DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad’s campaign lost no time in launching both air and ground offensives Wednesday in his quest for a record sixth term as governor of Iowa.
The Branstad-Reynolds campaign went up statewide with a TV ad touting his administration’s accomplishments in positive images while the Republican Governors Association issued an independently produced ad a spokesman said was intended to “expose” Democratic opponent Jack Hatch’s attempts to hide his record.
Dennis Goldford, a Drake University political science professor, said Republicans were employing a “traditional and very good political strategy” of framing the campaign early in a light most favorable to the incumbent, who has more name recognition with voters and a formidable fundraising edge.
“They’re hitting him out of the gates,” Goldford said. “In politics, if I’m running against you and you let me define you, I’ll beat you every time.
“Hatch is not a known quantity at this point. If they can go after him right out of the gate and define him in unflattering and negative ways, then he’s in a hole from the beginning. As a matter of political strategy, it’s traditional and very good political strategy,” he added. “I think Jack Hatch has his work cut out for him.”
Hatch’s campaign called the RGA ad a “false and misleading attack” that provides Iowa voters “the clearest sign yet Gov. Terry Branstad is in real trouble” in his bid to get re-elected in November.
Hatch, in an interview, said the national Republicans are getting involved because they’ve seen the same swing in poll numbers away from the sitting GOP governor that he has – from as much as a 28-point lead to single digits.
“It is indicative of the mood of Iowans. They have moved away from a sitting governor because of the scandals and mismanagement of his administration,” Hatch said.
“That’s why the RGA is coming in so heavily with the Branstad administration,” he added. “They see the same numbers as we do. They see the swing. They see the loss in support of their governor. That just shows how scared they are. We’re going to be ready for it. We are ready for it.”
The contrasting commercials were airing as Branstad and running mate Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds were making campaign stops at events in Oskaloosa, Ottumwa, Mount Pleasant, Burlington and Davenport to celebrate their lopsided victory in Tuesday’s primary to land the GOP gubernatorial nomination. For his part, Hatch left the campaign trail to visit his elderly father in Massachusetts.
“We want to let Iowans across the state know: We’re just getting started,” said Branstad, building on his “comeback” theme that Iowa has seen continued job growth, business investment, higher incomes, better schools and lower taxes during his fifth term, which began in January 2011.
While Branstad scored a resounding win Tuesday night over GOP primary challenger Tom Hoefling of Lohrville with 83 percent of the votes, the fact that 26,284 Iowa Republicans didn’t vote for the five-term incumbent may pose a concern heading into the fall campaign season, observers said.
“It shows he’s going to need to do some work with his base to shore that up,” said Des Moines attorney Doug Gross, the 2002 GOP gubernatorial nominee and a close Branstad ally who participated in a talk-radio panel discussion Wednesday on the primary results. “I think he’ll do that very quickly.”
Goldford said he expected GOP voters “will come home” when choosing in November between a veteran conservative Republican and a liberal Democratic state senator making his first statewide bid, but he noted that recent polling data points to a growing sentiment that Branstad’s 20 years at Terrace Hill may be long enough and that GOP campaign rhetoric consistently talks about “career politicians in disparaging ways.”
The Republican Governors Association ad, which shows images of Hatch peering through window blinds and bulldozers smashing homes, raises questions about Hatch’s support of eminent domain as a real estate developer and his failure to date to respond to GOP demands that he release past tax returns beyond his 2013 filings. Hatch’s campaign issued a statement rerebutting each of the claims made in the commercial.
“The decision to air this kind of false attack on day one of the fall campaign really tells us a lot about the position Gov. Branstad is in with Iowa voters – not a good one at all,” said Grant Woodard, Hatch’s campaign manager. “Iowans want answers, not false attacks.
“We’ve been saying for months Gov. Branstad’s mismanagement has made this a close, competitive race in which Jack Hatch has a real chance to win, and there’s no better evidence than the RGA coming to Gov. Branstad’s rescue this early,” Woodard added in a statement.
James Lynch of the Journal Des Moines Bureau contributed to this story.