Matt Strawn stepping down as Iowa GOP chair

Can’t wait to learn more of the backstory on this one: Matt Strawn announced this morning that he is resigning as the Republican Party of Iowa’s state chairman. In a videotaped statement, Strawn cited competing business, personal, and political interests. He did not refer to the controversy over his attempt to declare the Iowa caucuses a tie with no clear winner. Supporters of Rick Santorum were outraged when Strawn said publicly that he could not speculate about the vote totals from eight precincts missing paperwork. The Iowa Republican blog publisher Craig Robinson, a former senior Iowa GOP official, repeatedly called for Strawn to step down.

I’ve posted Strawn’s video after the jump, with a partial transcript and an Iowa GOP press release. I’ll update with political reaction as it comes in today.

The Iowa Republican State Central Committee first elected Strawn as chair in January 2009. He beat several political insiders in that contest. Strawn is generally perceived to have improved the party’s organization and coordination. He had no opposition when chosen for another two-year term in January 2011.

Excerpt (my transcript):

It is only because the Iowa GOP has returned as a strong and relevant voice in Iowa politics that I have the opportunity to evaluate all the competing priorities in my personal, business, and political life. After three-plus years of being a constant presence at your chili suppers, your central committee meetings, and your Reagan dinners, the time has come for me to give those other priorities in my life the attention they deserve. So, I will soon be ending my service as your chairman.

Excerpt from Iowa GOP press release, January 31:

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn today announced he will be stepping down as the state’s top Iowa GOP party official, effective Friday, February 10. Strawn has served as chairman of the Iowa GOP since January 2009. The Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee will be charged with setting the date to elect Strawn’s successor.

Strawn shared his announcement with Iowa Republicans in the following video message: [same video I posted above]

The prepared text of Strawn’s message to Iowa Republicans follows below:

January 31, 2012

Dear Iowa Republican:

In December 2008, when I campaigned to serve as your Chairman, my top goal was to make the Iowa GOP a relevant force again in Iowa politics by ushering in an era where the Republican Party returned to winning elections without betraying our conservative principles.

Over the past three plus years, we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. We witnessed sweeping Republican electoral victories at all levels. We saw an explosion in new Republican voters with an unprecedented 34 consecutive months of Iowa GOP voter registration gains. We kept the Iowa Caucuses First-in-the-Nation. We broke fundraising records, hosted the largest Republican presidential caucus in history, and for the first-time ever, the Iowa GOP co-hosted three nationally televised presidential debates that were watched by millions. Most importantly, Iowa Republicans accomplished all this and more working together as a team.

Simply put, your Iowa GOP is better off than it was four years ago thanks to outstanding team work. Your Iowa GOP is a relevant force again in Iowa politics. Your Iowa GOP is winning elections with leaders who are advancing our principled agenda. Your Iowa GOP is in a position to re-elect our members of Congress, win an Iowa Senate majority, and make Iowa’s six electoral votes the national battleground in the 2012 presidential campaign.

While the election wins, fundraising successes and media appearances are the aspects of being Chairman that gain the most attention, the most rewarding aspect of my service was the opportunity to travel our state and get to know the people of Iowa. The strength of the rebuilt Iowa GOP rests in the hands of the thousands of committed volunteer activists who give their time, treasure and talents to make Iowa a better place by working to elect public servants who share our values and principles.

The Iowa GOP designs its position of Chairman to be volunteer in nature. But over the past three years I have treated the privilege of serving as your Chairman as a full-time calling. There’s no question the job of rebuilding our party was a huge one, and one to which I committed every minute that was necessary to succeed.

It is only because the Iowa GOP has returned as a strong and relevant voice in Iowa politics that I am now able to evaluate all the competing priorities in my personal, business and political life. The party is strong and has the resources in place for victory in November. Now is the time to transition to new leadership.

Effective February 10, I will be ending my service as your Chairman. For this fifth generation Iowan and Benton County farm kid, serving as your Chairman has been an honor, a privilege and the opportunity of a lifetime.

