DNC confirms Iowa caucuses will be first in 2012

The Democratic National Committee voted today to keep the Iowa caucuses the first presidential nominating contest in 2012, according to Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Norm Sterzenbach, who’s attending the DNC meeting.

I’ll update this post with more details as they become available. In July, the DNC Rules Committee approved the following calendar: Iowa caucuses on February 6, 2012; New Hampshire primary on February 14; Nevada caucuses on February 18; and South Carolina primary on February 28. All other Democratic nominating contests would occur in March or later. The Republican National Committee has adopted a calendar keeping Iowa first as well.

Any thoughts about the 2012 caucuses are welcome in this thread.

Weekend open thread: 2012 Iowa caucuses edition

What’s on your mind this weekend? We’re already looking forward to the Iowa State Fair, which runs from August 12-22. We may catch the state fair parade on August 11 if it’s not too hot.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status is secure under the presidential nominating calendar Republican National Committee members approved yesterday.

The vote passed by a two-thirds majority, a requirement for the measure drafters included to lend to its acceptance from RNC members. The measure received 104 votes of the 144 members voting.

The caucuses would likely be held Feb. 6, under the schedule, followed in February by the New Hampshire primary, caucuses in Nevada and the South Carolina primary.

All other states would be allowed to hold their primaries and caucuses in March or April. States going in March would be required to apportion their nominating delegates proportional to the vote a candidate received in that state. April states could award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, an incentive for states hoping to be seen as delivering the nomination.

Any state that violates the proposed calendar would lose half its RNC delegates. What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers? Is that a big enough penalty to deter a large state from trying to jump ahead of Iowa?

I hope the calendar sticks so staffers and volunteers aren’t forced to do canvassing and phone-banking between Christmas and New Year’s Day, like we did before the January 3, 2008 caucuses.

At least two potential Republican presidential candidates are coming to Iowa in the next couple of weeks. Former Senator Rick Santorum is headlining a fundraiser for attorney general candidate Brenna Findley in Sioux Center on August 17, and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is coming to the Iowa State Fair. I can’t believe Santorum would think about running for president after losing re-election in a purple state by double digits. I’m still shaking my head over the warm reception Iowa Republicans give Pawlenty despite his record on fiscal issues and state borrowing. Several of Pawlenty’s other ideas strike me as proposals only the hard-core GOP base could love, like cutting entitlement spending to pay for extending George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE: I forgot that Newt Gingrich is coming to Des Moines next weekend to raise money for a Republican women’s group. Continuing his habit of being wrong about everything, Newt recently condemned Shirley Sherrod as a racist and a week later denounced the Obama administration for rushing to judgment about Sherrod. He also offered an “egregious and purposeful misreading of medieval history” as an argument against allowing a mosque to be built at the “Ground Zero” site in New York City.

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Republican hypocrisy watch: Pawlenty and Culver edition (updated)

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty toured eastern Iowa over the weekend to raise money for several Iowa House Republican leaders and state Senate candidate Bill Dix. It was his fourth Iowa trip during the past year. Since Pawlenty is laying the groundwork for a future presidential bid, journalists covering his latest visit focused on what he is doing for Iowa Republicans, as well as his views on foreign policy, government spending and the economy.

I’m more interested in the way Iowa Republicans embraced Pawlenty. Naturally, they liked his message about retaking the state legislature, and GOP House leaders can really use the campaign cash. But it’s surreal to watch Republicans promise their serious consideration for Pawlenty as a presidential candidate when you compare his record with the case conservatives make against Iowa Governor Chet Culver.

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Terry Branstad's spending promises don't add up

When Terry Branstad formally announced his candidacy in January, cutting the size of state government by "at least 15 percent" over five years was one of his central campaign promises. He needed to establish credibility with the Republican Party’s conservative wing after his record of growing the state budget by far more than the rate of inflation during 16 years in office.

Branstad repeated his intention to cut state government by 15 percent in his early television commercials and on the campaign trail all winter and spring. He never provided a road map for keeping that promise, however. The budget cuts Branstad has specifically proposed so far (ending the preschool program, family planning funding, and reducing administrative costs at Area Education Agencies) would not reduce state budget obligations by 3-4 percent in the first year, which would be needed to work toward a 15 percent reduction over five years.

Since the June 8 Republican primary, Branstad has continued to hammer Governor Chet Culver on fiscal issues (using false claims), but to my knowledge he’s avoided mentioning that promise to shrink government by 15 percent over five years. Nor have we seen any details about how Branstad would balance the budget while spending no more than 99 percent of projected state revenues.

While campaigning in Marshalltown this week, Branstad made an extraordinary pledge:

Branstad said that if elected governor again, he would look at moving some of the services that have been pushed onto the local governments, particularly mental health and school funding, and making those more state funded. Along with that, he would put on a caveat that mandates those levies be abolished, which he said would provide instant property tax reductions for all classes of property across the board.

He said he did something very similar when he was governor before, but critics have since tried to distort his record on those issues.

“That was property tax relief and they called it spending,” he said.

Branstad is borrowing one of Bob Vander Plaats’ key economic ideas here: helping counties provide property tax relief by having the state assume responsibility for mental health and some educational services. As a campaign tactic, it makes sense, because Vander Plaats nearly matched Branstad’s vote total in Marshall County and carried several nearby counties (click here to download the GOP primary results by county).

But think about this for a minute. Branstad now proposes to have the state take over some big new funding obligations. How would he pay for that? He supports at least $80 million in corporate tax cuts and appears to reject using federal funds or reserve money to help balance the budget.

