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Branstad: GOP race in Iowa is 'wide open'

In a sit-down interview with NBC last Friday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said he believes the presidential race in his state is “wide open” and it’s all going to come down to “who runs the best campaign and catches fire at the end.” Branstad also said that he most likely will not endorse a candidate, and that he hopes Iowa holds its caucuses after Jan. 1.
 
Q: You’re impression of the race?
A: It’s wide open. It’s absolutely wide open. You know what’s happened here is first, well, Bachmann came on strong early. She did well in that New Hampshire debate, she wins the straw poll but then Perry goes to Waterloo, her hometown, she doesn’t play that very well. He goes around to every table there, gives a great speech, stays and listens to hers and makes a great impression. He comes to the Iowa State Fair, I had breakfast with him, and my advice to him was focus on your record on jobs and tort reform. He does a great jobs at the Iowa State Fair and gets off to a great start. I was on a trade mission when they had that debate where he really kind of got hurt on the immigration issue. And now of course, Herman Cain is coming on. And Herman Cain had made a good impression from the beginning here. Watch for Rick Santorum. He is kind of the turtle in this race that just keeps plotting along but he is making progress all the time and he is making a good impression. He is going to do a lot better than people expect – he came in 4th in the straw poll but I just think he is building.
 
I think Romney will benefit from the Christie endorsement. He needs to come here and campaign more actively. I think he got burned here 4 years ago and hasn’t spent much time here now. But there is still a lot of friends he made from four years ago, a lot of people respect what he did as rescuing the winter Olympics and his business plans. And Bachmann is trying to make a comeback here. You got Bachmann and Perry and Ron Paul has his following, he will get his 12 to 15%  - if you look at who his endorsements are, he has more people on the state central committee endorsing him than anybody else.
 
I think it is really a wide open situation at this point it all depends upon who runs the best campaign and catches fire at the end… and when is the end going to be? Is it going to be early January or is it going to be sooner than that? I hope it’s after the 1st of January like it was 4 years ago.
 
Both parties are committed to being first so we will move up and be first. But I think most people would prefer not to have the caucuses during the holidays. They would like to have it after the 1st of the year, if possible.
 
Q: Will it hurt Iowa if it was before the 1st of the year?
A: Well, I don’t know. I think what’s going to happen after this, you have states keep moving up and sooner than later people are going to say wait a minute, we have to change this system so maybe the penalties for what Florida did are not great enough to prevent that, I don’t know. We in Iowa take our responsibility seriously and want to maintain the first in the nation caucuses. And, the history experience is that anybody that decides they are just going to skip Iowa, Rudy Giuliani is a good example, it was not a smart strategy and I certainly would advise them against it. And Jon Huntsman, I’ve told him, he is making a fatal mistake here. He is less than 1% so he isn’t really a factor.
 
Q: Romney not coming here, could he still do well here?
A: Well, his support could erode if people feel he isn’t taking it seriously. I think a lot of people still, from what he did 4 years ago, and then the Christie endorsement, I think have caused some people to take another look. So I think he still has the potential to come in and do reasonably well here but if he continues to ignore the state…his wife was here and he is coming back but Iowans are spoiled by attention and a couple of appearances won’t do it.
 
I will give you an example. Ronald Reagan was loved here. Ronald Reagan got his start with WOC Radio in the Quad Cities and WHO in Des Moines and I was for Reagan in 1980. In 1976 when he ran against Ford, we had a really close battle, the state divided almost equally and I was elected lieutenant governor based a lot on the friends I had in the Reagan campaign that helped me get elected when I was 31. And John Sears was running the Reagan campaign in ’80 and he thought well, Reagan is a great communicator; we will just do one big rally per congressional district. George H. W. Bush he and his wife and his kids went to every county seat town and he squeaked out a victory over Reagan in Iowa. It should have never, never happened. But Sears went to New Hampshire and rented a bus and went all over the state and did exactly what we told him he should have done in Iowa and it put the campaign back on track. That’s how George H. W. Bush got to be president. And they fired John Sears, this is when I knew they haven’t lost it, they announced that John Sears was no longer the campaign manager 15minutes before the polls closed in New Hampshire. He was out after Iowa but they weren’t going to take a hit of firing the campaign manager so they waited until the votes were cast in New Hampshire.
 
