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Iowa Political Activists Jerry Crawford (D-Des Moines) and Doug Gross (R-Des Moines)

posted on May 7, 2010

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Considering the possibilities. Democrats and republicans looking for winners. The June primary election just a month away and today we're getting insights from political insiders Democrat Jerry Crawford and Republican Doug Gross on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: Iowa's political roads are all leading to November's general election. A major milestone just a month away, the June primary election, pruning candidates to a single selection for carrying each political party's hopes on the November 2nd ballot. Two statewide races getting the most attention involve three candidates seeking the republican nomination to run against incumbent democratic Governor Chet Culver. And in the democratic primary, three candidates wanting a chance at the U.S. Senate seat held by republican Charles Grassley.

Borg: For insight we're talking with two political activists, both Des Moines attorneys, republican Doug Gross and democrat Jerry Crawford. Gentlemen, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Crawford: Dean, good to be with you.

Gross: Good to be with, Dean.

Borg: And across the Iowa Press table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, let's start this whole thing off with you, if we could. I'm sure you're aware there's a republican gubernatorial primary going on to run against your guy. Handicap that for me. Step back and take a look at those candidates and tell me about that race.

Crawford: Well, I think the traditional, conventional wisdom, if you will, handicapping would be that because a republican primary is a larger turnout than a republican caucus that we shouldn't read too much into the Vander Plaats success in the caucuses on behalf of his candidate last time and the Romney defeat because this will be a larger pool.

Crawford: But something very interesting appeared this week in the KCCI poll. Terry Branstad is the only candidate for governor in either party who has been up on the air, he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and during that time his support has diminished significantly as people are reminded of who he is by him. His level of support is now down below 50% to 48% for the first time and that, I think, would give me encouragement if I were either Vander Plaats or Roberts. I still think, though, that Terry is in the driver's seat and I think he benefits from it being a three-person race rather than a two-person race.

Glover: Mr. Gross, the same question to you, understanding for the sake of full disclosure, you have a dog in this hunt and that is Governor Branstad.

Gross: And I've worked for him.

Glover: Yes, you have. Handicap the race for me.

Gross: Well, you know, Jerry may be good at handicapping horse races, I don't know about this political race.

Glover: He's got your guy winning. That should make you happy.

Gross: That's right.

Glover: That's better than his horse did in the Derby.

Gross: He did very well in the Derby and I hope he does even better in the Preakness. Are you going to make some news here, by the way?

Crawford: We'll see. We'll see.

Gross: In terms of the governor's race, first of all, that _____ poll is a liberal Web site that is associated with Research 2000, they did that KCCI poll. You're going to have so many polls, Mike, I mean, they're not really worth the toilet paper they're written on. We've got all kinds of polls. The bottom line is Terry Branstad is the one candidate of the three republicans who beats Chet Culver, that's very important in a republican primary and as a result he's going to win the republican primary.

Gross: Mr. Crawford, can any of those republicans beat the incumbent governor?

Crawford: Well, I think this is a tough year for incumbents in general and I think that it's important that we recognize this. Let me make two points.

Glover: Should I take that as a yes?

Crawford: No, let me make two points because I think that this is important. Chet Culver has a great story to tell. He has a great story to tell on jobs where he has created a wind energy industry that creates jobs, he has had an extensive jobs program. He's got a great story to tell about the economy. We've got the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the nation and we're ranked as one of the five best states to do business in the nation and we have a AAA bond rating. And I could go on through how he's the only governor in the nation that has adopted all ten veterans programs recommended by the Department of Defense.

Crawford: Education, increased teacher compensation, adding preschool for four-year-olds.

Glover: That's a commercial, Mr. Crawford.

Crawford: Okay, but here's the problem. We've done a lousy job up until now of telling our own story. We've got to get firing on all cylinders. If we do and he can take that story to the people, he gets the campaign operating at peak efficiency, he gets his office operating at peak efficiency, that's a great story to tell in November.

Glover: We'll get back to that. Mr. Gross, same question to you. Can you get this guy?

