DES MOINES, Iowa — Back in 2010, Gov. Terry Branstad pledged to create jobs, boost incomes and reduce government spending as part of his bid to return to office. Four years later, his re-election campaign promises are far less ambitious.
The Republican governor — who holds a significant lead over Democrat Jack Hatch in recent polls — has released just a handful of policy proposals so far in his run for a sixth non-consecutive term. All are relatively modest, dealing with issues like college tuition and Internet access. Much of his campaign trail chat is about his recent achievements in office, including collaborating with the Legislature on a property tax cut and new education spending.
Branstad said the agenda he laid out in 2010 was always meant to take five years, so he's still working to meet those targets.
"We spelled out those goals and they're five year goals and we are continuing to work to achieve those goals," Branstad said. "In addition to those ambitious goals, we are also spelling out goals I want to accomplish in this coming term."
But Tom Henderson, chairman of the Polk County Democrats, said Branstad should be presenting a clear vision for the future.
"I think campaigns are always about ideas and the future. If he doesn't have anything left to accomplish, maybe it's time for somebody else," Henderson said.
When Branstad ran in 2010, he was attempting a comeback after more than a decade away from elected office and was running against an incumbent Democrat. He pledged to create 200,000 new jobs, increase family incomes and reduce the cost of government.
Branstad said he has delivered, though the details are complicated.
On employment, Branstad counts the number of jobs added during his tenure, but not the jobs lost. By his count, the state has added over 150,000 jobs since January 2011, but the net gain in jobs has been about 77,300, according to data from the Iowa Workforce Development.
Government spending has increased since Branstad took office, but his campaign argues that expenses have been held down compared to the previously projected costs. And on family income, Branstad's staff cites federal data that shows a jump in the overall personal income in the state, though Census data shows little change in the median household income in Iowa in recent years.
Republican activist Ann Trimble-Ray, a county chairwoman for Branstad's campaign, said the tone of the re-election campaign was different because Branstad has a recent record to talk about.
"This time around there are successes to talk about. Whereas in 2010 the message was about, we've been going down the wrong path," Trimble-Ray said.
Still, Doug Gross, a longtime adviser to Branstad, said if Branstad wants to achieve a big policy goal in his next term, he needs to get the public on board.
"If the governor wants to accomplish something in his next term that is big, he'll have to lay out sometime in the next six weeks an outline on what that might be," Gross said. "He's going to win and he's going to win big and if you want a mandate for that change, you have to tell them what it is."
Hatch, a state lawmaker from Des Moines, said Branstad doesn't want to create high expectations for another term.
"He can't even meet the promises he made four years ago," Hatch said. "I think he's gun-shy. I think he's making it as easy as possible."
Branstad said he will likely be offering more policy ideas between now and Election Day.
"I love this state. We're not done yet," he said.