Jeff Kaufmann and Cody Hoefert likely to be next Iowa GOP leaders

Former Iowa House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Kaufmann appears likely to be chosen as the next state chair of the Republican Party of Iowa this weekend. Kaufmann has been rumored to be angling for that position ever since he was elected to the party’s new State Central Committee this spring. He made his plans official in an e-mail sent to fellow State Central Committee members yesterday. Excerpts are after the jump. Kaufmann served four terms in the Iowa House before retiring in 2012. His son, Bobby Kaufmann, currently represents the same district.

Lyon County Republican Chair Cody Hoefert announced yesterday that he is running for state party co-chair. Excerpts from his e-mail are at the end of this post.

Immediately after their terms began on June 14, the majority of new State Central Committee members signed a letter calling for a meeting on June 28 to elect a new chair and co-chair. Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna have served in those positions since late March.

Some party activists are upset that the new State Central Committee isn’t giving Carroll a chance to show he can lead. A former state lawmaker and close ally of Bob Vander Plaats, Carroll is popular with social conservatives. At least two GOP county central committees (Jasper and Warren Counties) have passed non-binding votes of no confidence in the State Central Committee’s plan to vote on new leaders. I recommend watching or listening to the video of Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler’s remarks to Jasper County Republican Central Committee members, followed by comments from the audience and the no-confidence vote. Scheffler repeatedly brought up the need for the state party to improve its fundraising, and argued that past chair A.J. Spiker created this problem by resigning in March rather than making his resignation effective on June 14, when the new State Central Committee was seated. He also suggested that Carroll should have agreed to resign his position, an assertion that angered some Jasper County activists.

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Weekend open thread: Big Iowa GOP changes

The Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party held district conventions yesterday. Nothing particularly important happened at the Democratic conventions, but the GOP gatherings continued the march toward overthrowing the “Liberty” faction that gained control soon after the 2012 caucuses. No one from the Ron Paul orbit won a seat on the newly-elected State Central Committee, which will take over after the party’s state convention in June. They are likely to replace Danny Carroll and Gopal Krishna in the party’s top leadership positions.

I’ve listed the new State Central Committee members after the jump. Notable names include Governor Terry Branstad’s legal counsel Brenna Findley and William Gustoff, both elected to represent the third district. Gustoff is a partner in the law firm headed by U.S. Senate candidate Matt Whitaker and State Representative Chris Hagenow. In 2011, Branstad named Gustoff to the State Judicial Nominating Commission, but the Iowa Senate did not confirm him. Findley briefly was an attorney with Whitaker Hagenow after she left Representative Steve King’s staff to run for Iowa attorney general in 2010.

According to Kevin Hall of The Iowa Republican blog, “Liberty” activists handed out flyers at all four district conventions urging delegates not to vote for fourteen State Central Committee candidates. All fourteen of them won seats on the committee anyway.

Another interesting development: the GOP platform committee in the first district removed the plank declaring marriage to be between one man and one woman. Katherine Klingseis reported for The Des Moines Register that the new platform language asserts the government should have no role in marriage. Some delegates tried and failed three times yesterday to restore the traditional marriage plank through amendments. UPDATE: According to conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, one of the IA-01 convention votes on platform language went 116 to 89 to remove so-called “defense of traditional marriage” from the district GOP platform.

Kathie Obradovich wrote up the six IA-03 candidates’ pitches to Republican convention delegates. For now I consider it more likely than not that the nomination will be decided at a special district convention.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the Iowa GOP State Central Committee changes after the jump.

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Danny Carroll to chair Iowa GOP, Gopal Krishna co-chair (updated)

The Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee convened today to choose a successor to A.J. Spiker, who resigned as state party chair to work for U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s RandPAC. Danny Carroll, who became party co-chair in February, was the only person nominated for the chairman’s job. Carroll is a well-known social conservative and lobbyist for Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization. He served four terms in the Iowa House before losing his seat to Eric Palmer in 2006, then losing a rematch against Palmer in 2008. In 2010, he was a leading supporter of Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign and famously vowed never to vote for Terry Branstad. Earlier this year Carroll told Radio Iowa that he and the governor have a “cordial” working relationship.