Gross: Oh, sure. In fact, consistently for the last year in all the polls, including the liberal polls, Governor Branstad significantly, well beyond the margin of error beats Chet Culver. It's going to be very difficult to move those numbers, Mike, largely because the voters know both of these guys. I mean, Chet Culver has been governor for three and a half years, if people don't know what he did there's a real problem with his governorship.

Gross: And frankly, there is. That's why the majority of the people think that the state is going on the wrong track. When people think the state is going on the wrong track the incumbent governor loses.

Henderson: What about Governor Branstad's health? This past week he had a health procedure performed where they inserted a stint in his heart. Is he healthy?

Gross: He's as healthy as almost Jerry's horse but he's healthy. In fact, I had a chance to visit with him. He's very healthy and raring to go and will be on the campaign trail very soon. He's a happy warrior. This is a tough guy who loves the campaign trail. I'm not his doctor but his doctor indicates that he'll be very capable of performing the functions of a candidate and as a governor.

Henderson: I'm reminded in 1990 right before the democratic primary, Don Avenson had a similar procedure and wound up winning the primary. Some of his folks say it actually helped his name recognition. Jerry, do you buy that? Do you think this is a help or a hindrance to a Branstad candidacy?

Crawford: Neither. Terry Branstad doesn't need name identification. Don Avenson did. That's one fundamental difference. But, look, I have personally gone through significantly more challenging issues in the same vein, excuse the expression.

Gross: We've got a lot of this going on. Too much of this, let's stop it right now.

Crawford: Were I foolish enough to want to be governor I surely could do the job. So, I don't think anything about this holds Terry back.

Borg: Let's go from the health of the potential nominee to the health of the party, Mr. Gross. There's been quite a lot of division and you may have a great turnout for the republican primary but it may not be so great if Terry Branstad is nominated because Danny Carroll and the Iowa Family Policy Center said they're going to sit out the election. Do you see any change in the moderation of that very strong statement a few months ago?

Gross: On the Iowa Family Policy Center? No, I don't. In fact, if anything they've gotten even more extreme in the ensuing months, Dean, which is surprising because you'd think if they really want to pursue their goal which is to get a marriage between a man and a woman sanctified into Iowa law once and for all they would try to work with the party that is committed to doing that. Unfortunately, they have not indicated they are willing to do that.

Borg: Do you think that might moderate after, if Branstad is nominated?

Gross: From some of their leaders probably not, Dean, because they seem to be really on a mission here in an odd sort of way yet among their members yes. I think the republican base will come together and you'll have a very strong turnout in November.

Borg: Mr. Crawford, on the other hand, the health of the Democratic Party. There are some democrats who are less than enthused about the record that you said is so great and you've got to tell the story. But they apparently haven't gotten the story yet and they may not be turning out.

Crawford: I think they're starting to get the story. The same KCCI poll that I mentioned, Chet Culver was polling in the low 50s among democrats a few months ago and in this most recent poll he was getting the support of 80% of democratic voters against Terry Branstad. Look, I've already said, and I hold myself partly responsible as somebody who tries to be helpful to the Culver team, we haven't done a very good job of telling the story. We've got to get our act together and when we do I think that the party will be unified and the story will be a strong one.

Borg: How will you pull the independents your way?

Crawford: That's what we have to do because they still clearly lean to Branstad at this point. But I think it's much the same reason. Part of the issue is going to be does Terry continue to get pulled to the right in this effort to win the primary and does he leave more space in the center.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, it strikes me that your governor has had kind of a tough patch in the past few months. He has had a number of people, very top people both in this office and in his campaign, leave under whatever circumstances. He's got an issue to deal with about gambling money that came to his campaign. How bad has he been hurt by all that?

Crawford: I think it has been a struggle and it's part of what I said at the beginning of the show. We haven't done a very good job in communication or in explaining where we are in these things. We have to do a better job. But it's something I think he's working very hard -- look, he's going into a championship fight, he wants people in his corner that he has complete confidence in. In Don Stanley, the new campaign manager, he has that. And inside the office his longtime trusted aid Jim Larue is now the chief of staff. Jim Larue worked for Senator John Culver way back in the day.

