116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
He jumped in with a tweet. But this week, Christian Fong hit the escape key.
Eastern Iowa's lone candidate for governor sounded retreat Tuesday, suspending his campaign just months after its launch. Fong, a Cedar Rapids business executive, left the Republican stage with hopes for a second political act.
His theatrical debut was rated B for brief. “No Primary for Young Men,” perhaps.
His run was good news for the Republican Party. He brought a fresh perspective, a truckload of ideas and a good personal story to a party in need of a youthful jolt. Just seeing his young, Asian-American face on stage among all those dour white guys would have been tonic for the shrinking Republican brand.
Sure, there are all sorts of reasons why Fong failed, his admitted lack of fundraising for one. He was largely unknown and hasn't held elected office - a liability in an election where voters are craving competence.
And he made a few small campaign contributions to some Democrats he respects. Gasp.
But the fact that a new face with interesting ideas for governing Iowa couldn't find a way to stay in the Republican race is not good news for the party, which now seems more interested in combat than solutions.
The party's establishmentistas are busy looking backward, longingly, toward Terry Branstad, a four-term governor who hasn't been on a ballot since 1994. His big idea for cleaning up the state's budget mess is to form a commission. Not so fresh.
The party's religious conservatives are lining up behind Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats, who is making his third run with a campaign centered on creating a governor-on-steriods, with veto power over the Legislature and the Supreme Court. A monarchy, now there's a brand new idea.
Fong tried to be a bridge. He hired veteran activist Marlys Popma to run his show and held private meetings across the state with conservative activists. He talked their talk and promised to walk their walk.
He called for phasing out the state income tax and creating jobs, urban and rural, appealing to GOP'ers focusing on Iowans' pocketbooks, not their bedrooms.
But bridge-building is out. Bridge-burning is in. Activists and contributors are choosing sides.
There's talk now of Fong becoming someone's running mate. Honestly, the last place a smart, ambitious guy wants to find himself is in the lieutenant governor's chair. It's all title, no impact.
Director of the Department of Economic Development, a place where he could have a real say in Iowa's future, would be a better second act. And for Fong, a curtain call is likely.
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