The Republican Party of Iowa finds itself between a rock and a hard place. With Florida holding its primary on January 31st, and South Carolina and Nevada settling the dates for their contests in the second and third week of January, the Iowa GOP is running out of options for when it will hold its First-in-the-Nation Caucuses.
Even though Florida is responsible for causing the fiasco with the nominating calendar, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is also responsible for letting Florida get away with disregarding the rules, the Iowa GOP is at fault for not being more pro active in setting its caucus date. By taking a wait and see approach, the Iowa Caucuses now run the risk of being pushed into December, which means they would be pushed into irrelevancy.
As the Political Director for the Republican Party of Iowa in 2007, I know first hand how difficult this situation is to deal with. Deep down, everybody involved from the RNC to the four early states truly want to work together, but at the end of the day it becomes an every state for themselves scramble. That’s why party leaders in Iowa can’t simply hope that things work out, they instead need to pick a day that they prefer and go with it.
I’ll be the first to admit that my tenure at the Republican Party of Iowa was far from perfect. To many establishment Republican insiders, the Iowa GOP was too confrontational, and that made them uncomfortable four years ago. While they might not have agreed with how the Iowa GOP approached particular issues or the actions we took to ensure Iowa would be first, none of those decisions were made haphazardly. Our entire mindset was to protect Iowa’s caucuses.
The most courageous move the Iowa GOP made that year was selecting January 3rd as the date for our caucuses. Just like this year, the primary calendar was turned into chaos when Michigan, Florida, and South Carolina all moved their primaries up into January. Now, just as it was back then, there was talk of a Christmas Caucus. Just like it was back then, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner caused more headaches than answers when it came to determining the nomination calendar.
The only thing that injected a little certainty into the nomination calendar was the Iowa GOP’s decision to announce that they would caucus on the January 3rd. At the time that decision was highly controversial because Iowa Democrats were not prepared to join the Iowa GOP in announcing that date. It also meant that Gardner’s dog and pony show with the media about a Thanksgiving or Christmas Caucuses was put to rest because it was obvious that January 8th would work for New Hampshire to hold its primary.
This year’s situation was made more difficult for Iowa when Nevada set its caucuses for January 14th. Even though Nevada is a caucus state like Iowa, Gardner has already said that he views it as a similar contest, and thus, the New Hampshire primary must occur eight days before it. That means that Gardner could select January 3rd for New Hampshire, which would make things messy for Iowa. Making matters worse is that Gardner is never in a rush to set his date. Four years ago, he didn’t officially select January 8th until November 21st.
Gardner’s insistence that he has to schedule the New Hampshire primary eight days before the Nevada caucuses is nonsense. The New Hampshire primary was only seven days ahead of Michigan in 2007, so apparently New Hampshire doesn’t have to have a full eight days between it and the following contest. It’s also odd that Gardner cares about what Nevada is doing.
I mean no disrespect to the people of Nevada, but their caucuses are not a marquee contest that generates a lot of attention from candidates and voters. Nevada following New Hampshire by four days will not impact either New Hampshire’s status or the amount of attention Nevada will receive.
Regardless, the Iowa GOP needs to schedule its caucus now in order to begin the process of setting caucus locations. While none of the following dates are ideal, here are the four dates on which the 2012 caucuses could be held.
Thursday night December 22nd is probably the latest in December that the caucuses could be held. The problem with caucusing in December is that it could render the caucuses meaningless because the contest is being held so early and it would be unlikely that they would generate any momentum for the winner since the Christmas Holiday would immediately follow.
A January 3rd caucus would compete with the Sugar Bowl. While not ideal, there was a major college bowl game taking place on caucus night in 2008. By selecting January 3rd, Iowa Republicans would be selecting the earliest possible date in January. It is also conceivable that New Hampshire would also select the 3rd meaning the First-in-the-Nation Caucuses would be on the same day as the First-in-the-Nation Primary.
The problem with this scenario is that it forces candidates to pick between Iowa and New Hampshire.
The 5th is the most ideal date to hold the caucuses. Not only is it on a Thursday night, but there isn’t a BCS Bowl game to contend with either. The problem with selecting the fifth now is that New Hampshire could pick the 3rd, meaning there would only be two days between New Hampshire and Iowa. To be honest, it might be better just to be on the same day.
If New Hampshire doesn’t want to hold its primary on Tuesday January 10th, then I think it is a date that Iowa Republicans should consider. Obviously it doesn’t seem natural to have the caucuses follow the New Hampshire primary, but the 10th is an excellent date as it allows ample time for the holidays to be over and doesn’t have any other conflicts in terms of major sporting events. It also provides a full week between New Hampshire and Iowa, and the Nevada caucuses being the following Saturday is no big deal. This is unconventional, but worth discussing.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Straw cannot afford to wait around for New Hampshire to decide what they are going to do. In fact, his blind faith in the RNC rules and the alliance of the other early nominating states has already jeopardized Iowa’s First-in-the-Nation caucus status. It seems to me the Iowa’s Republican leaders expect that others will honor our First-in-the-Nation status, but it doesn’t work that way. To be first, the Iowa GOP must be forceful in defending its turf, just like it was four years ago.
It is honorable too that Iowa’s three representatives to the RNC want to work within the system, but that system is broken. We learned that four years ago. While the Iowa GOP doesn’t find themselves in an ideal position, they still must make it clear that a December caucus is not a possibility. If Gardner wants a Christmas Primary, let him have it. Iowa will caucus in the first week of January, and we should have just announced it months ago.
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