November 26, 2013

Rod Roberts is a supremely nice man, in a courtly way that makes you think he time-machined here from more serious decades in America when manners mattered. Rod is also a highly competitive man who is not intimidated. Yes, these two characteristics can co-exist in a modern politician.

The confidence stems from a solid core of true belief and honest action - not a smokescreen of bombast and brand-building. Roberts gave the state a classy 2010 run for governor.

But too many people - most of them with heard-but-not-seen personas accessible through your midday radio dial - confuse decency, niceness, with being soft.

"Rod didn't offer a reason other than, 'I'm Rod Roberts and I'm a nice guy,'" Steve Deace, an Iowa native and nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, said when I asked him about Roberts' prospects in a potential U.S. Senate run. "What's your plan? It's something you're going to do that shakes things up. Offer people something. And I think that if Rod were to get into the Senate race, and has something along those lines he wants to do and can champions it, I think this race right now, there's an avenue for all kinds of people."

Roberts, a former western Iowa Republican state representative who heads up the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, tells us his deliberations on a possible U.S. Senate bid have "widened and deepened." Roberts remains "seriously interested" in the prospect of running to succeed Tom Harkin.

"I still believe that this fall is the window of opportunity for others to come in," Roberts said in an interview.

Our editorial pages have made the case for well over a year that Roberts is the best-positioned Iowa Republican to bring disparate, if not warring, elements of the GOP together. He's an evangelical with a legislative track record that focused heavily on business and economic development.

I've known and covered Roberts for about 20 years now. I trust him. So does most everybody I know around west-central Iowa, liberal or conservative.

Roberts has the rhetorical chops, the policy background and the legislative experience to out-compete anyone in the current GOP field.

And he has a separating quality that will emerge in the general election. Like Reagan, one of his role models, Rod is not an angry man. Bottom line: Rod Roberts wants to beat you, but he doesn't want to hurt you. Rod Roberts won't be hanging his running sneakers in the hurt locker.

Nice guys can still win in Iowa. Having some class is still an asset - one I would say is vastly underrated. Iowans want class in their candidates, even if they don't say it, or necessarily even know it.

As his fellow Carroll Countian Scott Siepker cleverly shows us, Iowa Nice doesn't exacltly mean what those looking at us from across the Missouri and Mississippi think.

Rod wants nothing of this zero-summing of our politics - the fast orbiting of Planets Who's-Up and Who's Down in the Twitterverse. He's not some character out of Mark Leibovich's devastating book "This Town," in which Capital City denizens are little more than competing brands (when they're up) and caricatures (when they're down) in Washington, D.C.'s incestuous money merry-go-round.

More Iowa Republicans are starting to see the advantages of the Rod Way.

Rod's campaign would be the homemade casserole competing in an Iowa Senate GOP primary diet of McDonald's nuggets and Wendy's fries. You can't always describe authenticity, but you know it when you smell or taste it. Iowans, for the uninitiated, love their casseroles.

The GOP can take back the United States Senate in 2014 - and Iowa may very well be central to that.

But Republicans have to get out of their own way. They need a steady hand, a candidate who is not a ball-dropper, so they can leverage mid-term advantages and real and perceived problems for the Democrats.

Roberts is the man for the job for Iowa Republicans.

Do you really want to put the possible fate of the U.S. Senate in Joni Ernst's hands just because Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds likes her based on, what, gender and the fact that both served in county government south of Interstate 80?

In answer to Deace's challenge, look for Roberts, should he get in this contest, to run hard and heavy on deficits and debt - because, really, from a Republican perspective, all problems, whether you're in a Rotary Club meeting or holding a placard outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic stem from Big Government.

Remember that old saying about keeping the big thing the big thing.

Roberts, who lost a GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010 to Gov. Terry Branstad, built a statewide network in the process. At a Republican event in May in Cedar Rapids Roberts sat with members of the Johnson County Republican Party.

He is approached regularly with questions from party regulars and other Iowans about the prospects of a Senate campaign. He doesn't have to prove his social-issue bona fides to anyone, meaning he has the flexibility to reach more voters in his party and a general election. Also, no Missouri missteps on abortion policy.

Several weeks ago, Roberts said he likely would make a decision on a U.S. Senate race by the time gravy flowed onto Thanksgiving turkey and potatoes.

"Some people serve that at Christmas as well," he joked to me a few days ago