To victory,

Matthew N. Strawn

(Note: The following appeared as an attachment to Strawn’s January 31 letter to Iowa Republicans)

Following very challenging back-to-back election cycles in 2006 and 2008, the Republican Party of Iowa has emerged since 2009 as a force in Iowa politics. The accomplishments of the past three plus years include:

Electoral Accomplishments

Retention of all Republican incumbents to U.S. Senate, congressional, statewide and legislative offices during the 2010 midterm elections

Won the Office of the Governor for the first time in twelve years

Won the Office of Secretary of State for the first time in twelve years

Won an Iowa House GOP majority with a net-gain of sixteen Republican seats

Won a net-gain of six Republican seats in the Iowa Senate

Dominated county-level races by winning a net-gain of over 100 Republican-held county offices

Financial Accomplishments

The Iowa GOP is entirely debt-free. (Paid off all debt obligations inherited at start of term)

The Iowa GOP outraised the Iowa Democratic Party in 2011 (source FEC filings)

The Iowa GOP currently has more cash-on-hand than the Iowa Democratic Party (source FEC filings)

During the 2010 election cycle, Iowa GOP increased major donor revenue by 29% compared to most recent prior election cycles

Major physical renovations and improvements to the Iowa GOP HQ building in Des Moines

First-in-the-Nation Accomplishments

Maintained Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation status through passage of new RNC rules in August 2010

Largest turnout in the history of the Iowa GOP precinct caucuses in January 2012

Second largest turnout in the history of the Iowa GOP Straw Poll in August 2011

Co-hosted three nationally-televised GOP presidential debates for the first time in the history of the Iowa GOP, including the first-ever prime-time, nationally-televised presidential debate from Northwest Iowa.

Organizational Accomplishments

Voter Registration Gains: The Iowa GOP has made remarkable gains in voter registration since January 2009.

December 2011 marked 34 consecutive months that the Iowa GOP outpaced the Iowa Democratic Party in voter registration gains.

In January 2009, Iowa Democrats held a voter registration edge of 115,917 over Iowa Republicans. Today, that edge has been cut by over two-thirds and stands at less than 30,000, which does not yet include the number of new Republican registrants from the January 3 Iowa Caucuses

During the 2010 cycle, only the Iowa GOP saw an increase in voter registration and Iowans registered with either Democrat or No Party affiliation declined

Early Voting: Dramatically improved the Iowa GOP’s performance on absentee and early voting results during the 2010 midterm election cycle.

83 percent increase in Iowa GOP absentee/early vote performance compared to 2006 midterms

95 percent Iowa GOP absentee return-rate a four percent increase compared to 2006 midterms

Iowa GOP petitioned for more satellite vote locations statewide than Iowa Democrats, dramatically increasing Republican share of vote

Statewide Victory Voter Program: The Iowa GOP’s I-WIN 2010 voter program was the most aggressive, volunteer-based, midterm voter contact program ever launched by the Republican Party of Iowa.

Opening of Statewide Offices by Spring 2010: The Iowa GOP honored its pledge to open and staff ten statewide victory offices by June 2010

Record-breaking volunteer contacts:Volunteers made over 1.5 million volunteer voter contacts

Full-ticket support:For the first-time ever, the statewide Iowa GOP voter program was made available to all GOP candidates from Governor to county-level offices

Paid for by the Republican Party of Iowa and Not Authorized by Any Candidate or Candidate’s Committee

UPDATE: Here is the official statement from Governor Terry Branstad:

“I want to thank Matt Strawn for his three years of leadership at the Republican Party of Iowa. Matt took over at a time when the party was in desperate shape, and rebuilt it precinct-by-precinct, putting it in the strongest position in years. Under Matt Strawn’s leadership, we defeated an incumbent governor for the first time since 1962, gained control of the Iowa House with a 60-seat majority, won six seats in the Iowa Senate, restored a strong financial standing and have surged in Republican registration. Matt’s leadership will be missed, but I am confident a smooth transition will take place at the Republican Party of Iowa and we will continue our party’s successes this November.”

The Des Moines Register reported this morning,

Last week, Strawn met with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s chief of staff, Jeff Boeyink, who said he and the governor would support him whether he stayed or left.

“We want Matt to be successful in whatever he does,” Boeyink, who Strawn tapped in 2009 as the party’s executive director, told the Register this morning. “Matt Strawn has done a tremendous job with the party and the governor had hoped that he would continue to serve.”

During Branstad’s weekly news conference a week ago, when asked about the calls for Strawn’s resignation, the governor said the GOP chief has done a “great job” under “difficult circumstances.” […]

Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn, R-Boone, in a statement this morning thanked Strawn for his “tireless dedication to the cause of promoting our great party, its values, principles and candidates.”

Strawn hired Boeyink as Iowa GOP executive director in 2009. Boeyink left that position in the fall of 2009 to manage Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign.

Craig Robinson views Strawn’s resignation as a “necessary first step” for Iowa Republicans to “focus on rebuilding the credibility of the caucus process.”

Despite all of the positive things that he has accomplished as chairman, Strawn failed at the most critical task he had to oversee – protecting and maintaining Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucus status.