Crawford: So, the governor needs to be comfortable before he starts the fight in the fall.

Glover: Mr. Gross, the same question to you. How badly has the governor been hurt by what I think is a fairly tough patch he's gone through?

Gross: A very tough patch when you lose a chief of staff, you lose campaign managers, you lose all of this and at the same time you're being investigated by the DCI for potential campaign contribution laws. That's a serious, serious problem. Has it hurt the governor? I think that in the last couple of months the governor has brought, largely because of the passage of the health care bill some of the democrats have come back home, I think both for Roxanne Conlin as well as for Chet Culver. I think that was a critical thing for a lot of democrats.

Gross: So, that's why some of the polls have tightened up some. But the problem the governor has is a basic question of competency. When you have that kind of turnover in your office and you are perceived as not running an effective operation that's a real problem for an incumbent governor.

Crawford: Mike, I want to go back to the Fort Dodge question because I think it's very important.

Glover: We want to deal with that and that is the allegedly $25,000 in gambling money went to the Culver campaign and there is an investigation and a special prosecutor named. The question I have for you is it strikes me that is something that is going to linger around for a while that he can't do very much about.

Crawford: You may be right about that. But let me say this, first of all, in the spirit of full disclosure I'm not involved in the Fort Dodge license application on either side. Secondly, I know about the facts only for the most part what I read in the media because I haven't talked to anybody at the DCI and I haven't talked to anybody in the attorney general's office about any of the facts.

Crawford: That said, it's my understanding and my assumption that no one in the governor's office is a target of any investigation, quite the contrary.

Glover: But the problem is a political one, it's not whether the governor or his campaign or his staff are being investigated. The fact is there is an investigation going on and there are going to be a lot of stories that are going to have gambling money, contributions and Culver all in the same sentence. How do you deal with that?

Crawford: It's a very tough issue for somebody to try and take advantage of. First of all, in Fort Dodge the governor has donors who are against Fort Dodge and he has donors who are in favor of Fort Dodge. Terry Branstad has already received donations from people involved in the gambling industry, he's the father of the gambling industry in Iowa and he will continue to receive donations for people who are for and against gambling. The public, sadly, in my opinion, sadly, doesn't care that much about campaign finance.

Glover: Mr. Gross, if we call you Uncle Gross for the gambling industry, how big a problem is this for Governor Culver?

Gross: Well, first of all, I don't know how the governor can know he's not subject to an investigation unless he's talked to the investigators. It seems to me that's a problem and that is precisely why you needed to bring an independent prosecutor into this to take a look at this and I think that was long overdue and needed to be done. The governor shouldn't know whether or not he's the subject of this investigation, again, unless he's talking to them and he shouldn't be doing that.

Gross: It's going to be a lingering problem and we all know, those of us who work with people around the state all know how aggressive of a fundraiser Chet Culver is. He calls people when they have matters pending before the state, not just in this instance, but in many instances, it's a pattern of behavior. And when that pattern of behavior is discussed and disclosed over time it's going to be a serious problem for him.

Borg: Mike's question was, though, how about that tag that Jerry Crawford just hung on him and that is father of the gambling industry?

Gross: Who, Governor Branstad?

Borg: Yes.

Gross: That's a really interesting re-creation of history. Governor Branstad vetoed the lottery bill a couple of times, it was a democratic legislature who insisted on having a gambling industry and the governor who only agreed to do so once he got certain economic development initiatives passed as part of it.

Henderson: Let's move onto some of the other negatives that are being discussed on the campaign trail. First and foremost, the idea of someone wanting to have 20 years as governor. How do you answer that concern that people have that, really, should we give somebody another, a fifth term?

