Ames, Iowa–Less than 24 hours before Iowa Republicans choose their 2012 presidential favorite in the Hawkeye State GOP’s nationally-watched “straw vote,” most of the state party leaders remain undecided or publicly neutral in the race to choose an opponent to Barack Obama next year.
“You can say I’m neutral–certainly,” Republican Gov. Terry Branstad told HUMAN EVENTS last night at a reception here hosted by the American Wind and Energy Association. “I’m just watching and waiting.”
The neutrality of Branstad–who won an unprecedented fifth consecutive term in the statehouse last year–is newsworthy because, as the governor proudly recalled, he has a long history of early involvement in GOP presidential contests. As a state legislator in 1976, the young State Rep. Branstad was one of the few elected Republicans in Iowa to actively support Ronald Reagan when the Californian challenged President Gerald Ford. Branstad also helped recruit veteran operative and fellow conservative Ray Hagie to run Reagan’s campaign against Ford in the Iowa caucuses.
Four years later, then-Lieutenant Gov. Branstand was also an early supporter of Reagan.
In 1999, one year after concluding his first four terms as governor of the Hawkeye State, Branstad was a national co-chairman of Lamar Alexander’s 2000 presidential bid. (Former Tennessee Gov. and present Sen. Alexander decided to end his campaign shortly after a poor performance in the Ames straw poll in ’99).
State GOP Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP National Committeeman Steve Scheffler have also declared their neutrality in the ’12 presidential contest. The lone party chieftain to break ranks and come out publicly for a candidate is National Committeewoman Kim Lehman, who is supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum for President.
Although stalwart conservative Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) is close to fellow Rep. and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, he nonetheless makes it clear he is so far supporting no one in the race. Following the nationally televised debate at the coliseum here in Ames Thursday night, however, King was on the scene and particularly critical of Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the still-unannounced candidate’s refusal to come to Iowa and participate in the straw poll. (As a state legislator in 1996, King was an enthusiastic backer of Pat Buchanan’s presidential bid in Iowa).
No one here is even trying to guess the outcome of the presidential straw vote Saturday night. One thing that it is safe to say that whoever the winner is will not have won because of the backing of party leaders. Most of them are sitting this one out so far.