Iowa GOP picks Ron Paul's man over Terry Branstad's choice

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.

About the Author(s)


  • interesting development

    GOP is discussed here & elsewhere as split between two factions, establishment and socons. The Paul-Libertarian wing is now making itself heard.

    Pastor Mullen in SD22 is something of a socon “go-to” guy for the GOP and media types. Point of Grace has been the site for multiple GOP-related events (GOP youth, IFF, candidate visits) and was also a precinct caucus site. It’s not surprising that Latham showed up at a fundraiser.

    The SCC vote looks to me like an acknowledgment of the emerging “Paul” faction as an important swing vote. A couple of socons went with it to remain viable.

    The nomination outcome is unlikely to result in Ron Paul as nominee, but regardless, his campaign is organizing like crazy. I signed a petition at a “leader board” campus to ask him to come speak. His guys have tables out almost daily. I now receive the emails, and they are very active.

    It is almost impossible to ignore a wing of a party that is the most successful in recruiting youth, and, in general, is the most enthusiastic.

    The dynamics could prove interesting. Take the SD22 GOP primary, for example.

    (Mullen, NYT) Though he has been a prominent supporter of Mrs. Bachmann, a source of complaint from some of his congregants, he also said he believed that Mr Perry, Mr Santorum and Mr Gingrich had strengths as “conservative Christians.” But he was plainly skeptical of both Representative Ron Paul of Texas and Mr. Romney.

    I don’t have my numbers handy, but this should be accurate: the combination of Romney/Paul won every precinct except for three (narrowly, a handful of votes) in SD22. There were only three precincts where the Mullen-approved “conservative Christians” prevailed as a group, and the candidates with a “biblical worldview” (Bachmann, Santorum, Perry) per Hurley (or one of those) did not win a single precinct.

    Romney came close to 40% overall and almost hit 60% in Clive 4.

    Pat Ward’s biggest problem is turnout. GOP primary turnout in 2008 fell well short of 2012 caucus numbers. What she needs:

    – strong turnout in Polk, esp relative to Dallas. Clive 3-4 and some of the WDM precincts are her best bets.

    – turnout of Mullen dislikers within the GOP, and there’s more than a few.

    – either (1) some baseline support from socons in the district, or (2) wage something of a fear campaign that will get out the folks not interested in a “biblical worldview” senator or (3) a coalition between establishment/moderate types and more libertarian RP-type Republicans. Remember, Mullen is on the record with his disapproval of both. (1)-(3) are not independent factors, either.

    It will be very interesting to see what she does, and who supports her. The “Lathams” can be counted on make their stops at Point of Grace, but what is more interesting is where the movers and shakers in the district fall, esp in Polk. Some may be compelled to get out the vote for Ward just to throw up a Mullen roadblock. OTOH, Mullen is a very political guy who served up the excuse-making for Gingrich before the caucus, so the deal-making should be fun to watch.

    • the path to victory is there

      but I have a hard time imagining Ward executing the plan. She’s never had to do any real GOTV, and I was shocked to see how little money she raised during the months after Mullen announced. He will win the yard sign/phone bank/door-knocking wars by a mile. Probably there are tons of Republicans in Clive, West Des Moines and Windsor Heights who would prefer Ward, but who is going to tell them they need to show up?

      I knew that Romney did well in SD 22 but didn’t realize that Romney/Paul combined received more votes than Santorum/Bachmann/Perry in almost all the precincts. That is very interesting.

      • Here we go:

        20 (old) precincts in SD22. Boundaries are exact in Polk, still have to check on Dallas.

        The combination of (Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Perry) only made it to 50% in two precincts (Waukee 2 & 4). At the Point of Grace caucus site (Waukee 3), this group was just under 42%.

        To add insult to injury for Mullen, Romney alone managed 46.8% of the vote at Point of Grace …

        Romney + Paul + Huntsman (just a couple of votes, of course), hit 70% in Clive 4, 63.9% in WDM 215, 59.1% in WDM 213, and in Dallas/WDM 3, 58.0. Their district-wide average was 55.7%.

        WH2 was the fourth best precinct for the biblical quartet with 49.4.

        A good thing for Ward is that Romney dominated the seniors, and they tend to dominate low-turnout primaries. An annoyance for Ward is that only 54% of the district’s Republicans are in Polk and one of the WDM precincts is actually new to her.

        She’ll have to figure out a way to GOTV and needs to step it up — not that much time left.