Gross: You know, I had the same question, frankly, when it first came to light that the governor was interested in maybe running again, Kay, frankly and I asked the same question. It was interesting. Right now it seems to me the people of Iowa are looking for competency, they're looking for continuity, they're looking for stability and they're looking for a conservative and Terry Branstad meets all those responsibilities and as a result that's why they're looking for Terry Branstad as their next governor.

Henderson: Is this a lucky break for Chet Culver in that in an anti-incumbent year he's running essentially, an incumbent governor is running against an incumbent governor?

Crawford: Who has four times more incumbency years than he does. Look, I think that come Election Day, we all know this is going to be a tough fight, I'm not going to sit here and pretend this is going to be easy sledding for Chet Culver, that would be foolish. But at the end of the day I think this election will be about the future and the record of Chet Culver and about the past and I'll take my chances in that choice.

Henderson: There's been a lot of discussion on the campaign trail about Governor Branstad's record on spending and on taxes. Those are things he can't erase. He raised taxes and he increased spending. How does he answer concerns among republicans who will be voting in the primary that he has a record of being a big spender?

Gross: I think by the record, frankly, Kay, if you take a look at the actual record there's only been one governor in my lifetime who has cut the number of state agencies in half when he was governor. If you look at his entire term as governor he cut taxes on an inflation adjusted basis by $124 million, he didn't increase them. So, Terry Branstad's focus was working with a democratic legislation in fourteen of the sixteen years and through that trying to accomplish conservative policies and he did so, he accomplished that and left the state far better off than when he got it.

Henderson: Mr. Crawford, is that the way Governor Culver will present that record to Iowans?

Crawford: No, I think we'll present it the way the republican state auditor, Richard Johnson, presented it during the Branstad administration, which was to say that he kept two sets of books, that the financial house was not in order, that he had raised taxes repeatedly, that is from the republican state auditor, Richard Johnson.

Gross: But if you talk to David Vaudt who is the current state auditor he'll tell you the governor inherited two sets of books and got the state on gap accounting principles and left the state with a $900 million surplus.

Glover: Mr. Gross, the governor's election is probably the most interesting election we've got right now but it's not the only one. It's not the only one. There is a three-way democratic primary for the right to run against Senator Chuck Grassley. Handicap that for me.

Gross: I think Roxanne Conlin will win, she has got far more money than the other two candidates, Krause and Fiegen, she has more name identification and she's working very hard. She went to all 99 counties in a very short period of time to show her intensity and her desire to win that race. I think that will help her win the primary.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, same question to you. Is that a done deal?

Crawford: I think it's approaching done deal status, I really do. And I'm going to use this as an opportunity on a point of personal privilege to say to my good friend, Tom Fiegen, who commented this week that my spouse, Linda, was not entitled to make a contribution to whoever she chose, that his marriage must be different than mine because I sure as hell don't tell my wife what to do.

Glover: Well, take the handicapping one step further. If you're going to make the assumption that Roxanne Conlin is the democratic nominee, make the case for Roxanne Conlin beating Chuck Grassley.

Crawford: You know, this ...

Glover: That's got to be a tough case.

Crawford: This reminds me more than anything else of the race that finally did in Neal Smith. Neal Smith had served the state in a long and illustrious career, was beloved by many people and some would say that's pretty much similar to the status that Chuck Grassley finds himself in today. In other words, it wasn't Neal's republican opponent, Dr. ...

Gross: Greg Ganske.

Crawford: ... Ganske ...

Gross: How could you forget? He was the congressman?

Crawford: Look, I'm 60, what can I tell you?

Gross: You're thinking horses, not politics.

Crawford: It wasn't Ganske's race to win, it was Smith's race to lose and time caught up with him. And the same thing could happen with Senator Grassley. I don't think Roxanne can go simply win it. As terrific as she is and energetic and intelligent and fun I think she's going to have to have help from the people deciding it's time for a change.

Glover: Mr. Gross, look at it this way, Chuck Grassley was elected to the United States Senate in 1980, he was first elected to public office in 1958. If there is an anti-incumbent mood, excuse me, out there isn't Chuck Grassley the poster child for incumbents?

