The towering political figure in Republican politics is currently in his sixth four-year term. He's known for his fiscal and social conservatism, despite the fact much of the Iowa Republican Party has over time moved to the right of him.
Branstad is arguably the most popular politician right now for Republican 2016 presidential candidates, who are lobbying him to bestow his king-maker blessing on one candidate ahead of the state's all-important Feb. 1 caucus. (Branstad says he'll stay neutral but friendly to all until then.)
Longest-serving governor or not, you'll probably be hearing a lot more about Branstad as we near the first votes cast in the 2016 presidential election. Here's what you need to know about the longest-serving governor in U.S. history:
He's in an elite club: Serving as governor for even a decade — much less two — is a rare feat, writes University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier at his nonpartisan Smart Politics blog. Only 58 of the more than 2,000 governors who have served since the Constitution was signed have reached that mark.
Iowa's leaders, in particular, are in a unique position to join this group. In part because of a tendency to favor incumbents, modern-day Iowans have kept their governors for an average of a decade, while other states average six years, according to Chris Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa, who was quoted in Kyle Munson's great profile of Branstad in the Des Moines Register.
He's never lost an election: Branstad has been on the ballot, whether in a primary or general election, 20 times. Not all those were contested races, but when they were, he always came out on top.
And he has remained pretty popular in the state. Since Branstad's comeback to politics in 2010, he has won twice by comfortable margins despite hailing from a swing state.
He has such a winning record that in his most recent reelection in 2014, he gave himself the goal of winning over one of the two counties (Lee in Southeastern Iowa) that had never voted for him before. He did it.
This is just one more record for him: After serving as lieutenant governor, Branstad was elected governor in 1982 at the age of 35 — making him both Iowa's youngest-serving and, after he left after 16 years, longest-serving governor. He spent a decade out of politics, including as president of Des Moines University, before jumping back in to try win back his old seat.
As the Smart Politics blog points out, Branstad was already the longest-serving governor by one measure: governors who have served under the Constitution. Clinton served about half of his term before New York achieved statehood in 1788 under the newly ratified Constitution. Branstad earned that title one week into his fifth term, back in 2011.
He reentered politics during the tea party wave: Before the tea party moved the state GOP to the right, Branstad was considered one of the most conservative politicians in the state. He is an anti-abortion advocate and opposes same-sex marriage, even after the courts legalized it.
But the energized social conservative movement questioned Branstad's commitment to the cause. At the time, Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford framed his candidacy this way: "[It's] a move by many Republicans who want to take the party back from social and religious control."
Branstad's political bread and butter, though, is fiscal conservatism and economic growth. Iowa's unemployment rate plummeted during his first four terms in office, and he boasts he gave the state a $900 million surplus. But he has struggled to keep rural farm towns, like the one he grew up in, afloat as more people move to Iowa's cities.
He's great at retail politics: Even his opponents, like Bonnie Campbell, a former attorney general who ran and lost against Branstad in 1994, recognize it. Campbell reflected about Branstad to the Des Moines Register.
"I think a great deal of his success is precisely because he’s everywhere," she said. "Any ribbon cutting, any invitation, he gets to meet with Iowans and their communities — here, wherever — he will do."
He's friendly with China's president: On his long path to the presidency, China's Xi Jinping visited rural Iowa back in the 1980s and again in 2012, both times greeted by Gov. Branstad. The two politicians from two very different worlds have a cordial relationship, calling each other "old friends." Xi even invited Branstad to China.
He has the most famous mustache in Iowa: The Des Moines Register has a great photo gallery of Branstad's decades-long political career — and yes, he's rocked that mustache since the '70s.
He's not slowing down: Branstad, who is 69, isn't ruling out running for an unprecedented seventh term as governor.
He is also not doing anything to tamp down on vice presidential talk. Even though Iowa's a small state that doesn't usually get a lot of veep attention (despite its six electoral votes being routinely up for grabs), reports William Petroski of the Des Moines Register, Branstad's political record is so distinguished that it's tempting for any politician aiming for the White House to consider Branstad a lucky charm.