I have been around a while.
 
Q; I know. You have a good record in elections.
A: 12 and 0.
 
Q: How does that feel?
A: I am pretty proud of that but what I tell candidates is, the harder you work the luckier you get. You have to work not only hard but smart. A lot of winning elections in this state is personal contacts and hard work. Message is important. People need to know that you are sincere, that you’re honest, that you’ll work hard, and that you care.
 
Q: Do you think everyone who is running for the Republican nomination demonstrate those traits?
A: Yea, I think there are a lot of good candidates. I am not one who denigrates the people that are out there. I think there are a lot of sincere people that are running and I think that a lot of people are looking for the perfect candidate and there is no such thing as the perfect candidate. We need to choose the one that we think is the best and the strongest and has the best vision and the best communications skills get the message across. I mean, the country cannot afford four more years of Obama. You see what’s happened to the national debt, and you see his approach to winning reelection is to savage the very people who you have to count on to create jobs, the successful businessmen and entrepreneurs – he wants to his them with higher taxes and more regulations. It’s just totally counterproductive. It may be a political strategy but it is a disaster for the nation. So, that’s why we need to restore fiscal responsibility, which I think a lot of governors are doing in their own states and focus on jobs. It has to be private sector jobs. The regulatory burden and tax burdens are two of the biggest impediments. There are a lot of people sitting on money that are just afraid to invest now. They see the new burdens coming from the Obama healthcare costs, they see EPA regulations, they see Dodd-Frank… I can tell you our community banks out here were not part of the problem, they didn’t do the risky loans and they are the ones paying the price with these regulations.
 
Q: Lets go back to the primary calendar. Nevada…
A: They should back off. Maybe they will, I don’t know. I guess my feeling is, I would like them to work out something where you would still maintain the Iowa caucuses no earlier than January 3rd. And there ought to be a way to do Nevada before Florida. They just moved up too much.
 
Q: Do you plan to endorse a candidate before the caucuses?
A: I have reserved judgment on that. I think it’s probably not likely but if we reach a point and I think one candidate has emerged as the candidate who is the strongest and the best for the country, I might. But mainly I have just tried to be a good host and give my candid, honest advice to each of the candidates and encourage them and certainly encourage them to actively participate in Iowa and most have followed my advice with the exception of Huntsman.
 
Q: You will be moderating The National Association of Manufacturers forum in November in Iowa. What’s your plan with that?
A: I am excited about that. I think jobs is the issue. I’m going to give them the opportunity to share their vision and their plan and let the people of Iowa decide which one they think has the best strategy or plan to revitalize the economy.
 
Q: Do you have any idea when the caucus date will be set?
A: No, Matt Strawn is doing a great job as our Republican state chairman and also the Democratic Party is working in conjunction with them, we want to keep them together, the same night, both parties. It has to be decided by the parties. So the state really isn’t the player in this, it’s the parties. But Matt and I have a great relationship and I think he is doing all he can. I am trying to support him all I can.
 
Q: Lets end with what is your favorite political moment?
A: (lists a few) I’m a big Reagan fan. Ronald Reagan came here caucus night in 1984. I’ve got a picture in McElroy Auditorium in Waterloo, the East High School band, and I’m sitting on the stage and Ronald Reagan is speaking. I also rode Air Force One, the one that’s in the Reagan Library now I think, it’s the only time I’ve ever been on AF1, we flew from Waterloo to Des Moines and we had this great event caucus night. Now the whole idea of this was the Democrats had this big contest and we wanted to steal it so we bring the President of the United States in and we got a lot of coverage. It was a strategic idea I had and Reagan came in. the highlight was, there was a woman who called my office and said when Reagan worked for WHO she was being robbed in the street in front of her apartment and he stuck the gun out the window and scared the robber away and then escorted her to her nursing class.

So I had her on the stage in the auditorium, I told the story, and introduced Reagan to her and the president got an opportunity to thank you. And he said, this was one of the unbelievable moments, he said you know I didn’t tell you at the time but the gun wasn’t loaded. So he just handled it just so well and it was just unbelievable. I’ve had a lot of highlights.