Past Gubernatorial Candidates Bonnie Campbell and Doug Gross

Sep 7, 2018  | 27 min  | Ep 4603 | Podcast


On this edition of Iowa Press, two former candidates for Governor, Democrat Bonnie Campbell and Republican Doug Gross, join reporters for a discussion on the 2018 Gubernatorial campaign to date.

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa and James Lynch, political reporter for The Gazette.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa and Iowa Bankers Association.


David Yepsen:                   Running for governor of Iowa brings its own unique perspective. With election day, fast approaching, we sit down with Republican Doug Gross and Democrat Bonnie Campbell, both former candidates for Terrace Hill...on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Yepsen:                                Since his first gubernatorial win in 1982, Terry Branstad set a national record for days served as governor. But Republicans have never elected a successor. Three consecutive losses to Democrats before bringing Branstad back to the campaign trail in 2010. What will 2018 change? Republican Kim Reynolds is now locked in a competitive race with Democrat Fred Hubbell, as the two battle over debates, Medicaid and old Younkers stores. For some political perspective, we've gathered a pair of former governor candidates. Doug gross was the Republican nominee in 2002, and Bonnie Campbell was the Iowa Democratic Party's nominee in 1994. It's good to have you both back on the show.

Doug Gross:                       Good to be with you.

Bonnie Campbell:            Thank you.

Yepsen:                                Thanks for doing this. Across the table, James Lynch is political writer for The Gazette, and Kay Henderson is news director for Radio Iowa.

Kay Henderson:                Both of you may be able to empathize with the current candidates having sort of walked in their shoes...

Gross:                                   We know how to lose

Campbell:                            We can explain all that to them.

Henderson:                        But give our viewers a little perspective. I'll start with you, Mr. Gross. Or can you even imagine being a candidate today given the 24/7 nature of the process?

Gross:                                   It was pretty 24/7 back then too, but I think it's even worse now because of social media. Because everyone's monitoring, you know, every website, every comment and twitter and responding to ads that way and unleashing ads that way. So it's more than 24/7 now. It's every second. And as a result of that they can never rest. And that's problematic if you're a candidate because you're tested and that's what campaigns are supposed to be about, to test you to see what you're like under pressure. And they're tested every second.

Henderson:                        Ms. Campbell?

Campbell:                            Also social media can drive the campaign. Sometimes it seems more than whatever it is you want to drive it. At least can change focus. I think the the big pieces now that are different is... I hate to quote the president, but too many people believe in fake news. And so when you say you're truthful, real thing about a candidate, they just don't believe it. And so you know that your audience is narrowed significantly to a group of people who do think there's some kind of objective truth and there are real facts. But I think it makes staying on message and even developing a message a lot more difficult.

James Lynch:                     One of the big topics this week has been debates and whether there will be debates between Governor Reynolds and her challenger Fred Hubbell. Ms. Campbell. What do you think? Will there be debates? Will there be more than one?

Campbell:                            Well, I would predict there will be at least one. It doesn't seem like Governor Reynolds really wants to debate. And as a strategy, I understand that. I mean theoretically as an incumbent, uh, people are more familiar with you...know your name. If you have to debate, you have to give that other guy a stage with you. Uh, I think Fred Hubbell would do extremely well in a debate. I've seen him do that. I hope there's at least one. I'd be surprised if there were three or maybe even two.

Lynch:                                   Mr. Gross, other than the Libertarian candidate Jake Porter, does anybody want to debate?

Gross:                                   Well, I think Fred Hubbell wants to debate for the reasons Bonnie stated. I mean he wants to get, make sure that people get to know him in a session where they're talking about issues. That's better than talking about Younkers, for example. But who knows what questions you might ask. But I think, I think there'll be three debates that we've always had three debates in Iowa for gubernatorial candidates. I think public expects that. At the end of the day, after they get through this toing and froing, I think we'll have three debates.

Lynch:                                   But do debates matter today? I mean in this 24 hour news cycle where social media is driving the message?

