov. 8 presidential election, during a rally in Sioux City, Trump singled out Branstad as an ideal liaison to China.¬†‚ÄúYou would be our prime candidate to take care of China,‚ÄĚ Trump said in calling the governor to the stage.

Branstad met with Trump today in the Trump tower, but said he did not have an announcement to make at this time. Branstad was very supportive of Trump during the general election. Iowa was delivered into the win column, and Branstad’s son, Eric, was Trump’s Iowa campaign manager. So some role whether it is an ambassadorship or not seems likely.

This would be great way to cap years spent in public service.

On the other hand, as mentioned before, Branstad now has a Republican-led Senate and House so the appeal to stay and push his agenda would be strong. Also living overseas, away from grandkids, is not a scenario any grandparent would take lightly. Would he want the potential headaches that come from the job? Trade is one thing, but he’ll also have to navigate China’s incursion into the South China Sea, the balancing act with Taiwan, along with human rights abuses. It will be a stressful posting.

I could see other roles like being a special envoy or even Secretary of Agriculture, but time will tell and this  could drastically impact what 2018 looks like.

2. Who will make up the 2018 field of candidates?

No one has stated their intent for 2018 so this is just speculation. Branstad’s shadow still looms large. Should Branstad pass-up (or is not offered) a role in the Trump administration and decide to run for re-election that will take wind out of the sails of any prospective Republican candidate.

Should we have an open seat in 2018 I’ve only seen three names floated on the Republican side.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds

I would be shocked, SHOCKED, if Reynolds did not run. She has been extremely hands-on in the Branstad ¬†administration. She is relatively young, she’s dynamic and likable. I see two scenarios where she would run. The first is for an open seat as the outgoing Lt. Governor. The Republican primary race would probably be more competitive in this scenario. While she gained name recognition and experience being part of the Branstad administration she will also carry the baggage of some of his decisions and positions that were unpopular among the base so she will have to work on separating herself from some of that. I believe she’s more conservative than Branstad however and if she can communicate that without losing the Branstad wing of the party she will be a strong contender.

The second scenario would be running as the incumbent Governor should Branstad be appointed by the Trump administration before he finishes his 6th term. This would obviously put her in a stronger position for a couple reasons: First, the power of incumbency could prevent a contested primary, as well as, give her a leg up in the general election. Second, she will have had two years to make the Governorship her own while building on the foundation that Branstad laid. Showing what she will do as Governor could dispel some lingering questions on that score. Now this is also a double-edged sword as well. It also gives her a record for which she must take ownership.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey

Northey has been Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture since 2007. He is popular among Republicans, and obviously has a leg up in the agricultural community. He is likable and great at retail politics. I would say he’s definitely not as high-energy as Reynolds and is pretty laid back. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, I’m just pointing out there are personality differences.

He is a conservative, but rarely speaks out on anything that isn’t related to agriculture so he’ll have more work to do educating voters. He’s also an evangelical so I doubt there would be anything in his platform that social conservatives would object to.

Should Reynolds get the opportunity to run as Governor I’m not sure he would oppose her, in fact, I think it is likely he would be considered for the Lt. Governor role himself.

If 2018 brings up an open seat I’m pretty confident he’ll be in the thick of it.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett

Corbett was elected Mayor of Cedar Rapids (Iowa’s 2nd largest city) in 2010. Prior to that he served in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999, he was Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999 when he resigned to become the President of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

In 2015 he launched Engage Iowa¬†a “conservative, freedom-focused think tank” that exists “to craft research based, pragmatic, common sense solutions that will move our state forward by bringing rural and urban Iowans together to modernize the tax code, build great schools and protect our environment.” The primary issues it appears to be focused on are tax policy and water quality which will likely primary issues during the next gubernatorial race.

I honestly don’t know his voting record in the Iowa House so I can’t tell you where exactly he stands on issues like abortion, marriage, education and religious liberty.

His involvement with the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t personally give me much hope he would be a change from Branstad’s education policy in terms of standards, assessments and education seen as workforce development. I don’t know that for certain however.

It is hard to see a outspoken social conservative being elected as mayor of Cedar Rapids however, but I don’t know. These are questions that will need to be asked if he does decide to run.

On another note I’ve been told there is no love lost between Corbett and Branstad so that dynamic would make a Reynolds – Corbett primary fight pretty interesting.

On the Democrat side I’ve heard the following names mentioned:

State Senator Liz Mathis (D-Cedar Rapids)

Mathis, a former TV news anchor, was first elected to represent Iowa Senate District 34 in a special election in 2011. She won reelection in 2012 and 2016. She was the chair of the Iowa Senate Human Resources Committee, but will not serve in that capacity now that Republicans have won the majority. She also served on the Appropriations, Commerce, Economic Growth, Education and Veterans committees.

She appears to be a rising star among Democrats and, in my opinion, would probably one of their strongest challenger. She doesn’t have statewide name recognition, but she is well known in Eastern Iowa.

Dr. Andy McGuire

McGuire is the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, and has been in that role since 2015. McGuire, most recently, served as President of Meridian Health. Most of her career has been spent as a practicing physician and medical researcher. In 2006 she unsuccessfully ran for Lt. Governor along with Mike Blouin, but lost in the Democratic primary.

After the shellacking Iowa Democrats took on Election Day I don’t see her having success winning a primary. It’s hard to make a case when you oversaw that disaster, as well as, having lost the only other election you’ve run in.

I just don’t see it, but then considering some of the candidates Iowa Democrats have nominated in the past I won’t rule it out.

State Senator Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids)

Hogg was just chosen to be the Iowa Senate Minority Leader for the 87th General Assembly. He unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2016 losing the Democratic Primary to former Lt. Governor Patti Judge who was then tromped by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

I’m not sure losing a primary is an impetus to run, but as the leader of Iowa Senate Democrats he will be better connected in a primary fight.

Former State Representative Tyler Olsen (D-Cedar Rapids)

A few Democrats I’ve spoken to indicate that they would like to see Olsen run for Governor again. Olsen ran in 2014, but dropped out prior to the Democrat primary after his wife filed for divorce. Having served as the Iowa Democratic Party chair Olsen was a rising star in the party. Could he be again? Possibly. There is a chance he could end up running for Mayor of Cedar Rapids instead.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

There is some speculation if Vilsack who served as Governor from 1999 to 2007 will pull a Branstad and run for Governor again as he’ll be unemployed when President Obama leaves office.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility, but I doubt it. If it did happen he would probably be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, as well as, give Democrats the best shot to win back the Governor’s office.

Update: I forgot to mention the Libertarian Party who just received full-fledged party status in Iowa after surpassing the 2 percent threshold.

Jake Porter

Porter was the Libertarian Party’s nominee for Iowa Secretary of State in 2010 and 2014. He announced his intentions to run for Governor early.

Porter has a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration from AIB College of Business in Des Moines.

He lives in Council Bluffs where he is self-employed helping clients with marketing, website design, and small business development as well as co-founding his own start-up company YCYOR, LLC.  He has previously worked for both Yahoo and Apple.

3. What kind of an impact will two years of a Trump administration make?

Iowa has been trending red, but it wasn’t that long ago it looked like it was going to go blue. If President-elect Donald Trump’s first two years in office are successful and has a good approval rating he shouldn’t be a drag on mid-term elections. If things do not go well Democrats could see gains like Republicans saw during the Obama administration.

He’s a wild card.

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