The Clinton Herald
---- — DES MOINES — After a historically productive legislative session, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is setting himself up to run for an unprecedented sixth term in 2014, even as he holds off announcing whether he'll actually seek re-election.
Branstad isn't indicating his plans, but his powerful political operation is gearing up this summer with staffing and fundraising. And Branstad's team in the Iowa Capitol is starting work on policy proposals that could form part of the campaign platform.
"I believe he's going to run again. I think he should do so because he still has the fire in the belly," said Richard Schwarm, a longtime Branstad adviser and his former law partner. "It's his time table for when he announces, but I expect that it will be that he's running."
During the recent legislative session, Branstad worked with the Republican-majority state House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to win compromise deals on two long-held priorities — property tax cuts and education policy changes. The property tax deal gradually reduces taxable assessments for commercial properties by 10 percent, and the education plan will provide more money to school districts to boost minimum pay and offer incentives for teachers who take on tasks like mentoring. Lawmakers and Branstad also agreed to accept federal dollars to expand low-income health care in Iowa.
Branstad Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink said Branstad will not slow down next year, even though legislative sessions in election years are typically considered less productive. Boeyink said staffers are reviewing several issues for possible legislation in the next session, including income tax policy, increasing broadband access in rural Iowa and strengthening the state's anti-bullying laws.
Boeyink said Branstad isn't likely to make any final decision on running again until "probably next year." But if Branstad opts to run, the campaign will be ready.
"The governor is going to be prepared. So this summer and fall you'll see that organization actively organizing and recruiting and building all the blocks that are necessary to launch a successful campaign," Boeyink said. "If he does decide he wants to run, everything is going to be in place."
The numbers on Branstad's job performance are largely positive. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that 49 percent of registered voters think Branstad is doing a good job, 31 percent disapprove of his work and 20 percent are undecided or don't know. Asked if he should be re-elected, the numbers dipped, with 42 percent saying yes, 43 percent no and 16 percent not knowing. The poll of 1,411 registered voters had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points.
Branstad has hit some road blocks this year. An attempt to require state unionized employees to pay more for their health benefits failed during an arbitration process. And two of his nominees to the Board of Regents, which oversees the state universities, failed to win Senate confirmation amid questions from Democrats about the candidates' political views and commitment to academic freedom.
If Branstad runs in 2014, he could face one of a number of potential Democratic challengers. State Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, is exploring a run and state Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, is also considering a bid.
First elected governor in 1982, Branstad is already Iowa's longest-serving chief executive. He served four terms in office before leaving in early 1999. Branstad then worked in the private sector and served as president of Des Moines University before announcing plans to run again in 2009. He handily won his comeback race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and returned to his Capitol office in 2011.
Branstad adviser Doug Gross said Branstad — who likes to note that he has never lost an election — has been successful time and time again because he always runs with the same gusto.
"The original sin of a politician is hubris. You never take anything for granted," Gross said. "He's always run like he's 20 points behind. He's as good a retail campaigner as this state has ever seen."
As hiring for the campaign picks up, Gross said he expected Jake Ketzner will be hired as campaign manager. Ketzner worked on Branstad's 2010 campaign and ran U.S. Rep. Steve King's re-election campaign last year. Boeyink declined comment on staffing questions and Ketzner did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Boeying's likely appointment reveals one facet of Branstad's longevity. Colleagues said that while he has a core of longtime advisers, he's always looking for new talent and new campaign tools. Boeyink, for example, is a more recent addition to his team, coming on for the 2010 campaign after running a tax policy group and working for the Republican Party of Iowa.
"He's been very wise in terms of keeping people with him that he trusts, at the same time bringing in new people. I think he feeds off their enthusiasm," Gross said.