New year, same old story at Iowa GOP

Yesterday the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee voted to keep letting the inmates run the asylum re-elect A.J. Spiker as state party chair and put Ron Paul supporters in other leadership positions.

A former co-chair of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in Iowa, Spiker was elected to complete Matt Strawn’s term as state party chair last February, when Strawn stepped down over criticism of how he handled the Iowa caucus results. The Iowa GOP hasn’t prospered under Spiker’s leadership. Donations from large and small donors are way down. Democrats have overtaken Republicans in voter registrations, and the Iowa Democratic Party was far more successful in mobilizing early voters, helping President Barack Obama defeat Mitt Romney by a larger-than-expected margin in Iowa. Democrats did lose one of their Congressional incumbents but held the Iowa Senate majority and gained a net seven seats in the Iowa House.

At times Spiker has seemed more focused on the long-term goals of the “liberty movement” than on the nuts and bolts of electing Republicans. Iowa’s delegation to the Republican National Convention cast most of its votes for Ron Paul despite his third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Maybe that’s not a negative for central committee members who won their positions thanks to Paul’s Iowa organization. But many major donors and party activists would prefer party leaders to keep their eye on the ball.

Outgoing Iowa GOP co-chairman Bill Schickel challenged Spiker, promising to lead a more inclusive “to boost early voting by 40%, increase Republican voter registration and brand the Republican party as the ‘party of conservative ideas and solutions.'” Although Governor Terry Branstad did not publicly endorse Schickel, several major donors closely allied with the governor have publicly expressed concern about the Paulinistas’ domination. Two months ago, Spiker strongly objected to Branstad’s comments about the future of the Iowa GOP’s straw poll.

Some of Schickel’s promises may be a bit pie in the sky, but I don’t see how anyone could claim Spiker earned a two-year term as state party chair. Central Committee member David Chung made the obvious argument for Schickel:

[Then Iowa GOP chair] Ray Hoffman was not the reason we got swept in 2006 and AJ Spiker is not the reason we got swept again in 2012. But, having lead the party to defeat, it was then and is now, time to search for new leadership.

O.Kay Henderson live-blogged the meeting for Radio Iowa and posted a partial audio clip including nominating speeches and comments from Spiker and Schickel. The Iowa Republican blog also liveblogged the proceedings.

Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler nominated Spiker, saying he had “quickly earned the respect & trust of the RNC” and is “not afraid to stand up for traditional values.” Spiker claimed the Iowa GOP has solid finances and said he has worked with “very closely with Republicans of all philosophies.” At the same time, he said he will “never apologize for social conservatism” and will always stand for the party’s principles.

Central Committee member Tim Moran nominated Schickel and warned that it is “not sustainable” to continue on the present course. He pointed out during the meeting that between June and October 2012, only 55 individuals donated to the Iowa GOP, giving a total of $30,000. Schickel told the committee they Republicans to admit “conservatives suffered a defeat” in the recent elections. He argued that “dramatic changes” are needed to prevent the party from becoming a “dinosaur.” During the Q&A part of the meeting, Schickel made an excellent analogy:

[Central committee member Loras] Schulte still talking. Says it’s vital to be unified, asks Schickel his thoughts on that. Schickel says, “The difference this time is, after Buchanan lost, you didn’t bring the entire Buchanan team in to run the Republican Party of Iowa.” … “When our chair, our executive director, our finance director, communications director all came from the same campaign… It’s disenfranchising to other Republicans…”

Spiker’s allies on the state central committee came through for him yesterday. He defeated Schickel by 13 votes to five on the first ballot.

A spirited debate then ensued among three candidates for state party co-chair: former Michele Bachmann staffer Wes Enos, former Ron Paul co-chair David Fischer, and former Linn County GOP Chair Eric Rosenthal. Nominating Enos, central committee member Jamie Johnson pleaded with his colleagues to give registered Republicans across the state one clear sign that “this is not the Ron Paul Party of Iowa, it is the Republican Party of Iowa.” Rosenthal talked about grassroots fundraising and person-to-person volunteer work, not just telemarketing. Fischer said he gets along with all kinds of Republicans but added, “I’m not running so that I can be a cheerleader that anybody that hangs an R behind their name… It’s our responsibility as party leaders to hold not only Democrats’ feet to the fire, but also Republicans…” Enos emphasized the importance of running strong statewide campaigns in 2014 and urged Republicans not to label people as “campaign for liberty” or “social conservatives,” for instance.