        • thinking about this further

          it strikes me that Ward might have trouble bringing the Ron Paul supporters on board. To the extent that they are aware of the SD-22 primary, “restore America now” types might feel inclined toward the uncompromising conservative Mullen. I doubt many people are aware that Mullen spoke dismissively of Paul. Unless Ward can get someone involved with the Campaign for Liberty to help GOTV, she might be better off sticking with seniors and ID’d Romney supporters.

          • "get someone involved"

            I think that’s pretty much the point. I’d agree that there’s no natural affinity otherwise, except, she’s really no “moderate.” Look at the bills she’s co-sponsored … It’s only next to a “biblical worldview” that she appears to be a moderate. I’m inclined to agree with her “I’m no RINO.”

            • agree, she's not a RINO

              Ward isn’t a moderate like Gene Maddox used to be when he represented this area in the Iowa House and Senate, and she’s not even a sort-of-moderate like Libby Jacobs was when she represented most of West Des Moines in the House. Mary Lundby wasn’t pro-choice, but she thought for herself and sometimes voted with the other side.

              With Ward, it’s more like once in a blue moon she votes in a moderate way (bullying, civil rights bills), and when she falls in line with her caucus, she doesn’t brag about it loudly like the more conservative senators.

              • heh heh

                So, what was I saying?

                Ideological similarities among supporters of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich suggest that if Mr. Gingrich dropped out, many of his backers would coalesce behind Mr. Santorum. But as Mr. Paul steadily collects delegates, one thing that remains to be seen is whether his affinity – at least on a personal level – for Mr. Romney could help the former Massachusetts governor as the fight drags on.

                “I talk to Romney more than the rest on a friendly basis,” Mr. Paul said. “I throw Romney’s name out because he’s made a bigger attempt to do it. The others are sort of just real flat.”

                Whatever you’d like to call these engaged activists — “libertarian wing,” Paulites — they are “working from within” as we used to say. If Spiker s going to be successful, his reality is working with existing, entrenched factions: establishment types and socons.

                They bring a valuable commodities to the table — high levels of engagement and youth support. I think a “Branstad Republican” is smart enough to take note, and any faction trying to accrue power needs to ally with the big $$, realistically speaking.

                In addition to the former pols you mentioned, there’s Kramer, Clute, Hagenow who are all more in the establishment mold than anything else. Is there anything more establishment than “ambassador to Barbados?”

                In addition to seniors & a Polk-centric effort, Ward probably has her own network of loyal unheralded foot soldiers along the lines of “librarians for Christie.” These districts with a track record of supporting women state legislators usually do have these types of circles. Additionally, she’s active in her Lutheran church. And there’s another network of people extremely irritated w/ Mullen over the day care issue — the long-established one he shut down to replace staffers with employees willing to sign a “Christian lifestyle” agreement.  

                No doubt Mullen has an energized core of supporters, but if Ward can’t assemble her own coalition, she either isn’t trying, or she’s disliked within her caucus.

  • Firing up the base

    This election may actually do more to fire up the base.  Ron Paul supporters don’t have to worry about people questioning their foreign policy views on the state level.  We’ve already seen social conservatives in the state like Massie and Pearson come out and support Ron Paul like policies.  They’re tired of Branstad types and want something more “authentic”  

    • that's their inner tea party

      social conservatives like Pearson and Massie

      not their inner socon.

      I find it interesting that at TRI, commenters talk about the new chair and Paul supporters as though they’re usurpers outside of the party. Too many Republicans supporting/voting for Paul to take that attitude.

      Note though, that Paul has effectively assisted Romney more than anyone else. Didn’t really go after him in debates, and Romney is surviving by the close second places rotating between the other three.

      To maximize your power, sometimes you swing with side A, sometimes with side B. I expect a bias for the establishment, and it’s not only about his son. The reality is that the youth orientation of the Paul campaign is at right angles to socons.

      • Great point

        I think both Republicans and Democrats need to draw lines in the sand.  Voters and supporters of smaller government intervention need to decide how much intervention they want and whether they are Republicans or Libertarians/Constitution Party members.  If you’re a Libertarian then there needs to be a serious fight within the ranks of the Republican Party.

        Democrats need to draw a line in the sand with Greens and others.  We need to decide whether we believe in private banking, public private partnerships (not corporate welfare as my Green friends like to label it) ,whether we believe we play a unique role around the world in preventing genocide, whether private companies have a role in providing health services and insurance.   I one for one am tired of being called a bad Democrat by people who I don’t consider to be Democrats either.  They call me a bad Democrat because I’m too conservative in their eyes, I view them as a bad Democrat because they have too much faith in government to operate industries and too hostile towards our “motives” overseas.