Iowa First update

As first reported earlier this week, a key Republican Party panel has adopted rules which would maintain the first-in-the-nation status of Iowa’s Caucuses.   Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa,  held a news conference in the RPI’s headquarters in Des Moines this afternoon to discuss the developments regarding what he called Iowa’s “unique and traditional first-in-the-nation status in the presidential selection process.”

The RNC’s Temporary Delegate Selection Committee announced its draft recommendations this past Tuesday and the rules exempt Iowa (along with New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada) from the rule which forbids any state from holding a contest before March 1, 2012.

That means the first four contests would be held in February, 2012 under this plan.  “Both the national parties have expressed a desire to work together on moving the nominating schedule back a few weeks so we’re not all scrambling around during the Christmas season for (the Iowa) Caucuses,” Strawn said.  (The 2010 Iowa Caucuses were held on January 3.)

Strawn called the draft rules a “significant milestone.”  The Republican National Committee will take up the matter at its August meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.  Any changes in these rules which basically define the schedule for state primaries and caucuses would only be made if two-thirds of the RNC members vote to make a change from what this “Temporary Delegate Selection Committee” has proposed.

Strawn said he is “very confident” Iowa will be able to work with representatives from New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to “fend off” any challenges to the position of those first four contests.

“Formal recognition of Iowa, by adding us to the rules…is important,” Strawn said.  “…It will put the RNC and the members on record, that Iowa is a state that is unique and is exempted from the rules.”

What are the prospects of states trying to leapfrog ahead of those four states?

“Some of that depends on the personalities of presidential politics…If there’s a certain candidate that has a more-favorable constituency, you know, the thought was that they may try to get a state to jump to the head of the line,” Strawn said.  (Louisiana did that in 1996 but it didn’t help Phil Gramm, the candidate who tried to use Louisiana as a launching pad.)  “The fact that the 2012 field for Republicans is so fluid right now, I think so many states want to inject some order and some predictability into the process.”

Isn’t Iowa’s first-in-the-nation also challenged by the prospect of a major candidate choosing to bypass Iowa?

“By not participating in Iowa, that’s a choice they make at their own peril,” Strawn said. “By effectively stating that you can’t compete in what everyone hopes will be a key swing state in the general election I don’t think that sends a very good message to general election voters in a state that Republicans need to get back in the Republican electoral column to be successful.”

Isn’t there still a danger we’ll be having the Iowa Caucuses in January of 2012?

“I think we need to still fight and stay vigilant on this,” Strawn said, “but I think is a good-faith effort to try to get the calendar back to historically where it had been with the Iowa Caucuses in February and the New Hampshire Primary shortly thereafter.”

Strawn suggested “most of the senior staff” who worked on the 2008 presidential campaigns are pressing the predictability angle.

“A lot of them said if they just knew what the rules of the game were, when the states were going to go, how those states were going to assign or elect delegates, it would have been much easier to prepare a campaign plan,” Strawn said, adding “ideological or geographic” concerns were secondary.

Strawn brought up the idea Iowa’s Caucuses aren’t “resource” focused — in other words, you don’t have to have the biggest bank account to win (see Mike Huckabee’s Iowa Caucus campaign, circa 2008).

“…To this day, I think that is still one of Iowa’s strongest arguments for maintaining our first-in-the-nation status,” Strawn said.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.