Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn visited Capitol Hill Monday to defend his state’s perch as the very first place to vote for a candidate to run against President Obama in 2012, highlighting the power the Iowa caucuses have in determining who wins presidential nominations.
Florida law mandates that the state hold its primary on Jan. 31, 2012, which would push the state ahead of Iowa’s tentative February 6 caucus date. Minnesota Republicans might have a caucus vote on Feb. 7. Republican National Committee rules say that only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada may hold a primary or caucus before the first Tuesday in March of the year in which the party holds a national convention.
Strawn said that he is cautiously optimistic that the party can stop other states from jumping in front of the Iowa race.
“I’ve been very pleased to see (RNC) Chairman (Reince) Priebus defend the rules that the RNC and DNC agreed to last summer. You know, there’s a reason the committees came together to try to put more certainty and continuity and order to the presidential nomination process. I know there’s still a chance for states not in compliance with those rules to get in compliance,” Strawn said. He added that Priebus has been in “close coordination” with those states.
He also said that the states who break the rules would face consequences at the Republican convention, and made a not-very-subtle reference to Florida, which is hosting the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa.
“I would think those sanctions would be even more acute if the convention happened to be in your own state. Key activists weren’t able to access to the floor, you had hotels that weren’t necessarily as convenient. Your committee members didn’t have their delegate passes. Sitting here as a state party chairman I know how important those tools are to me,” Strawn said.
Strawn said he hoped to keep the Iowa caucus date at Feb. 6, but that depended on what happened with Florida and other states.
The Republican primary process has gotten off to a slow start, with none of the frontrunners officially declaring yet that they will run against Mr. Obama. Strawn said that on the ground in Iowa, campaign activity has “picked up dramatically” as candidates quietly looking for staff members and supporters among Iowa legislators.
Strawn gave three reasons for the slow start to the process in Iowa: Republicans focused on maximizing returns in the 2010 midterms, the fluidity of the GOP field and the fact that likely candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses, are already very familiar among Iowa Republicans and don’t need to campaign as early.
“On the ground, you can feel the ground moving a little bit,” he said.
Strawn also had a warning for President Obama: with the influence of the Tea Party, Republicans are posed to be much stronger in 2012 than they were in 2008, when Obama won the state.
Strawn pointed out that the party gained more than 100 seats at the county level in Iowa, in addition to electing a Republican governor, secretary of state and several state House and Senate seats
Strawn said that his party has made a 60 percent gain in party registration compared to the Democrats since 2009 and are now down by only 40,000 — compared to a 115,000 deficit in January 2009.
“I think the state he will encounter in the general election will be dramatically different than the state he encountered in 2008,” Strawn said.