According to Kevin Hall’s liveblog of today’s proceedings, seven of the eighteen State Central Committee members abstained from the vote on Carroll. Later, an Iowa GOP press release indicated that there were no dissenting votes on Carroll’s nomination, prompting several members to tell the Des Moines Register that they inadvertently voted yes on Carroll, “mistakenly thinking they were casting a vote to close nominations and move to ballots.” Hall also argued that it was inappropriate for Iowa RNC Committeewoman Tamara Scott to nominate Carroll, since she and he are both paid lobbyists for the FAMiLY Leader.

Shortly after Carroll’s election, State Central Committee member Gopal Krishna was the only candidate nominated for state party co-chair. He has previously served as party treasurer, and he and Carroll both sought the position of party chair in early 2009. At that time the State Central Committee preferred Matt Strawn.

Carroll and Krishna may not remain in their new jobs for long, since a new Iowa GOP State Central Committee will be elected later this spring. UPDATE: Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson posted audio and highlights from Carroll’s press conference on March 29. He confirmed that he will seek to stay on as party chair after the new State Central Committee takes over.

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The Republicans' problem is what they say, not how they say it

The State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa went outside the box yesterday in selecting a new party chairman. They picked Matt Strawn, best known as part of the group that owns the Iowa Barnstormers arena football team, instead of someone with experience as an elected official or leader of a county GOP operation.

Strawn began his campaign for the chairmanship as an underdog compared to outgoing state GOP treasurer Gopal Krishna (at one time seen as the front-runner in this race) and former State Representative Danny Carroll. The latter appears to have been the grassroots favorite in the field; he turned out the most enthusiastic supporters to a recent public forum for the state chair candidates and was supported by several conservative Iowa bloggers.

Strawn prevailed with a combination of old-school politicking (a “Pizza and Politics” tour to ten Iowa cities) and a technologically savvy online campaign (a blog with occasional YouTube video postings).

The new Iowa GOP chairman wants to use technology to improve Republicans’ standing with younger voters:

Strawn, 35, noted that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain by 2-1 among young adults in Iowa. He said part of the problem is Republicans have failed to use modern communications methods, such as Twitter and Facebook. People are left with the impression that the party either doesn’t know how to use those channels or doesn’t care to, he said. “Either way, we’re sending a terrible message.” […]

Strawn said at a press conference that he would reach out to all age groups as he seeks to build up party registrations, raise money and recruit strong candidates for office. He vowed to regain the majorities in both houses of the Legislature, win back the governorship and make gains in Congress.

He said Republicans could do all those things without watering down the party’s conservative priorities. “If we communicate our beliefs, we can win elections,” he said.

There’s no question that the Republican Party lost young voters by large margins in 2006 and 2008, and not just in Iowa. This map created by Mike Connery shows that if only voters aged 18-29 had cast ballots for president, John McCain would have won fewer than ten states.

Instead of complaining that “a bunch of stupid college students” sank the campaigns of “far superior” candidates such as Carroll (who lost to Eric Palmer for the second time in Iowa House district 75) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (who lost to Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district), Republicans should be asking themselves why young voters are rejecting their candidates in such large numbers.

Strawn’s answer is that the GOP’s failure to fully exploit new technology is “sending a terrible message” to young voters.

I sincerely hope that Republicans continue to believe that their recent election losses are rooted in communication problems. I think the Republicans’ ideology is what turns off young voters. The tendency for Republicans to campaign on “culture war” issues exacerbates this problem, highlighting the topics that make the party seem out of touch to younger voters.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, the Republican Party did quite well with the 18-30 age group, including college students. In fact, my age cohort is still relatively strong for Republicans. (A chart in this post shows the presidential vote among young Americans for the past 30 years.)

Republican campaign rhetoric in the 1980s tended not to emphasize abortion, the so-called “homosexual agenda” and other polarizing social issues. Will Iowa Republicans be ready to nominate more pro-choice moderates, or at least not demonize slightly less extreme anti-choice candidates, in 2010? Given how many party activists and State Central Committee members are also involved with anti-choice groups, I am skeptical.

