- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Wedged into Iowa’s southeast corner, Lee County stands out among the state’s neat patchwork of rectangular counties.

It’s also noticeable for another reason: It’s one of two Iowa counties that Gov. Terry Branstad has never carried it, in five election attempts.

Seeking his sixth term next month, Branstad wants that to change that.

It’s a point of personal pride, Branstad acknowledged, but it also represents what he argues is Iowa’s economic improvement since his return to the governor’s office in 2010. And so he’s putting his campaign money where his mouth is.

Branstad, having swamped Democrat Jack Hatch in fundraising, has bought television advertising time on WGEM in neighboring Quincy, Illinois, the only local television station that covers all of Lee County, as well as west central Illinois and northeast Missouri. The move is part of the 67-year old Branstad’s personal political goals, which also include scoring big in his opponent’s home county and leaving the party stronger, should 2014 be his last campaign.



“From a cost effective perspective, probably buying ads in Quincy is not really cost effective,” the Republican told The Associated Press. “But if you want to get your message across in Lee County, Lee County does watch Quincy TV.”

Branstad had spent $2.2 million on television advertising, including $88,000 on TV in neighboring Quincy, Illinois, compared to Hatch’s total spending of $129,200. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll released last week showed Branstad leading Hatch, a veteran state senator from Des Moines, by 14 percentage points. By mid-July, Branstad had more than $4 million in his campaign account, while Hatch had less than $200,000.

Last week, Hatch was forced to take his television and radio ads off the air to conserve campaign cash for the final month.

“He’s a very competitive person,” said longtime friend and adviser Richard Schwarm of Buena Vista. “He always runs like he’s 10 points behind.”

Branstad’s Lee County quest is part ego, part big picture. Besides Lee, the only other county Branstad hasn’t carried is Johnson County, home of University of Iowa, and what the governor calls, “like climbing Mount Everest.”

But Branstad said Lee County exemplifies his goal of attempting to revive Iowa’s economy.

Unemployment in the blue-collar county was 11 percent when Branstad took office in January 2011, and had fallen to 6.6 percent as of August, according to the Iowa Department of Workforce Development.

Branstad takes some of the credit: state tax credits created for a fertilizer plant in Lee County. Hatch has argued the agreement was too expensive for the state. Branstad also points to a wind-energy project by MidAmerican Energy and a Siemens wind turbine manufacturing plant in the county, though the governor had little to do with either.

Former state Sen. Gene Fraise, a Lee County Democrat, said the economy has improved but doesn’t attribute it to Branstad. He notes that Democrats are just as adamant about Branstad never carrying the county.

“It might buck up the Republicans a little, but the Democrats are avowed to make sure he does not win this county,” Fraise said. “He’s just got so much money. He can buy TV ads wherever he wants to.”

Asked if carrying Lee County, trimming his losses in Johnson or putting up big numbers in Polk were part of a broader political mark he hoped to leave, Branstad said he was just trying to “lead the team to victory,” as evidenced by the time and advice he has invested in U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst. Ernst has led in recent polls of her race with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley.

But longtime supporter and confidant Doug Gross said a landslide for Branstad would be the culmination of the governor’s work to remake the party.

“A big win for Terry Branstad creates coattails,” Gross said.

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