Gross: Except for the fact that it's Chuck Grassley who has a special bond, frankly, with the people of Iowa, republicans, democrats and independents because he has never forgotten where he's come from, one. And two, this is not 1994 and we're democrats, this is 1994 and we're republicans. Chuck Grassley is a republican and it's going to be a republican trending year, not a democrat trending year.

Glover: Well, to step back for a second and look at that year, this is it strikes me an odd year. It's the first ...

Gross: They're all odd, Mike.

Glover: It's the first mid-term of a new democratic president's first term. History would tell us that makes it a good year for republicans. But the economy seems to be on the top of everybody's minds, that helps democrats. Handicap the year.

Gross: Well, the problem for that, the latter part of that supposition, Mike, is you saying the economy is going to work against republicans. The democrats are in control of everything at the state and the federal level so as a result they own the economy and today we just hear unemployment is at 9.9%, as a result of that is negative to the democrats and I see it as a very strong republican year.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, I've started to get a little more optimistic about my party's chances in the fall and I noticed just yesterday a number of incumbent republican members of the United States House, including the head of the RCCC, said I think we better be a little cautious in some of our bravado and brass talk and they're getting that because they're going home and they're realizing, look, people aren't mad at the democratic party as we sit here today, they're frustrated with their government. That doesn't make them for the Republican Party.

Borg: But who personifies the government? Incumbents.

Crawford: It is incumbents and it's why republican incumbent governors are in trouble all over the country. Look at what has happened to poor Charlie Crist, you know, a year ago we were calling him senator in the making and now we're calling him poor Charlie Crist.

Gross: Now we're calling him an independent.

Henderson: Let's move onto issue that are at play in this senate race. The troubled asset relief program, the bailout, is something Senator Grassley voted for. Many republicans are upset with him for doing so. Conlin is on the trail making hay on this issue. Is this going to hurt Chuck Grassley?

Gross: I don't think it is because I think Chuck Grassley can explain what he did and why he did it and he also can explain the fact that he voted against the stimulus bill, he voted against the health care bill, he voted against these additional bailouts and he's been tough on the financial regulation bill to make sure that banks pay a price.

Henderson: I've heard him explain that vote and he got booed by a bunch of republicans.

Gross: But at the same time, Kay, Chuck Grassley does not have an opponent in the republican primary, he'll run very strong this fall.

Henderson: What about immigration, Mr. Crawford, that has been a touched on issue for republicans for the past few cycles and now it is being regurgitated because of what is happening in Arizona. Do you think that's going to be a hindrance for democratic candidates across the board?

Crawford: No, I don't at all and I think what happened in Arizona, a place I love, not as much as Iowa but a place I love, is appalling. I love that the Phoenix Suns, who I have some serious emotional attachment to, are now wearing jerseys that say Los Suns and to tremendous public approval. The republicans in Arizona so overstepped the bounds of human decency and public policy it was outrageous.

Crawford: This is a national problem, it's not an Iowa problem. Nationally we need to allow Hispanic workers in this country and their families to earn the right of citizenship and we need to treat them with humanity and their children and their families with humanity. That is what needs to happen at the national level so that they become tax paying citizens and they become integrated into our society and then enforce the border so that you don't simply recreate the problem again.

Henderson: Finally, how does health care play in this Grassley, Conlin matchup? Mr. Gross?

Gross: Well, Chuck Grassley worked for, my gosh, a year and a half to try to reach a bipartisan compromise on the health care bill. The democrats decided they were going to go alone and so Chuck Grassley bailed, appropriately so. And if you look at that health care bill when you have a situation where probably 60% of the people of Iowa think it should be repealed, Chuck Grassley voting against the health care bill will help him in the fall.

Glover: Mr. Crawford, let's look at another issue, gay marriage. How big a factor is that?

Crawford: I hope it's the issue the republicans try and make the governor's race about in the fall because I think that the state and the people in this state and in this nation have moved far beyond our political leadership. The idea of same-sex marriage may make some people uncomfortable but they're not about to turn on people ...

