The Republican Party of Iowa's State Central Committee met on Saturday to consider a successor to Matt Strawn, who resigned as chairman in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses.
When a Democrat is governor, the Iowa Democratic Party's State Central Committee defers to the governor's choice for party chair. But a majority of the 17 voting Republicans elected A.J. Spiker, co-chair of Ron Paul's presidential campaign in Iowa, over co-chair Bill Schickel, Governor Terry Branstad's strong preference.
When Strawn's resignation became effective on February 10, Schickel became interim state party chair pending the State Central Committee's election of someone to serve until January 2013 (the remainder of Strawn's term). Shortly after Strawn announced that he was stepping down, Schickel told journalists he hadn't decided whether to stand in the election for party chair. However, by last week he was actively seeking support from fellow members of the State Central Committee.
Incidentally, Iowa GOP SCC member David Chung says this Des Moines Register article incorrectly asserted that Iowa GOP by-laws require an election for Strawn's replacement within 60 days. According to Chung, "The 60 days applies to replacing central committee members. The constitution and bylaws do not spell out the procedure for replacing the chair."
I thought there was a decent chance the committee would punt on a chairman's election over the weekend. Schickel initially hesitated to seek the job, and district conventions in April will elect a new State Central Committee. Postponing the decision would leave time for other candidates time to enter the raise. Gopal Krishna turned out to be the only person on the SCC against the motion to elect Strawn's successor on February 10. Presumably the other voting members agreed with Chung that staff shouldn't be left in limbo with the general election less than eight months away.
That left three declared candidates for Strawn's former job. Schickel is a former mayor of Mason City and state legislator. He has connections with major Republican donors and was the governor's clear choice. Branstad was the guest on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program on February 3 and said this about Schickel:
Glover: Then who do you have as a favorite for [Strawn's] replacement?
Governor Branstad: Well, I think the vice chairman ...
Glover: Bill Schickel.
Governor Branstad: ... Bill Schickel from Mason City. He has served on the central committee and he is now the vice chair. He also served in the legislature, was the Mayor of Mason City. He's a good guy. I'd certainly like to see him at least in an interim basis serve as state chairman and then there will be an election this spring of new members of the central committee and obviously the central committee chooses the state chairman. But I think Bill Schickel would be a good choice and certainly keep continuity.[...]
Borg: Let's go back to the appointment of a new party chair. You have a major role in that if not the role in picking that party chair.
Governor Branstad: Well, the Governor -- hopefully the party's central committee will listen to the wishes of the Governor and the legislative leadership but it is really the central committee that makes that decision and I respect that. But I want to work with them and I believe that with Bill Schickel we've got an experienced vice chairman who is ready to step in and that is certainly my recommendation.
Borg: But within the party there are deep divisions within the Republican Party of Iowa. That's no secret. Matt Strawn tried to bridge those and did it very diplomatically.
Governor Branstad: I think he did a great job.
Borg: That is the kind of a person you're going to have to have back in there again. So, will you do some influencing on that?
Governor Branstad: Well, as I said, I respect the fact ...
Borg: What kind of a person do you want?
Governor Branstad: Well, I think Bill Schickel is the kind of person that we want. He is somebody that treats everybody with respect and dignity. He is somebody that served in the legislature. He served on the state's central committee. He has also served in local government as the Mayor of Mason City. So, I think he is an ideal person for that kind of position.
Borg: He can bridge those factions?
Governor Branstad: I think so. And I think he has done that in the past and he worked very well with Matt Strawn. I think he would be ideal.
After hearing that, I figured this election was a lock for Schickel if he wants the job.
Side note: When Tim Albrecht left his job as communications director of the American Future Fund in late 2009 to work on Branstad' gubernatorial campaign, he put Schickel in charge of right-wing news aggregator blog The Bean Walker. Albrecht started running The Bean Walker himself again in September 2010. It's not clear who has been running that blog since Albrecht became communications director for the Branstad administration.
Schickel endorsed Rod Roberts for governor, not Branstad, during the 2010 primary. At that time Roberts was the politically correct alternative to Branstad, helping to prevent Bob Vander Plaats from uniting the social conservative wing of the party.
Compared to Schickel, the two other candidates for Iowa GOP didn't have nearly as many connections or relationships with major Republican donors. Dave Funk was little-known on the Iowa political scene before becoming the first declared challenger to Representative Leonard Boswell in 2009. A retired pilot who became active with central Iowa tea party groups, Funk was not considered a top-tier candidate for a Congressional race. Members of the Republican establishment split between State Senator Brad Zaun and former Iowa State wrestling coach Jim Gibbons, with more money lining up behind Gibbons. Despite raising little money, Funk finished a respectable third place in the 2010 IA-03 primary. He then ran unsuccessfully for Polk County supervisor during the general election campaign. In 2011, he was elected co-chairman of the Polk County Republican Party.
Funk seems like an earnest, hard-working guy, but it was hard to see him getting any traction among the 17 Republicans in a position to elect the next party chair.
A.J. Spiker didn't declare his candidacy publicly like Funk did, but he was seeking support from fellow SCC members last week. The Ames realtor was co-chair of Ron Paul's presidential campaign before the 2012 caucuses and also supported Paul's previous presidential bid.
I assumed Spiker would struggle to get any votes beyond the five SCC members who endorsed Paul for president. Virtually none of the major Republican donors in Iowa supported Paul. Several of the state legislators who backed Paul have a reputation for putting ideology over party loyalty or being a team player.
To my surprise, Spiker and Schickel tied with eight votes each on the first ballot. Funk received only one vote. On the second ballot, Spiker defeated Schickel nine votes to eight.
Since the election was conducted by secret ballot, we may never know which four SCC members supported Spiker in addition to the other Ron Paul endorsers (Drew Ivers, James Mills, David Fischer, Jeremiah Johnson).
I am shocked that so many SCC members spurned the sitting governor's choice. The decision may hurt Iowa GOP fundraising going into the general election campaign. Total fundraising may not suffer if donors direct more money to Iowa House and Senate candidates, leadership funds, and political action committees. However, a cash-poor state GOP apparatus will be unable to conduct a strong early voting effort. Under Strawn's leadership, Iowa Republicans greatly improved their absentee ballot performance in 2010. Branstad's campaign and Senator Chuck Grassley's re-election effort helped with the early voting drive, and neither Branstad nor Grassley will be on the ballot this year.
Any relevant comment are welcome in this thread.