Maybe Branstad hopes that Iowans will forget his earlier campaign promises. But it’s past time for Branstad to show how he would make the numbers add up. The final budget for fiscal year 2011 is now in effect. Let’s see a rough budget document for fiscal year 2012, which doesn’t dip into reserve funds, cuts general fund spending by 3-4 percent, and has the state take on more responsibility for funding mental health and education services.

Speaking of state budgets, did anyone else notice the Branstad campaign’s silence last week regarding Iowa’s improving fiscal condition? The Legislative Services Agency and the Department of Management both reported better than expected revenues and a larger surplus than anticipated at the close of FY 2010. The Branstad campaign said absolutely nothing. We know his staff keeps track of such reports, because a few days earlier they jumped all over a draft Legislative Services Agency document on school districts and property taxes.

Branstad has a habit of ignoring inconvenient facts. We’re still waiting for him to say something, anything, about numerous documents showing he and senior staffers did Republican campaign work on the public’s dime.

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Kim Reynolds on the campaign trail

Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad announced last week that he would send his running mate, State Senator Kim Reynolds, to campaign in the 25 counties where Bob Vander Plaats received more votes than Branstad in last month’s primary. (You can download the official canvass by county here.) Branstad told reporters, "My plan is to send Kim Reynolds to every area where Bob Vander Plaats was strong so they get to see her and know her because I think to know her is to love her."

Over the holiday weekend, Reynolds walked some of the state’s largest parades with Branstad in Urbandale and West Des Moines, but she also covered parades in Dallas County, where Vander Plaats almost matched Branstad’s vote, and in Humboldt and Jasper counties, where Vander Plaats racked up sizable margins on June 8.

Reynolds has made a point to meet with Vander Plaats supporters when visiting counties Branstad carried, such as Henry and Union. Reynolds’ political experience relates mostly to fiscal matters, and economic and budget issues are at the forefront in her stump speech, but she makes sure her activist audiences know that she’s “pro-life” and for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Yesterday Reynolds spoke to Republicans in Carroll, the only county carried by State Representative Rod Roberts in the GOP gubernatorial primary. After the event she told journalist Douglas Burns that she believes abortion is “equivalent to murder.” She then dodged several follow-up questions regarding what she views as an appropriate penalty for women who have abortions or doctors who perform them.

Interestingly, Reynolds told Burns that while she believes marriage should be for one man and one woman, she’s not necessarily against sother forms of legal recognition for same-sex couples:

“We could take a look at civil unions,” Reynolds said. “There are other options maybe that I would be in favor of looking at.”

She added, “They can do civil unions. I think they can get to some of the same place that they want to look at.”

I suspect that position is not popular with the social conservatives Reynolds is courting. A University of Iowa Hawkeye poll taken in the spring of 2009 found that about 37 percent of respondents statewide opposed any legal recognition for same-sex couples. Presumably that group includes the Republicans most energized against gay marriage.

Reynolds’ position might resonate with many moderates, because the same Hawkeye poll from 2009 indicated that about 28 percent of Iowans oppose gay marriage but support civil unions. (About 26 percent of respondents in that poll expressed support for same-sex marriage rights.) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Branstad campaign walk back her comments on civil unions if they are widely reported. A few months ago, Branstad suggested that he was open to legal protections for gay couples as well as gay adoption. His campaign spokesman quickly backpedaled.

Share any thoughts about the governor’s race in this thread.

UPDATE: That didn’t take long. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart posted the Branstad campaign’s reaction to Reynolds’ comments on civil unions:

Sen. Reynolds’ position on civil unions mirrors that of Gov. Branstad’s. They do not favor state-sanctioned civil unions, but would not have the government step in to prevent private companies and entities from extending same-sex benefits if they so choose.

Vander Hart comments,

(Scratching my head)

That’s not what she said.  If she doesn’t favor state-sanctioned civil unions why would she say she is open to them?  There’s a disconnect there.

While on one hand I’m glad she believes that Iowans deserve to vote on the definition of marriage, when she said “the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman from a religious aspect” she failed to acknowledge that the definition of marriage has civil and not just religious implications.

She pretty much articulated what Governor Chet Culver believes in the matter, or at least says he believes regarding the definition of marriage.

SECOND UPDATE: Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog sees the Branstad/Reynolds campaign as unprepared to deal with social issues:

The clarification offered by the Branstad campaign does little to clean up the situation.  The question that Reynolds was asked had nothing to do with private companies that provide benefits to same sex couples. The question that she was asked was about the impact that gay marriages have had on Iowa, and her position on the matter.  She is the one who brought up the term “civil unions.”

When TheIowaRepublican.com reminded the Branstad campaign about Reynolds’ exact statement, a spokesman responded by saying, “Kim used the reporter’s phrase to describe what she was referring to, which is the ability of private entities to offer partnership benefits.  She does not support state-sanctioned civil unions.”

Reynolds’ answer and the Branstad campaign’s attempt to clarify the matter raise a number of questions about their understanding of the marriage issue in Iowa and the campaign’s ability to properly prepare Reynolds for the number of questions that she will face while on the campaign trail.

This is the second time since the June 8th primary that the Branstad campaign has stubbed its toe on social issues.  The first came when Planned Parenthood endorsed Governor Culver and the Branstad campaign failed to offer any comment to KCCI, central Iowa’s highest rated TV news station.

THIRD UPDATE: Jason Hancock reviews more Iowa conservative reaction to Reynolds’ comments.  

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