The Iowa Supreme Court will rule on the Varnum v Brien case sometime this year. If the majority grants same-sex marriage rights or even state-recognized civil unions, I expect an anti-gay marriage crusade to figure prominently in Republicans’ 2010 gubernatorial and statehouse campaigns. That won’t help the party’s image with young voters, who are overwhelmingly tolerant of same-sex unions. I am not even convinced it would help Republicans with the electorate at large. The only recent Iowa poll on this issue showed that even before the publicity surrounding Varnum v Brien, 58 percent of Iowa voters supported either gay marriage or civil unions.

Some Republicans want their candidates to emphasize economic issues more and do away with “litmus tests” on social issues. Shortly after the election, Doug Gross discussed the Republican Party’s problems on Iowa Public Television. Gross worked for Republican Governors Bob Ray and Terry Branstad in the 1970s and 1980s, and he was the Republican nominee for governor against Tom Vilsack in 2002. Gross had this advice for Republican candidates:

What we really have to do is speak to the fundamental issues that Iowans care about which is I’m working hard every day, in many cases a couple of jobs, my wife works as well, we take care of our kids and yet the government is going to increase our taxes, they’re going to increase spending and they’re going to give that to somebody who is not working.  That kind of message will win for republicans among the people we have and we’ve gotten away from that.  

Ah yes, the glory days, when Republicans could win by running against “tax and spend” Democrats who supposedly took money away from hard-working Americans and gave it to “welfare queens” and other unemployed ne’er-do-wells.

Suppose the Republican Party of Iowa goes back to the future with this 1980-style message. I am not convinced that this is a winning ticket. Nationwide exit polling from the most recent election showed that a majority of voters believe government should do more, not less. The same exit poll found Barack Obama won even though most people believed Republican claims that he would raise taxes.

Moreover, rising unemployment is not just an issue for lower-income or blue-collar workers. Layoffs are also hitting groups that have trended toward the Democratic Party in the last decade: suburban dwellers, white-collar professionals and college-educated whites generally. Even in affluent neighborhoods, just about everyone knows someone who has been laid off in the past six months. Government assistance to the unemployed may be more popular now than it was in the 1980s.

Losing your job means losing your health insurance for many Americans, which is particularly scary for those who have “pre-existing conditions.” More and more people are delaying routine preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions in this tough economy. I believe that the problems with our health care system are another reason that Republican “small government” rhetoric has less salience now than it did 20 years ago. Just talk to people whose families have been devastated after a private insurance company denied coverage for expensive, medically necessary procedures.

Strawn can’t single-handedly reshape the ideology of the Iowa GOP, even if he wanted to. What can he do, besides use more online social networking tools?

Fundraising must become a big part of Strawn’s job, because Iowa Republicans have fallen behind Democrats in the money race as they’ve lost political power.

Doug Gross touched on this problem in his Iowa Public Television appearance:

Now, what I hear from large givers for the Republican Party is they are tired of losing elections. They think we need to do something different, they think we need the kind of candidates who can appeal to a broader scope of the populous, that we can’t just have litmus tests associated with one particular issue if we’re going to accomplish overall republican goals and we’ve got to accomplish that if we’re going to meet them in terms of the fundraising goal.

Even wealthy people don’t like throwing money away, so Strawn will have to demonstrate that he has a winning strategy if he wants to get major donors to open their wallets yet again.

Gross is also alluding to the fact that a lot of the business community Republicans do not agree with the GOP platform on social issues. Not only that, last year party insiders snubbed one of the all-time largest donors to Iowa Republican candidates, according to Gross:

Marvin Pomerantz is a dear friend of mine and no greater supporter of the republican party than Marvin Pomerantz over the course of his life in terms of financial contributions and otherwise.  A few months before he died he wanted to be able to go to the convention because he was John McCain’s chair, finance chair in the state of Iowa and was prohibited from doing so because some member of his family had given to Planned Parenthood.  Now, I don’t support Planned Parenthood any more than you do but at the same time you don’t punish somebody who is with us 80% to 90% of the time over an issue like that.  That’s how we narrow the party and that’s how we don’t broaden it.  We have to get away from that.

Steve Scheffler, the RNC committeeman who sat next to Gross during that taping, did not dispute this account. All I can say is wow. As it turned out, Pomerantz passed away before the Republican convention, so he would not have been able to attend. But his health was known to be poor, and it is beyond belief that delegates to the state GOP convention rejected his desire to go to St. Paul as a delegate, after everything he had done for the party over so many years. I would love to replace our campaign finance system, but with the system we have you just don’t spit on your most generous contributors. I have no doubt that this story traveled widely among Republicans in the business community.

