The prominent names in the Republican Party all seem to have "former" in front of their names, just like every rap record has "featuring" in the artist credit. (If Featuring ever releases his own album it'll be the biggest hit ever.) Sarah Palin will soon be joining the Mitt, the Huck and the Newt in the Former club.
So it seems to be in Iowa as well, as Iowa Republican drops its latest poll tidbit. Former governor for life Terry Branstad has a strong lead over Chet Culver, and a very narrow lead in the primary over Bob Vander Plaats and what can best be descrived in the context of the numbers as "rest of field."
I'm not in the best spot to judge Branstad, literally: Johnson County was one of the only places to vote for Don Avenson in 1990. I will say that in my public radio era, I interviewed a lot of the state's leading Republicans and worked with their offices: Nussle, Leach, Lightfoot, and Grassley were always very cooperative. But Branstad wouldn't give us the time of day. (Granted, I can see where Terry wouldn't see the NPR audience in Iowa City as very reachable.)
The general election poll can't be dismissed; Culver has some work to do whether or not Branstad runs. But what's more interesting to me is the primary poll:
Registered Republican Voters
Terry Branstad: 35%
Bob Vander Plaats: 31%
Don’t Know: 19%
Chris Rants: 6%
Paul McKinley: 2%
Rod Roberts: 1%
Christian Fong: 1%
Jerry Behn: Did not register
Compare that to the non-Branstad version:
Bob Vander Plaats: 46%
Don’t Know: 27%
Chris Rants: 14%
Paul McKinley: 3%
Christian Fong: 3%
Rod Roberts: 1%
Jerry Behn: 0.2%
BVP loses a chunk of support, in part because he had the highest name ID of the non-Branstad Republicans. But he still lands at the exact same 31% that he won in the 2002 primary. Branstad seems to pull his support from the undecided and from the lesser-known contenders especially Rants.
Christian Fong is a sleeper here. Sure, he's young and unknown, but some powerful folks (Ed Failor and Marlys Popma) have chosen him as The One and he'll climb. But we won't see all of the legislators file. Rants is all in, but Roberts, Behn and/or McKinley could bail if the money doesn't roll in.
So these numbers are consistent with my pet theory: a splintered field helps Vabder Plaats because he has that rock-solid 30%. He either wins with somewhere between 35 and 40, or takes it at the convention. Only if the anti-BVP forces unite do they win. Look at the general election number as Culver vs. Credible Republican, and the primary result as Vander Plaats vs. Not Vander Plaats.