To me, it seems obvious that the wise course was to throw a bone to Republicans who preferred candidates other than Ron Paul for president. But the vote wasn’t even close: 11 for Fischer as party co-chair, four for Rosenthal, three for Enos. Ron Paul supporter John Kabitzke was re-elected treasurer, while Bachmann endorser Mark Doland was elected secretary.

The Iowa GOP’s bank balance will no doubt suffer because of what happened yesterday. Governor Branstad’s likely re-election campaign may shield Republican candidates from the impact, though. Branstad will raise a ton of money and will run an early voter drive, whether or not the state party’s in a position to help. Fortunately for the GOP state legislative candidates, Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen has shown that he can raise a lot of money, and the new Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix is a strong fundraiser too. I also suspect that major donors will give more money in 2014 to Republican-aligned groups like Nick Ryan’s Team Iowa PAC.

The lack of credible leadership at the state party would be a much bigger problem for Republicans if Branstad retires. A divisive gubernatorial primary would likely ensue, with the eventual winner bruised and under-funded. But I’d be shocked if Branstad didn’t seek a sixth term.

I will say this for Iowa Republicans, though: at least their central committee truly elects the party leader. In the Iowa Democratic Party, an incumbent governor or senator up for re-election in two years would just choose the party chair, and the state central committee would rubber-stamp that decision.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S. for your “be careful what you wish for” file: The Iowa Republican blog publisher Craig Robinson was the loudest voice for replacing Strawn after last year’s caucuses. That blog now laments the Paulinistas’ stranglehold on a regular basis.

UPDATE: I was a little surprised that no “faithless” Republican electors cast ballots for Paul instead of Mitt Romney when the electoral college met on January 4. However, keep in mind that Barack Obama carried a bunch of states where Paul loyalists are strongly represented in the GOP (such as Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Colorado). If Romney had won any of those states, we might have seen a vote or two for Paul in the electoral college. In September, an Iowa woman was pressured to step down as a candidate for elector after she disclosed that she would vote for Paul if Romney carried Iowa.

SECOND UPDATE: Moran has resigned from the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee because he is moving out of the fourth Congressional district. The Iowa Republican’s Kevin Hall reported,

“The timing worked out really well, personally and politically,” Moran said. “The opportunity to relocate is not one to pass up, while at the same time, we have an incoming administration at the State Party that has no interest in the “mechanics” of organization.”

Moran is referencing comments made by new RPI Co-Chair David Fischer on Saturday that “there’s too much focus on the mechanics” of winning elections. As someone who has been extensively involved in campaign work, Moran vehemently disagrees with Fischer.

“Mechanics and organization are the fundamental needs that candidates and campaigns require when working with a political organization,” Moran said. “It’s unfortunate the incoming administration is not going to put a high premium on basic campaign tools.”

Tim Moran’s political resume includes working on Bob Vander Plaats’ 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial campaigns, Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, Bill Northey’s 2010 Secretary of Agriculture campaign and serving as the political director for Congressman Steve King’s 2008 and 2010 campaigns. He said he plans to remain active in the Republican Party.

“It is good for the Party to remember who wins elections – the grassroots,” Moran wrote in an email to Republican activists and officials. “That is where I look to maximize my energy in the coming years.”

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  • Libertarians

    I don’t know where this is all going to shake out in the next couple of decades.  I’m talking more on a national basis, are Libertarians going to become a larger factor?   Are more “big government” Republicans going to come over to the Dems?  Are we going to see an easing of the laws making it so difficult to run as an independent or third party member?

    The Paul people are just ferocious.  They take everything by a literal definition and thus everyone is a Socialist.  Their man may be a better pure capitalist than most, but he practiced socialism by bringing money back to his district.    The Paul people already have Rubio on notice.  

    • yet the rabid Paul supporters in Iowa are silent

      about the Iowa DOT adopting REAL ID. If they are really libertarians, they should be more upset about that than about whether gay people can marry each other. I don’t see a lot of ideological consistency there.