Six vie to be next chairman of Republican Party of Iowa

In a unique move, the Republican Party of Iowa's state central committee held an open forum this morning allowing the six men running to be the party's next chairman to make their case in public. I counted about 100 people in the main meeting room at RPI headquarters in Des Moines and there were people standing in the hallway outside, peeping through doors and open windows.

Each of the six candidates for party chair were given a chance to make an opening statement, then they responded to questions from the state central committee, followed by a few from the audience.  The committee meets next Saturday, January 10, to vote and the winning candidate must get the support of at least nine of the 17 members on the central committee.

Here are the candidates, in today's speaking order:  Christopher Reed of Marion, a businessman who was the 2008 GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate; Andy Cable of Eldora, chairman of Hardin County Republicans; Matt Strawn of Ankeny, co-owner of the Iowa Barnstormers & a former aid to two members of congress; Danny Carroll of Grinnell, a former state legislator who served 12 years in the Iowa House; Matt Randall of Ames, a businessman who founded Young Professionals of Iowa; and Paul Pate, former Cedar Rapids Mayor, former member of the Iowa Senate & Iowa Secretary of State from 1995 to 1999. (Two other candidates who've been mentioned for the post of party chair — Polk County Republican Party chairman Ted Sporer and current Iowa GOP treasurer Gopal Krishna — did not attend today's forum and their names were not mentioned by the event's moderator or by anyone else today.) 

Quick stats: 

  • three of the six are in their thirties (Reed is 37; Strawn is 35 and Randall is 33);

  • two have held elected office (Pate & Carroll);

  • two often stressed the need to reach out to young people (Reed & Randall);

  • two of the six made specific references to the mother's milk of politics — raising money (Strawn & Pate).

I was unable, for technical reasons, to live blog during the event.  What follows is a sort of recap, based on my notes:

Reed opened by noting over half a million Iowans had voted for him in November, then said the GOP had been "outspent and outmanned" by Democrats and declared it was time for that to change.  Reed also said the party should stick to its conservative core rather than shift to the center.

Cable opened by talking about how he got involved in politics and what behind-the-scenes things he's done on the local and congressional district level.  He stressed the party needs to rebuild from the ground up, not by edict from the top down — suggesting the grassroots want to be heard, not preached to by the folks at party HQ.

Strawn said the Iowa Republicans he's talked with in the past few weeks are "fired up and ready to go" and he reviewed components of the "100-day" action plan he's laid out for rebuilding the party.  Read it yourself here.  He also stressed his work on capitol hill and his ability to raise money.

Carroll began by referencing the people in the crowd who had donned white t-shirts with the name "Danny" printed on the chest area.  "I particularly like those white shirts," Carroll joked, then issued his core message, that he would seek "respect and unity" as party chairman. 

Randall began by joking about the "Danny" shirts.  "I'll be leaving this room today and officially changing my name to Danny."  Randall argued the party hadn't done a good enough job engaging young people and "building a bench" of future leaders.  He talked about being the founder of Young Professionals of Iowa.

Pate began by mentioning that his middle name is Danny.  Pate stressed winning, the need for fire in the belly/a desire to do the job and he pointed to Iowa Republicans who've been winners lately (Auditor Vaudt, Ag Sec Northey, Congressman King). He said unity was a goal, but also stressed need to tell Iowans "who we are."

The six men then answered questions posed by members of the state central committee, followed by a few from the audience.  At one point the lights in the room kept flickering.  Strawn jokingly suggested it was a sign the party needed to start raising money to keep the lights on.  One central committee member asked specifically about same-day voter registration.  Carroll said the party had become "complacent" and not everybody follows the rules.  Randall said he was a poll watcher on November 4 and "saw some stuff going on that I was not proud of."  Pate suggested the party needed to raise some money, hire some lawyers, and comb through the records themselves to identify illegal votes.  Reed said it was important to start electing more Republicans to local offices so they're in charge — as county auditors — of counting votes. Strawn said the party needs to do a better job in signing up lawyers who will volunteer to monitor voting, and serve on/monitor recount boards. Strawn also said satellite voting poses problems because of lack of oversight.  

Some other scribbles from the notebook:  Cable said it was time to turn the party's image around, because people perceive the Iowa GOP leaders as "a bunch of backstabbers and the "grassroots is dejected"; Strawn talked about his ability to connect with the "donor community" based on his 10 years of working on capitol hill; congressional candidate Mariannette Miller-Meeks was in the crowd & asked a question about leadership and appealing to more than just the Republican base (she was applauded by the crowd, but not the central committee members when she ended her statement/question); successful legislative candidate Kent Sorenson was the last audience member to ask a question, but he began by offering a rebuttal to Miller-Meeks, arguing adherence to the party platform is "what makes the grassroots tick" and the two got in a tiny bit of quibbling because before forum moderator Bill Schickel of Mason City intervened. 

The six candidates each got to make a closing statement and each stood to do so (they had been sitting in a row, at the front of the room, behind a white folding table).  The crowd engaged in about 45 seconds of sustained applause to conclude the public exercise.

Other items of note:  current party co-chair Leon Mosley of Waterloo arrived a few minutes after the event started and sat down in an easy chair at the far north side of the room — directly behind the six men who are vying to be party chairman.  Schickel, the event's moderator, announced at the beginning of the morning that National Committeeman Steve Scheffler was unable to attend due to a prior committment.  I did not see National Committeewoman Kim Lehman in the room.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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