Gross:                                   Well, they could drive the social media. I mean, you pick one statement out of there and you can really flare up social media and get all kinds of hits. So they can drive it. And I think they matter in this campaign as much as they do an in any, because to some extent Governor Reynolds is an incumbent, but really she isn't. She hasn't been elected to it. Uh, she was, she was Lieutenant Governor and obviously when governor Branstad left became governor. So I think to some extent, this is a, I think people have to look at this as a 40, 40, 20 race. You got 40 percent in one camp and 40 percent of the other camp and there they're talking about the great unwashed at 20 percent who are not really high, high information voters who aren't paying a lot of attention. But the end of the day they're going to want to know something about both of these people. And so debates, I think, would benefit both of them.

Yepsen:                                Bonnie Campbell, is it possible that we have here a very close race and neither candidate has a whole lot of experience in debates? Fred Hubbell's never been in a general election debate. He's never run for office before. And the governor...

Gross:                                   Kim Reynolds hasn't been on either. I mean

Yepsen:                                No, that's what I mean. Both of them. It's a close race and both of them are pretty inexperienced candidates. Don't they both have an interest in saying how do we get rid of this thing? How do, how do we kill it off without our fingerprints being on it?

Campbell:                            Yeah. Uh, I have to agree with that. I certainly cannot speak for Fred Hubbell. He may be looking in the mirror, say, I can't wait to get to that debate. But it is... I do think that 20 percent you're talking about may be older people who we know in Iowa vote. For whom debates they would watch... would have meaning for them. But mostly, if you do one of two things or both of two things...You look good. They like you. You don't make a mistake. Or, you do make a mistake. They don't like the way you look. And there's something about you they just don't like. So it's a risk. There's no question.

Yepsen:                                The, the risk is just too great. You've got fairly rookie candidates here and if they mess up this close to an election, they could have a hard time recovering. Isn't there is something to that?

Gross:                                   But hopefully there's more to running for governor than just avoiding mistakes, David. I mean there ought to be something about running for governor that you want to lead the state. And if you want to lead the state and direct the state, you need to be able to talk to the state and they need to be able to stand looking at you in their living room. And a debate is a good way to test that.

Yepsen:                                But the first task is to win.

Campbell:                            I totally agree with that. And I've watched Fred's development of that forward looking campaign. And uh, what his talking points and strategies are. And if I were Fred, I would want some occasion to talk directly to the people and say, I want to see rising incomes and I have a strategy to do that. I want to fix the Medicaid privatization mess. I want to make health care accessible and affordable for people. And I want to fix education to make us great again. You can do that in purchased ads, which are risk free. Or you could do it in a setting like a debate. I think he, I do believe he'll be particularly effective in that.

Yepsen:                                Look beyond the debates and give me your overall handicap assessment of, of the race. I want to hear from both of you.

Campbell:                            I haven't seen any polling, so, uh, I'm guessing. I would guess that Fred is ahead and that the race is close. We never know how to read that group of people who are truly independent and don't pay attention until a little bit later. I know he's been going around the state, and I know he gets very positive feedback. A lot of it is stylistic. Um, Fred's a humble guy. I've known him for many years. I tried to get him to run for governor at least two times before, but the timing wasn't right. I think he will, uh, make people appreciate his skills, and I think he'll win.

Yepsen:                                Doug Gross, what's your handicap of the race?

Gross:                                   I think it's very close. Um, I don't, I think it's within the margin of error. So I think it's impossible to say who's actually ahead at this point. Um, and it'll depend on who actually I think paints a picture that people find attractive for the future. I don't think the race is as complicated as the consultants are going to want to make it because I think at the end of the day these 20 percent are probably going to vote based upon whether or not they like the way things are happening or they don't. And if they want change, they'll vote for Fred Hubbell and if they don't want change, they'll vote for Kim Reynolds. I think it'll come down to that. And I think at the end of the day, right track will probably win and Kim Reynolds will win.

Henderson:                        You're talking about issues and economic realities for people. But Mr. Gross, doesn't this boil down to which candidate they liked the best?

Gross:                                   I think that's a necessary precondition. And they have to like you, but they have to... When you're running for governor, it's not like running for Senate where I know you'd take votes, but other than that you really don't make that much difference. When you're running for governor, you lead the state. You provide a direction, you set an agenda for the state. So I think people pay attention in a little different way. So the question is who do you want to hire to run your state for you? And as a result you need... You don't always like the person that runs your business, but if they do a good job and they make you wealthy, you're pretty happy about it. So I think they're gonna be looking a little deeper than that.