Strawn’s unwillingness to stand behind the certified caucus results is what created the cloud of suspicion over the caucus process.  It was his exclusive interview with the Des Moines Register that caused the paper’s headline to read, “2012 GOP caucus count unresolved.” Strawn also was unwilling to declare a winner after the vote had been certified in an interview on Fox News.  Strawn half-heartedly tried to backtrack on WHO Radio, admitting that the Fox News debacle was the worst interview of his life, but his unwillingness to declare Santorum the official winner then continued in the following days in various other interviews.

Seeing the confusion that Strawn’s interviews created, Iowa GOP staff and members of the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee asked Strawn to release a statement that clearly stated that Santorum had won the Iowa Caucuses.  Strawn refused.  Strawn was forced to issue a statement after five State Central Committee members requested a meeting to discuss the matter.

If the only thing that Strawn was guilty of was a difficulty in communicating the result of the certified vote, it would be one thing, but Strawn went out of his way to undermine the validity of caucuses themselves.  Instead of talking about the 1766 precincts that were certified, he talked about the eight that were not.  In doing so, Strawn not only undermined the final results of the caucuses, but he also failed to strand behind the hundreds of volunteers and activists that help conduct the caucuses.

LATE UPDATE: Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen released the following statement on Strawn’s departure.

“I want to thank Chairman Strawn for his work on behalf of Iowa Republicans. His dedication to advancing conservative principles is to be commended.

“Iowa Republicans are energized and committed to expanding our House Majority and electing conservatives who work to get the economy moving forward, put Iowans back to work and give taxpayers a seat at the table.”

  • the fact remains

    that it was appropriate to call a “winner” caucus eve because the results were based on all precincts. This would never be the case later, for better or for worse.

    I work with measuring processes and numbers all the time, so the fluctuations around the split vote are normal to me. This has been so heavily politicized by this point, that the only thing I’m interested in is whether management of the 2012 caucus has really jeopardized first-in-nation for IA-GOP, or whether this is just a lot of drama from bitter Santorum supporters.

    I think overall, Strawn was a great spokesperson for the IA-GOP.

    • I question your definition of "fact"

      I work with measuring processes and numbers all the time, so the fluctuations around the split vote are normal to me.

      So you think it’s appropriate to make decisions based on information from instruments that don’t have the precision to give you the correct results?

      I disagree.

      “Wow, congratulations to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. We’ve never had a too-close-to-call caucus night like this before. For tonight, we’ll have to call it a tie, but we’ll get back to you when we have a more precise count”.

      How hard would that have been?

      • disagree with you

        Albert has pointed out in previous threads that some imprecision is inherent to counting ballots. There are no “instruments” that would give you total precision in calculating the results from the Iowa caucuses or any other election. That’s not normally a problem, but it becomes one when there’s a too-close-to-call race.

        Agree with you that it would have been much better for Strawn to call it a tie rather than declaring Romney the winner on caucus night. I think his even bigger mistake was saying after the Appanoose County flap that he was confident the results wouldn’t change. That made it seem like he was invested in a Romney victory, so when he was reluctant to declare Santorum the winner, it looked like the fix was in.

        • I'm not claiming there is a perfect instrument.

          But a caucus-night count is going to be inherently more inaccurate than the certified vote. It’s for the same reason that close elections automatically trigger recounts in elections. We can’t do a recount, but we do have a more accurate backup.

          If there were no certification process to go through, then fine, maybe calling it for Romney would be justified. But, it was foolish to make the call in a close race, using an error-prone instrument, when we’re going to follow it up with a less error-prone instrument.

          • no

            how can you argue that the process is more accurate after the ballots have been destroyed? Here you do not have a more accurate backup, and that was my original point.

            Caucus nite, Strawn sent out a text message for press waiting for “results.” He said “Romney +8.” That’s a reasonable message, given that all precincts were reporting, and that’s what they had. What the press did after that is a different story. Some called it virtual tie. Some said “Romney won.”

            After the fact, the recount was based on the forms, not on the ballots. And eight precincts were missing. It is very unfortunate. And nobody should claim that recollections are reliable. The honest answer was to say, Santorum has a lead of +22 (or whatever it was), but we don’t have all precincts certified.

            The real mistake here is not having a mechanism for reporting a realistic result for such a tight race that would satisfy the national press.

            • How? I argue it very easily.

              On caucus night, the man said

              Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses

              It wasn’t just that “some” said Romney won. Matt Strawn said it! If Matt Strawn was bullied by “the press” into saying that, then he should step down for that alone.

              It’s absurd to say that the certified vote isn’t more accurate. They caught mistakes. Nobody is questioning any of the corrections. And, we still have the caucus-night numbers for whenever that is the best-known number. They may not have caught all mistakes, but it is silly to place less confidence in the count after corrections have been made.

              The real mistake here is not having a mechanism for reporting a realistic result for such a tight race that would satisfy the national press.