Borg: Could it be the referendum that people aren't getting to vote on but they will do it in the governor's race?

Crawford: Fine, I welcome that as the issue.

Glover: Mr. Gross, same question to you. Gay marriage seems to drive the right win of the Republican Party, it energizes that wing of the party. How big a factor will it be in the general election?

Gross: I think it will be a significant factor I think for the point Dean says, the problem is the democratic leadership in the house and the senate have said to the people, no you can't vote on this issue and the only way they're going to get to vote on it is if they elect different legislators to control the general assembly. So, I think it will be a major issue in the legislative races, Mike, as much as it will the gubernatorial race.

Crawford: You know, you asked earlier, the two of you, about how Chet Culver is going to get independents back. If you talk about an issue that will solidify and energize his base and that fair-minded, independent voters will have no time for making the centerpiece issue of the governor's race it's same-sex marriage. Bring it on.

Henderson: There were a few primary elections this past Tuesday in states like Ohio and North Carolina. Mr. Gross, what did you learn about your party from the outcome of those races?

Gross: Well, first of all, you had a situation with Dan Coates in Indiana who actually was in D.C., a lobbyist, moves to Indiana, runs for the senate again and wins in a very low turnout race. To me that makes me question the extent to which the tea party is going to play a significant role in these primaries and in the fall.

Henderson: What do they tell you?

Crawford: Well, I agree with Doug's conclusion and if you add that to the election in Britain yesterday where everybody thought that the third party, the liberal democrats wouldn't do very well and although they're going to probably hold the balance of power but they surely didn't do as well as they thought.

Crawford: The other thing I saw in those states, albeit republican strongholds, is that it did look to me like there was some significant potential for republican gains in the United States House in the fall in those states.

Glover: Mr. Gross, in the third congressional district there are seven republicans lined up to try to get the right to oppose Congressman Boswell. Is it inevitable that that gets settled at a convention?

Gross: No.

Glover: Who wins there?

Gross: No, because I think there are three top tier candidates in that race, you've got seven total but three top tier. You've got Zaun, you've got Gibbons, you've got Funk. Those are the three top and I would put them in that category right now in terms of where they are in terms of the ballot. Gibbons has all the money, has the air power. Zaun has the ground game. And Funk has the ideologues. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Glover: But you think one of them will get 35%?

Gross: I do.

Crawford: Gibbons has a very talented campaign manager, Nick Ryan, who really knows this space as well as anybody. But Zaun, I will never forget my enthusiastic support for state senator in waiting Laura Sands, but a funny thing happened on the way to the inauguration ...

Glover: Nick Ryan is a very talented operative and I last remember him running Governor Nussle's campaign.

Crawford: But he also ran some of Nussle's congressional campaigns. He knows the space.

Gross: And you've got Brad Payton running -- Zaun's campaign is incredibly talented and very good at grassroots. It will be a really interesting race to watch and the impact that air war versus ground war in the republican primary.

Henderson: Well, and also the tea party effect.

Gross: Absolutely, that's where Funk would go. The tea party chair is managing his campaign.

Borg: About 30 seconds.

Henderson: We've been talking about horse races on the political front, horse races on the real front -- will your horse run in a race soon?

Crawford: I'm going this afternoon to Kentucky to watch him train tomorrow and if he trains as well as I hope we'll give the Preakness a serious look.

Borg: Fifteen seconds, Mike.

Glover: Are all the incumbent congressmen safe?

Crawford: I think that many people think the central Iowa district is going to be widely contested, you can tell that from the number of republicans. But Congressman Boswell always does better in November than anyone ever thinks.

Borg: Thanks so much. Even getting the horse racing in here. Thanks so much for your insights. On our net edition of Iowa Press we're questioning one of the incumbents seeking re-election, Governor Chet Culver will be here discussing his record and his vision for Iowa. Our conversation with Governor Culver usual times 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Tags: campaign 2010 Charles Grassley Democrats Doug Gross elections gambling immigration Iowa Jerry Crawford politics Republicans