Henderson:                        But isn't the Republican argument against Hubbell using words describing him as arrogant, Sir Frederick... Isn't all of that meant not to contrast about how he would lead the state, but what his personality is?

Gross:                                   No question. Both candidates at this point it seems to me are largely talking about the other's personality. Because the public doesn't know either one of them. Or didn't know either one of them very well. So your necessary predicate is they have to like you and appreciate you and they're trying to destroy that before they could get started. But I would argue to win this race, one of the two of them has to paint a picture, a vision for the future of the people are going to find attractive.

Henderson:                        Ms. Campbell... You supported Hillary Clinton. A lot of people said I just couldn't vote for her because I didn't like her.

Campbell:                            Yes, that's true. And she had a strategy for rebuilding America and fixing all the things item by item, page by page and little policy brochures. That didn't matter. There was, people would say to me, well, there's just something about her I don't like. Well, I know what that was. It was 25 years of Republicans targeting her and making her appear to be an evil, conniving person. I get that. Back to the governor's race. I do make this observation. If Governor Reynolds had a plan for Iowa or had accomplishments that she has already achieved, she would not have gone out straight out of the chute with a very negative ad reaching back 30 years to a decision made by a business leader, uh, that by all accounts, all of us know what Iowa's economy looked like at that time.

Yepsen:                                But Bonnie Campbell. If, if, if that's, if you're right, that the race is very close. Uh, and if he's ahead. And he may very well be after coming out of that primary victory. Got a ton of media. She didn't have a primary. She's got to cut him down to size. Isn't she forced to go negative? Almost all the media I see...her attacking him. He's doing his share. But doesn't she have to do that to cut him down to size?

Campbell:                            Well, having had a little bit of experience speaking directly to that question...

Yepsen:                                That's why we've asked you two to be here.

Campbell:                            When I tried to respond to Terry Branstad's very negative opening salvos... Turns out my phone starts ringing. Oh, you can't do that. You are such a nice person. I hate that ad. Take it off. I think it's harder even today for women to be mean. And you know, cut someone like that. I mean, I'm actually hearing feedback from people that they don't know anything about Younkers one way or another, but they don't like the ad because they are smart enough and attentive enough to know that that's a stretch. We're going back three decades to a decision someone made.

Gross:                                   Yeah. These ads are all about creating a narrative about the candidate. They didn't know a lot about Fred Hubbell, so she wanted to paint a picture about a narrative, a story, an elevator speech about Fred Hubbell that people would remember. And so she's using Younkers, and now she's using the investment in Pioneer when he was on the Iowa Power Fund to create a narrative that he's a wealthy guy who cares more about his own income than he does yours. That's a pretty simple and frankly fairly effective narrative. And I thought his response, particularly on the Younkers side was not very effective. It was very defensive and really didn't dispose of the issue. That's why we're still talking about Younkers today. So that worked. Now with regard to the Pioneer thing, I think it's probably less effective for her. Because I, I, I don't know where the investing in Pioneer Hi-Bred has ever been a disqualifier to be governor. So I don't think we'll start now.

Campbell:                            And he disclosed it. And he was one of 11 people voting on that matter. That's a totally phony issue. But I think the Younkers one is as well. And I think it has been affective.

Gross:                                   Yeah.

Lynch:                                   One the things we talked about during the election cycles, or at least the people on this side of the table talk about, is enthusiasm and the enthusiasm gap. And this week a Grinnell College poll came out and found that 50 percent of Democrats say they will help other people vote compared to just 34 percent of Republicans who said they would help other people vote. Similar numbers in terms of helping people get registered to vote. Bonnie Campbell, does this suggest that Democrats have an enthusiasm and energy advantage going into the 2018 elections?

Campbell:                            I think so, yes. Uh, it's, it's very hard to sift through what's happening now. But the trump presidency has women for least democratic women, uh...ready to march the streets. They are, they're registering voters. I think it does now, how that shakes out relative to particular candidates, you have to assume the people that are getting out are Democrats and that there just might be this blue wave. I think there will be. And that's important. Intensity.

