Culver toast? Ask Governor Lightfoot
There's no getting around it: The bad news is that Culver is sitting at 36 percent approval and 53 disapproval in February of election year.
The good news is that it's February of an election year. Before anyone starts backing up the moving van at Terrace Hill, they'd better check with Governor Bonnie Campbell and Governor Jim Ross Lightfoot.
In June of 1994, immediately after the epic Branstad-Grandy primary, Cambpell was 19 points up on Branstad. And Lightfoot had a similar lead at a similar time over the then-obscure Tom Vilsack.
What do the two non-governors have in common? Inept campaigns, for one. Campbell alienated the base by going out of her way to attack the party platform (rather than simply ignoring it like most candidates of both parties) and ignored the field work that Iowa Democrats do so well in favor of an all-TV campaign. And it was bad TV that played into Branstad's message rather than setting Campbell's message.
Lightfoot also ran a bad TV campaign, culminating in a bizarre ad that cherry-picked an obscure procedural vote and claimed Vilsack favored... "totally nude dancing?!?" Chair of the Iowa State College Republicans: "I saw that ad and said, 'there goes the male college student vote.'" (Too bad this was pre-YouTube, it was a classic.)
So Coach Chet always has the hope that the opposition will fumble the ball. That's more likely than usual this year. Social conservatives are already pledging not to support Branstad if he wins the primary. And the centerpiece of the Vander Plaats campaign, an executive order halting marriage equality, is unconstitutional. The GOP will come out of the primary with either a damaged candidate who splits the party, or with an nelectable extremist.
The best scenario for Culver is Vander Plaats; the Democratic base will fire up not for Chet but against BVP. (Roxanne Conlin at the top of the ballot will also be a base motivator.)
This isn't to say Culver doesn't have a lot of work to do. He knows that, which is a big part of why mending fences with labor has been a high priority. The more culver talks jobs, while the Republicans argue about who hates homos more, the better his chances.