DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad — a graying little man who relies on Midwestern stick-to-itiveness rather than personal flair — is about to enter the political record books as the longest serving governor in American history, dating all the way back to colonial times.
Today, the six-term Republican will mark his 7,642nd day of service as governor. That's just shy of 21 years in the office. Branstad will move beyond former New York Gov. George Clinton, whose service includes some pre-Constitution time, and is far out in front of any recent or current governor.
The milestone is a testament to the fact that while political fashions have changed in the last three decades, this serious son of small-town farmers has managed to remain relevant. And it comes at a political moment when the contrast between Branstad and the high-wattage stars of the GOP is on display in Iowa, as hordes of candidates flood the state before the leadoff presidential caucuses.
Unlike many of the 2016 hopefuls touring Iowa, Branstad is not a culture warrior, a business tycoon or a policy maven. He's an old-fashioned retail politician who visits all of Iowa's 99 counties every year. His schedule is jammed with tours of mom-and-pop businesses, keynote speeches at trade shows, talks at rural schools and the signing of seemingly endless proclamations on everything from motorcycles to college applications.
"He's everywhere. People say he came to our ribbon-cutting," said Bonnie Campbell, a former Democratic attorney general who ran unsuccessfully against Branstad in 1994. "Everybody feels they know him."
Helping Branstad, 69, go longer is that Iowa is a rare state without a term limits law. Also, he has never sought higher office. He took a break in the private sector after serving four terms from 1983 to 1999, but came back to oust an incumbent Democratic governor in 2010.
"The odds of anyone passing him in the 21st century are next to none," said Eric Ostermeier, a research associate at the University of Minnesota who has compiled a comprehensive list of governors' length of service.