Gross:                                   I think one thing we forget about is what's the environment you're running in. Because that has as much impact on this as anything, because that really affects these 20 percent the environment that they perceive. The first issue is do they think they state's headed in the right direction. And a governor has to have it be positive in order to get reelected. So you gotta watch that. But the second thing is the national environment. We've become nationalized in our elections and the issues and everything else because the money comes, a lot of it comes nationally. And on that score, I've got to give the edge to Hubbell. Because anytime you get the incumbent president in the first midterm, whose approval rating now is about 40 percent. If it's not at least at 45 percent, that incumbent party is going to have trouble in that mid term election. And as a result, I think you're going to have a lot of Democrats turn out that wouldn't otherwise turn out in a midterm and you'll have some Republicans sit home. So I think that gives the edge to Hubbell.

Lynch:                                   That poll also found that both Democrats and Republicans said around 40 percent of each said they're just burned out on politics. Are we in danger, Doug Gross, of people just getting burned out and saying, I'm not going to go knock on doors. I'm not going to give money. I'm not going to pay attention to these candidates?

Gross:                                   Not at all. I mean, if Trump has done anything, he's made politics an entertainment business. That more people...

Lynch:                                   Is that good?

Gross:                                   Well more people are paying attention to it than ever before. They watch it for entertainment purposes as much, as much as anything else. So whether it's the Democratic women or independent woman or others. Or old white Republican men. They're energized and they're going to turn out because they think it means something to them. No, I don't see that at all.

Yepsen:                                I want to switch gears. And I want to talk about the Congressional races. Never enough time on this show. First District. Doug Gross, what's your handicap of the race between Abby Finkenauer, Democrat and Rob Blum, the incumbent Republican.

Gross:                                   Blum will likely lose.

Yepsen:                                And why do you say that?

Gross:                                   Well, first of all, I think it's going to be a good year for Democrats as we talked about earlier. Uh, that's a tough district, uh, for a Republican. He's held on I think largely by, by appealing to the tea party movement. I think that's less impactful than before. And she's got a lot of money.

Yepsen:                                Bonnie Campbell, what's your handicap of that Congressional race?

Campbell:                            Exactly the same. And she's an attractive candidate. She's smart and young and energetic.

Gross:                                   She still has to prove herself. She's 29 years old. She'd be the youngest Congresswoman in Washington.

Yepsen:                                And Bonnie Campbell. Let's talk about the Third District. David Young, the Republican incumbent, versus Axne, the Democrat.

Campbell:                            I think the Democrat will win. I think she has run a solid campaign. Uh, interestingly, people literally walk up to me and say, she just looks like she should win. And either I'm not watching the right television... I haven't seen much of a presence for David Young on television. I'm sure he will get it because of all the money that's coming his way. But I give it to her. If there's a little bit of a blue wave even, she should win this. And she's a good candidate.

Yepsen:                                Doug Gross. What's your handicap of that Third District race?

Gross:                                   I think it's even right now. But I think at the end, Young will win. It'll be close. Uh, I don't think her ads have been particularly effective. I don't know when the last time we had the pony express in Iowa sending mail to Washington, D.C. And I think Young will have necessary resources. And David takes the old style approach to winning. He goes to every county in the state twice every, every month. So this is a guy or every year, I'm sorry. So this is a guy who spends a lot of times, so I think Young will win.

Yepsen:                                But that's arguably a waste of time. So given how big Polk County is in this district.

Gross:                                   You gotta really, he's got to really roll up the margin in the rural areas and Pottawatomie County. If you can do that, he can offset a problem and pull... I think the key for David, it's not going to be Polk County, it's going to be Dallas County. The key to this race is going to be Hiawatha and Waukee. It's going to be what happens in suburban areas, particularly among women. Which way do they go? David's going door to door in those places right now.

Lynch:                                   Both of you have talked about the Trump effect and how he's sort of energized a politics. Doug Gross, should Kim Reynolds invite Donald Trump to come campaign for her?

Gross:                                   Uh, I don't think so. I mean, I think as I said this, she's got her base with her. She doesn't need anymore of that. Uh, I, I think this is about the independents and the people who otherwise aren't attached, trying to figure out which way they want to go. She does not want this race to be nationalized. She should want this race to be focused on Iowa with a low unemployment rate, relatively healthy economy. She doesn't want to have to talk about tariffs and that's what you'd have to do if she brings Donald Trump here. So that's not a good thing to do.

Lynch:                                   Bonnie Campbell, should Fred Hubbell ask Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren to come in and campaign for him?

