It’s getting harder for Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to say it’s too soon to know whether Iowa will again host the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
That’s because her handpicked chairman of the panel that will set the GOP’s national nomination calendar for 2024 keeps telling Iowa Republicans they will kick off the quadrennial process of choosing a nominee.
“I'm in Iowa, so we’ve got to talk about it, but I don't like getting ahead of my committee,” McDaniel said when asked about Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann saying matter-of-factly that Iowa will retain its leadoff status in the coming presidential election cycle.
The final decision, McDaniel said, will be up to the 168 RNC members representing Republicans in the United States and its territories.
“I have to remain neutral,” McDaniel said, adding that she’s not hearing “chatter” within the party to change the nomination calendar.
Kaufmann feels no such obligation to remain neutral. And he’s chattering plenty.
“I do have an opinion about where Iowa should be in the nomination process,” he said while introducing the chairwoman Aug. 28 to about 700 people at 1st District U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson’s BBQ Bash.
“I'm pretty much settled on we should be first-in-the-nation,” Kaufmann said, then paused before adding, “I'm kidding. We're going to be first-in-the-nation. Other than that, I'll be very neutral, Madam Chair,” he added.
McDaniel acknowledges she didn’t have to put Kaufmann on the nomination committee and she didn’t have to make him chairman.
“I have a great relationship with Jeff,” she said. “I think he understands what first-in-the-nation means and he's going to bring great perspective to that committee and we'll leave it at that.”
Kaufmann isn’t banking solely on his relationship with McDaniel to maintain Iowa’s leadoff spot. He’s formed an alliance with New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to work together to maintain their status as the first four states in the nomination process.
He’s not alone in stoking the first-in-the-nation fire. At Hinson’s fundraiser — again within earshot of the RNC chairwoman — 4th District U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra said McDaniel put Kaufmann on the committee “to make sure that Iowa is first-in-the-nation and it’s going to get done.”
Iowa’s argument isn’t without merit, said McDaniel who saw Iowa GOP politics up close when her uncle, Mitt Romney, sought the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012.
“Coming to the straw poll, I saw voters took it very seriously,” she said. The caucuses give every candidate “a chance to win regardless of how big their pocketbook is coming in.”
Perhaps because he won Iowa’s 2016 GOP caucuses, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the BBQ Bash headliner, had nothing but praise for them.
“There is a culture of civic participation that is extraordinary,” he said. Iowans of both parties take seriously their “responsibility every four years to vet the candidates.”
“They stand in a Pizza Ranch and they ask you about who you are and what you believe. And they don't take a 30-second sound bite. They want to drill in,” Cruz said.
When Iowa Republicans and Democrats are vetting candidates “they're not just doing it for themselves or their families or even their communities. They're doing it for the whole country,” he said.
Voters in Texas take their responsibility seriously, too, Cruz said, but in a state of 29 million people “it's not possible for everyone to be able to vet candidates the way everyone in Iowa does.”
Meanwhile, the future of the Iowa Democratic Party’s first-in-the-nation caucuses is undecided. A combination of jealousy with the attention Iowa gets from being first, criticism that Iowans are too old, too white and too rural and the disastrous 2020 caucuses when the state Democratic Party could not report timely results have led to a renewed push to knock Iowa from its first-in-the-nation perch.
No decision is expected before fall, according to Erin Moynihan, spokeswoman for the state party. The Democratic National Committee has yet to elect its Rules and Bylaws Committee, “so there's still several steps left in the process.”
However, state party Chairman Ross Wilburn remains committed to keeping Iowa's first-in-the-nation status.
“Iowa Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much, but we do agree in keeping Iowa first in the presidential nominating process,” Wilburn said. “I have had conversations with Jeff Kaufmann and will continue to be in communication with him going forward.”