If I were Strawn, I don’t know how I would go about mending fences with offended Republican moderates, because I doubt he has the will or the ability to take social conservatives in the party leadership down a peg.

At the end of the day, I have no idea whether the State Central Committee picked the best person to run the Republican Party yesterday. Krishna’s bizarre public attack on his State Central Committee colleagues (see also his interview with Iowa Independent), just days after he failed to show up at a public forum for candidates seeking to run the party, suggests to me that he lacked the maturity for the job. Carroll’s failure to learn from his 2006 loss to Eric Palmer makes me wonder whether he would be able to turn the party around.

As I’ve written before, Republican prospects for a comeback may have less to do with new GOP leadership than with how well the Democrats govern (in Iowa and nationally). If Governor Chet Culver and state legislative leaders are seen to be doing a good job, Iowa will continue the trend toward becoming a blue state. If Culver and the statehouse leaders screw up, the Republicans may rebound no matter what Strawn does.

That said, Strawn has his work cut out for him if he wants to do more than sit back and wait for Democrats to self-destruct. I don’t think the Republican Party of Iowa can twitter and YouTube its way out of the hole they’re in, especially when it comes to younger voters.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Strawn will need to inspire confidence among statehouse Republicans in order to minimize the number of retirements. Four Republicans in the U.S. Senate have already indicated that they plan to retire rather than run for re-election in 2010. Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate may do the same, recognizing the GOP will be the minority party for some time to come. The more open seats the GOP has to defend, the more difficult it will be for them to come back.

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Does it matter who ends up running the Republican Party?

Since the election, the quest to find a new leader for the divided Republican Party of Iowa has been a frequent topic for discussion on conservative blogs. No clear front-runner has emerged among the nine people known to be seeking the job. Some observers believe Iowa GOP treasurer Gopal Krishna has the most supporters on the 17-member State Central Committee that will select a new chair, although committee member David Chung handicaps the race differently.

All the candidates have been invited to appear at a public forum this Saturday, January 3, at the Iowa GOP headquarters. Knowing little about most of the people vying for this job, I’ve been intrigued by the comment threads at conservative blogs like “Krusty Konservative.” Attacks against this or that candidate have been nastier than anything I remember reading on Democratic blogs when Howard Dean was running for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2005.

The Republican National Committee also needs a new leader, with no front-runner for that job. A mini-scandal has erupted over one candidate’s decision to give RNC members a CD including a song called “Barack the Magic Negro.”

I’ve been wondering how much these leadership contests matter.

Obviously some people will be better organizers or better fundraisers or better communicators than others, and for all I know some of the declared candidates are truly inept. But let’s assume the Republicans find leaders with all the qualities on a party hack’s wish list. Will they be able to turn things around for the GOP by raising more money and improving their campaign mechanics?

Commenting on plans to create a think tank within the RNC called the “Center for Republican Renewal,” Matthew Yglesias recently observed,

Ambitious people don’t like the idea that their fate is out of their hands. But an opposition political party’s fate is largely out of its hands. The Democratic Party’s recovery from its low ebb in the winter of 2004-2005 had very little to do with Democratic policy innovation and a great deal to do with the fact that the objective situation facing the country got worse. The time for the GOP to improve, policy-wise, was back then. Had the Bush administration been animated by better ideas, Bush might not have led to declining incomes, rising inequality, and catastrophic military adventures. But since he did, the GOP lost. And now the reality is that it’s the Democrats’ turn to govern. If things work out poorly, the GOP will get back in whether or not they have an ideological renewal, and if things work out well the Republicans will stay locked out.

I suspect Yglesias is right. Republican conservatives want to “embrace their core principles and effectively communicate a compelling message of bold-color conservatism”. Moderates want to do away with “litmus tests” and “recapture the broad base.”

But the facts of life are these: in Iowa and at the federal level, voters have given Democrats control of the legislative and executive branches. Whether the Republicans bounce back in 2010 or 2012 will depend more on whether Democrats blow it than whether the RNC or the Iowa State Central Committee chooses the right leader.

What do you think?

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