Campbell:                            You know, I wouldn't for the same reasons Doug has identified. Fred needs to get his persona out there. Uh, he needs to let people see that he is genuinely one of the nicest, most humble persons you could ever encounter. I happen to have known much of Fred's family and they've all been like that. So I think he doesn't need the star power.

Lynch:                                   Whether the president comes or not, is he going to be a drag on Kim Reynolds?

Campbell:                            I think so. And I mean, look at... by the time we're through with this show, some new, appalling, overwhelmingly scary thing may come blowing out of the White House. I mean, it's just, I wouldn't want him. I don't want him anywhere running loose.

Gross:                                   You made that clear, Bonnie.

Campbell:                            But I don't think he ought to come to Iowa.

Henderson:                        Let's remind folks of part of your resume, Ms. Campbell. You were chair of the Iowa Democratic Party in 1988 in charge of caucuses that year. Uh, the Democratic National Committee has directed the Iowa Democratic Party to do caucuses differently. Have absentee voting. How in the world do you do that as Democrats? And will New Hampshire's longstanding secretary of state agree to it.

Campbell:                            Uh, I think we'll have to figure out how to do it. And I think New Hampshire will go along too.

Henderson:                        How do you do it?

Campbell:                            Well, I don't know. Really. We may have to look at digital ways of participating. But I think it's important, too. I mean, even as much as I love the caucuses and as significant as they are in the process and to us in Iowa, it's just a fact that it's limiting for some people. There has to be a way to participate by video conferences like I did in the Obama campaign. We did audio town halls.

Gross:                                   Not only that, but it's good for both parties to have absentees. Because otherwise the extremists take over, and it's hurt both parties.

Yepsen:                                On the Republican side, will there be Republican caucuses in 2020?

Gross:                                   I think absolutely, there'll be Republican caucuses. The question is whether or not...

Yepsen:                                In '92, you didn't have...

Gross:                                   There'll be Republican caucuses. I think David...

Yepsen:                                Will anybody challenge Trump?

Gross:                                   Yeah. That's a great question because I think it all depends on the outcome of the midterm election. If the midterm election happens and Trump and the Republicans take a big hit, there'll be a number of Republican candidates pop in Iowa and the coffee shops very quickly thereafter.

Yepsen:                                We've got about a minute or so left. And I want to get your handicap of the races for the legislature. Battle for the control of the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House. Bonnie Campbell, what's your sense of the race for the Iowa House?

Campbell:                            Uh, I'm optimistically thinking we'll get it back. It's all depending on the wave and the numbers of people who vote.

Gross:                                   I think Democrats have done a good job recruiting candidates, but they'll be short, probably four to five seats in the House.

Yepsen:                                And what about the Senate?

Gross:                                   Senate will likely... Republicans will likely go up. Could be 31 as a result of the retirements and what's happening to the... if you look at it race by race.

Yepsen:                                And the control of the Senate? What's your handicap?

Campbell:                            Just to be stubborn, I'm going to say I think we'll take that, too.

Gross:                                   Geez, Bonnie. C'mon.

Campbell:                            There's a lot of work going on out there.

Gross:                                   Just ruined your whole credibility.

Campbell:                            C'mon. Once in a while.

Henderson:                        Talk about the ghost of Terry Branstad. Did he remake the Republican Party or does his exit from the stage mean his influence has exited? Both of you.

Gross:                                   I still think he has a lot of impact on the Republican Party. I mean his base of support is her base of support. So it's very important to her right now. That's what makes it very difficult for her to deal with, for example, with Medicaid. What might be in her interest to do so. So she can't. So he still has great impact on the Republican Party.

Yepsen:                                Bonnie Campbell, 15 seconds.

Campbell:                            Okay. The Medicaid debacle created by Branstad and Governor Reynolds could well determine this governor's race. Add to it the total scuttling of collective bargaining, which Bob Ray supported and signed into law. And those people will vote.

Yepsen:                                And I have to scuttle the show. Because we're out of time.

Gross:                                   Only tonight.

Yepsen:                                And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week. Catch Iowa Press at our regular air times... 7:30 Friday night at noon on Sunday on IPTV's main channel with a rebroadcast Saturday morning on our .3 world channel. So for all of us here at Iowa Public Television, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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