Can Small town legislator win Iowa governor’s race?

[imgbelt img=roberts.gif]Republicans see a chance to win Iowa’s gubernatorial race in 2010  with Rod Roberts.

33, a conservative Web site  the Washington Post tabs as one of the tops for politics in Iowa.
An ordained pastor (although he hasn’t been behind the pulpit for 20  years) Roberts is development director for the 125-congregation strong Christian Churches/Churches of Christ in Iowa.
Because of this background Roberts won’t be forced to headline his  candidacy with the twin towers of Hawkeye State conservatism: opposition to abortion and gay marriage. He’s strong on both fronts.
“He doesn’t have to lead with his faith because people already know him,” says Bryan English, a spokesman with the highly influential Christian-conservative Iowa Family Policy Center.
English said the GOP must field candidates who can deliver a broad message. Roberts would seem to have that ability, English said.
“He’s a very well-rounded representative,” English said. “He does a great job. He’s very good at what he does.”

Following an electoral thrashing in 2008, the GOP, both nationally and statewide, is in the process of deep soul-searching, with some arguing for entrenchment with a robust, unapologetic social agenda and others calling for laser-like focus on economics in the form of  policies aimed at reining in taxes and reducing the role of government.
For his part, Roberts says he’s closer to a run than ever. “I am still very seriously considering this question of running,” Roberts said. “I am probably more interested in running than I have 
been up to this point.”
Roberts’ name has been discussed in the highest GOP circles. Iowa’s last two Republican governors, Robert Ray and Terry Branstad, said in earlier interviews that Roberts has the standing in the party 
to make a run.
“Personally and politically I think a lot of Rod Roberts and others do, too,” says David Oman, who was executive assistant to Ray and Branstad, served as co-chair of the Iowa Republican Party from 1985 to 1993 and was a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1998.
In an interview last week, Oman said Roberts has an intangible quality working for him, what the Des Moines Republican termed a “winning personality.”
Roberts also can count his wife, Trish, development director at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, as a major political asset, Oman said.
“His wife Trish is terrific,” Oman said. “Iowans want to get to know a spouse. She certainly will be beneficial to Rod.”
That said, Oman thinks geography will be the major challenge for a possible Roberts bid.
He’ll need money and he’ll need to get around the state – the latter of which is more challenging than it may seem, according to Oman.
“Iowa may look small on a map but whether you’re driving or flying it is an expansive state,” Oman said.
Because Iowa hosts first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses every four years voters expect high-level candidates to almost go door to door.
Additionally, Republicans must travel more aggressively to win statewide in Iowa as the party’s base is more dispersed in rural, suburban and urban areas of the state – unlike Democrats who can pull off wins by running up margins in about two dozen counties, Oman said.
“With others from western Iowa in, that will make this opportunity perhaps more challenging,” Oman said.
Oman is among those veteran politicos in his party urging a primacy of economics over fire-breathing right-wing social agenda rhetoric that alienates independents, moderates and conservatives Democrats – all of whom Oman thinks are ripe for the picking in 2010 because of 
dissatisfactions with Culver and fears about the growing role of government in Des Moines and Washington, D.C.
“I would come down on the side of suggesting we have to rally Republicans on core principles of limited government and sanity when it comes to spending and individual responsibility and freedom and growth,” Oman said.
In eastern Iowa, top Republicans say they are familiar with Roberts but need to know more.
The Roberts “brand” is just not known there, said Tim Palmer of Cedar Rapids, a small-business man who chairs the Linn County Republican Party.
“The feedback I’ve heard from this side of the state is that no one is taking it seriously, but that’s nothing against Rod,” Palmer said. “He seems to be well thought of on your side of the state. He seems to have a good brand with the people who do know him.”
Palmer, a social conservative who is the editor of a popular Web site called, says Roberts’ biography is appealing to him.
To this point the Carroll person who rose the highest in state government is attorney Art Neu, a former lieutenant governor and an admirer of Roberts, although Neu is decidedly more moderate.
“I think he’s about as reasonable a candidate as I could possibly expect from the Republican Party today,” Neu said. “He’s been a good legislator. I think he’d be a good governor.”