While Iowa politicians often take a summer holiday from heavy campaigning, Gov. Chet Culver and his opponent, former Gov. Terry Branstad, have already been hitting the airwaves hard and don't show signs of letting up.

Branstad just released his ninth television commercial, and Culver has put out a half-dozen, according to their campaigns. In some ways, the race between the two started even before Branstad won the Republican nomination in the June 8 primary.

Branstad's ads during the primary targeted Culver rather than his Republican rivals, and Culver's pre-primary ads were aimed at Branstad, who Culver aides assumed would be the nominee. Culver had no primary opposition.

"It's going to be a long campaign and these two are going to go after each other hard," said veteran Republican strategist Bob Haus, who isn't affiliated with the Branstad campaigned. "Normally the summer is pretty quiet, but not this time."

In most election years, candidates spend the summer raising money and assembling their campaign operation, with the general election campaign starting in earnest around Labor Day.

But Branstad put out a new ad Monday, two days after he officially accepted his party's nomination at its state convention.

"For those Iowans who want honest, open and scandal-free government — change is coming," he declares in the ad.

While Culver has avoided personal scandal, his administration has been troubled by problems with the way the state handled tax credits for filmmakers, high turnover and other administrative issues.

The Democratic governor, meanwhile, has been airing spots that remind voters that Branstad repeatedly raised taxes during his 16 years as governor between 1983 to 1999 and gave himself eight pay raises.

"When the state couldn't pay its bills, Branstad raised our taxes and raised his pay once again," Culver's commercial says. "Terry Branstad: Cooked books, raised taxes, eight pay raises. A past we can't repeat."

But even as Culver and Branstad hammer at each other in ads, several questions remain that could reshape the race for governor.

Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats got 41 percent of the vote in the June primary and garnered considerable support from delegates to the party's state convention, where his backers tried to force him onto the ticket. Branstad eventually got his choice — state Sen. Kim Reynolds, of Osceola.

Vander Plaats hasn't said what he'll do next and he's pointedly not ruled out a run for governor as an independent. As a darling of social and religious conservatives, Vander Plaats could undermine Branstad if he decides to make that run.

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