              I agree with that, but it hardly supports your assertion that

              the fact remains that it was appropriate to call a “winner”

              • this is the sticking point

                It’s absurd to say that the certified vote isn’t more accurate. They caught mistakes.

                The ballots were destroyed immediately. In a tight race like this, that’s what you need. If you think accuracy is so important, then why put votes on scraps of paper and destroy them immediately? People are tired, and they want to go home.

                The mistakes they caught were the phone-in errors. These errors fluctuated in both directions. That’s only one part of the vote-counting if you really want accuracy. But the reality is that they even botched the forms. They don’t have a complete data set.

                Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses

                So? This was true caucus eve based on a full precinct count. He sent out a text of Romney +8. Perhaps we are arguing over the meaning of “winner.” My view that night was that it was a tenuous victory, but it reflected the count they had that night over all precincts, which is why I said I was comfortable w/ the numbers jumping around later. And everybody knew that there would be a recount — what was not known was how flimsy it would be.

                I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree that the “backup” was more precise or necessarily more accurate, which is why we disagree. Make your case. My view on what happened is that the protocol was pretty standard, including assigning a “winner” to reflect the count that night. I don’t think most people were somehow fooled into thinking it was clear-cut. Romney got the benefit of a PR win, because the ball bounced his way caucus night. IA-GOP was unable to certify Santorum. Find the outstanding forms if you want it to be otherwise. And if you want this thing to be accurate, retrieve the ballots.

      • I think it's appropriate

        to report: “Romney by + 8” based on all precincts reporting, and that’s what happened. That’s the text message Strawn sent out.

        You should have been here for earlier discussion. The ballots are destroyed immediately, so the raw count cannot be repeated. If forms are missing, you have an incomplete count of the original raw count. I do not understand how you can claim that Strawn should have relied on the backup, when it was even more flawed.

        but we’ll get back to you when we have a more precise count”.

        which never happened, obviously.

      • incidentally,

        decisions based on information from instruments that don’t have the precision to give you the correct results?

        Why do results get certified? “Decisions” aren’t made until that happens. The announcement caucus eve is not the final result, as is the case in every election eve.

        What people are really upset about is that Romney derived a short-term benefit from the PR, which is exactly what I said when this first became an issue. If your raw totals are telling you Romney by +8 because you have all precincts in front of you, then that’s what you report.

        It is standard to get a preliminary result based on raw data, and then possibly a new estimate based on adjustments. That’s why there’s a certification process. It is the case here that it is the certification process that’s even more flawed: destroyed ballots and missing forms.

  • Well

    We all know that several caucus chairs on the county level did not actually want to do their paperwork.  The reason Mitt Romney did not get more official votes out of a Fort Madison precinct may have been due to a grumpy caucus chair who probably did not understand their duties before they signed up.  Strawn and other central authorities (any state chairman in any party) is really staking their reputation on any wackadoodle (not always meant as an insult) who works out of the woodwork.  

  • I'm no Republican

    but I think Matt Strawn did a fine job and represented his party, our state and the process quite well.  He was at the mercy of volunteers and I believe he did the best anyone could do under the same circumstances. The only decision I question is not declaring RS the winner immediately after the certification. But in the scheme of things it is not that big a deal, especially since Mitt was always going to win the nom anyway, and BHO will handle him easily in the general.  There..it’s all settled.

    • I hope the new chair

      is not as good at fundraising as Strawn and is unable to organize as effective an early voting effort as the GOP had in 2010.

      From my outside perspective, Strawn seemed to be doing a good job. It helped that he had the wind at his back in 2010, and the Republicans got collateral benefits from the anti-judicial retention campaign.

  • Attn: Moderately Extreme

    I think you would have liked the following announcement caucus evening:

    “Mitt Romney wins by a statistically insignificant 8 votes!”

    But if you think about it, when polls are announced, the MOE is something of an afterthought. In other words, it is common practice to say “X leads, but barely” when the actual estimate is within the MOE. There is an implied leader or “winner,” if you will.

    This is why I don’t fault Strawn. I don’t think it’s up to him to give people a stat lesson. The +8 should make it obvious. The national press would not have stood for a “we’ll get back to you,” because the whole point of the caucus is to set the candidates up for NH/SC. They had all the precincts reporting, so it was the raw count for the night.

    The problem with the “recount,” however, is that contrary to assumption, we’ll never know if it was more accurate. The ballots are destroyed immediately, and then to boot, they can’t even come up with a complete set of forms. So, I’m satisfied w/ Santorum leads by +22, but personally would be unwilling to certify this as an accurate result of what happened. Strawn caved to pressure, but by this time, he was hosed.

    I agree w/ the sentiments expressed here that he was a pretty good “face” for the IA-GOP.

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