Civic Skinny

The GOP game plan, lonely anchors, and the Dalai Lama

The Republican strategy to oust Chet Culver is becoming clear — assuming Terry Branstad is the nominee and not Bob Vander Plaats. And that’s what Skinny assumes. Indeed, one Republican legislator told us the other day that he thinks Vander Plaats will finish third, behind Branstad and Carroll legislator Rod Roberts. We’ll see.

At any rate, this seems to be the strategy:

First, don’t talk about social issues — gay marriage, abortion and the like. The Republicans already have the anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage vote, and, unless you’re running the Vander Plaats losing cause, there’s no use alienating independents by harping on those issues. And the independents will be key to the election — as of March 1, there were 702,295 registered independents in the state, 671,965 registered Democrats and 570,983 registered Republicans. (In all, there were 57,000 fewer registered voters than in November 2008, when Barack Obama was elected.)

Second, do talk about the economy. Iowa’s jobless rate is still high. People are struggling. They’re still losing their homes as well as their jobs. They’re worried about taxes, too. Blame all that on the Democrats in general and Culver in particular.

Third, paint Culver as incompetent, as a guy who fiddled while Iowans yearned — for leadership, for help and for hope. Blame the recession on him. Blame the floods on him. Blame the snow on him. Blame the lousy basketball team at the University of Iowa on him. Blame him on him.

Fourth, tie every scandal in the state to him. Revive the still-unresolved issue about his misuse of federal funds when he was Secretary of State. Blame the film-office scandal on him. Blame the misuse-of-flood-money on him. All those are, in fact, real scandals that occurred under his watch, and the Republicans won’t let the voters forget.

Fifth, paint him as a guy who meddles in places where no one should meddle. Point out his efforts to sway the statutorily independent Racing and Gaming Commission members by urging them to approve four new casinos. Point out his unsuccessful effort to get an Alliant Energy subsidiary to postpone a rate hike. Point out his letter to Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss ordering her to stay a Wellmark rate increase.

Sixth, paint him as a guy who can’t keep a staff. Point out the revolving door at both the Capitol and the election headquarters.

It’s basic politics: blame him for everything, give him credit for nothing. ...

“The Democrats held their county conventions throughout the state the past couple of weeks, and the Culver campaign sent Mari Culver to several counties to campaign on behalf of her husband,” reports an often-reliable Skinny correspondent (and Democrat in good standing). “Those party faithful in attendance report that Mari apparently still has an ax to grind with her fellow Democrats. In more than one county, she downplayed Chet’s recent poor polling numbers by reminding the crowds that the Big Lug won in ’06 despite being an ‘underdog’ and not having support from Terrace Hill, organized labor, and the legislature.”

But, he goes on, “That’s not exactly how I remember things, so I went back and checked. I couldn’t find a single poll in which Culver trailed. [He beat Republican Jim Nussle by 10 points.] And as for support, over 40 percent of his contributions in ’06 came by way of help from Terrace Hill (Vilsack fundraising through the Democratic Governors Association and Heartland PAC), organized labor, and his fellow legislators (Iowa Democratic Party).”

Indeed, the DGA, the Iowa party and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were the three biggest givers to Culver. Combined, they gave about $2.5 million. AFSCME and other unions gave about $1 million in all — an investment that has provided little return in the form of labor-friendly legislation. Don’t expect labor to give to Branstad this year, but don’t look for big checks to Culver, either. ...

Odds and ends: While Channel 13 and Channel 8 duke it out about who is doing best lately — WHO-13 got a huge boost from NBC’s Olympics, but KCCI-8 still dominates — you might want to send a sympathy card to the folks at Channel 5. At 10 in the evening, nearly 100 times as many adults 25 to 54 are watching 8 and 13 as are watching Channel 5. The Maytag repairman would feel right at home on the anchor desk. ...

It’s honorary degree time, and Iowa State will give one to Chuck Manatt, 1958 graduate and Democratic powerbroker. The University of Iowa will honor big-time donor John Pappajohn and Art Neu, a selfless public servant and a great advocate for public education when he was in the Legislature and when he was lieutenant governor. But UNI will outdo them all with three degrees. One will go to Steve Rapp, lawyer and diplomat; one to Mildred Kalish, who chronicled her Depression-era life on an Iowa farm into a best-seller, and one to the Dalai Lama, who will be appearing at UNI this spring. ...

And speaking of big names, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan will be the keynoter at the World Food Prize symposium in October. Last year, it was Bill Gates. Clearly, the World Food Prize has become a big, big deal. ...

Finally, The world is full of people named Arnie Shapiro, but despite what Skinny said the other week Laurisa Sellers is not married to one of them. Sellers, who used to live in Des Moines, is married to Arnie Shore, and it as he who was with her in Philadelphia at the opening of the play by Allison and Peggy Engel. CV

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