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January 26th, 2011

McLaughlin Beats Deace in Polk County GOP Chair Race

By Craig Robinson

For years, the Polk County Republican Party has been either politically irrelevant or held hostage by personality conflicts amongst some of its members.  While signs of those past personal battles still rear their ugly heads from time to time, the Polk County GOP has experienced a turn around under the leadership of outgoing chairman John Bloom and his co-chairman Will Rogers.

With Bloom and Rogers not seeking re-election to another term, the Polk County GOP was faced with the serious task of finding a leadership team that can continue to move the party in a positive direction.

For the better part of a month, Kevin McLaughlin and Dave Funk had laid out their vision for the county party under their leadership should they be elected.  McLaughlin and Funk made it known that they intended to keep Darrell Kearney as the county party’s fundraiser.  Likewise, they had developed a strategy to address other areas of need, especially when it comes to organizing for the upcoming presidential caucuses.

McLaughlin and Funk were shoe-ins and likely to run unopposed, but that all changed when WHO Radio host, Steve Deace, announced his candidacy for the spot at 4 p.m. yesterday on Facebook and his daily drive-time radio show.  Deace said that he decided to run at 9 a.m. yesterday morning.

The news of Deace’s entrance to the race for Polk County GOP chairman traveled fast.  In addition to the 103 members of the central committee that showed up to vote in the election, dozens more gathered to watch the political drama unfold.  In the end, Deace came up short.  Kevin McLaughlin won the support of 66 members, while Deace only received 37 votes.

Videos of the candidate’s speeches can be seen here.  Below are some of my thoughts about what transpired last night.

Steve Deace Doesn’t Understand The Purpose of Political Parties

Back when I was a weekly guest on Steve’s radio program, Steve and I could always find areas of agreement, but differed on the tactics that should be used to advance an agenda.  I think it’s safe to say that he was frustrated with how I often viewed party politics.  While he sees political parties by the issues and philosophies that they espouse, I view the party as an apparatus, a necessary piece of machinery that, when working correctly, helps all candidates who run for office under the Republican brand.

I’m not suggesting that the principles of the party are not important.  They are.  In fact, they were important enough to me that in 2004 I chaired my county, district, and state platform committees.  I think there are a lot of Republicans who want to focus on issues and advance the ideals of our party, and that’s a good and necessary thing.  However, that’s not necessarily the primary focus of those in county party leadership.  While some county chairs get more involved in issue advocacy, I don’t know if most party activists want the type of issue focus that Deace would have provided.  For instance, over the past week he has basically incited a civil war within the pro-life movement in Iowa.  The debate is worth having, but does infighting benefit or help the Polk County GOP meet its goals?  Probably not.

To be honest, I don’t really think that last night’s vote was really about McLaughlin or Deace as individuals.  Instead, I think the vote was more about a desire for the Polk County GOP to continue down its current successful course.  The mission statement of the county party reads, “Rally, Recruit, Register, Retain and Elect Republicans.”  Deace’s message last night barley touched on those ideals.

The Platform Is Not The Constitution

As mentioned above, I think the platform is a vital part of a county and state party.  For as long as I can remember, some people have viewed the party platform with similar reverence as they do the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  It is important to remember that there is a big difference between the platform and these other documents.

Every two years the platform is scraped and rewritten from scratch.  From election cycle to election cycle, the party platform can change dramatically.  For example, the current Republican Party of Iowa platform might have been heavily influenced by the Campaign for Liberty, whereas the 2012 platform may be influenced by another group of voters.

To further try and make that point, the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001 greatly influenced national policy and party platforms in the years that followed.  While the Declaration and our Constitution remain with their original texts, unfortunately, party platforms can change as quickly as the latest hairstyles.

On his radio program, Steve often refers to the state platform, but what about the Polk County Platform?  Isn’t that the document that the Polk County GOP chairman should be concerned about since it’s the statement of belief of its members?

The Polk County GOP platform contains a plank that supports a ban on late term abortions.  Deace is on record of opposing current House File 5, a bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks.  His position on abortion is crystal clear.  He doesn’t support legislative restrictions on abortion.  He thinks only a total ban on abortion with worthwhile.  If he had been elected, one has to wonder if he would have supported his county party platform even though he opposes one of its planks?

The platform also changes after the primary in an election year.  Adherence to the platform is great, but come July of 2012, there is going to be an entirely new platform to which we should adhere.  Steve seems to want to use the platform as a governing document, but that simply is not possible because of when and how often it changes.

Kevin McLaughlin Should Read The Party Platform

In his remarks last night, Kevin McLaughlin noted that he had not read the platform.  I’ve known Kevin for a long time, he’s a solid conservative, but if you want to lead the party you should know what it stands for.  It’s that simple.

Steve Deace: Platform Enforcer

It was obvious that Steve Deace really didn’t want to deal with the mundane work of being the chairman of the party.  County chairs spend a lot of time recruiting volunteers, finding caucus locations, and getting people to register to vote.  You get the picture.  I think what Steve really wanted to be is the platform enforcer.  It’s close to what he does on his radio show, and obviously it’s what he is the most passionate about.

Steve Deace Has A “YOU” Problem

After Kevin McLaughlin admitted that he had not read the platform, I thought Steve Deace was a lock to be the Polk County GOP chairman.  I thought Steve’s speech was good, but the question and answer portion did him in.  I think the turning point in the election occurred at this moment.

If you notice, Deace didn’t use the word “we” when talking about the Polk County GOP, he used the word “you.”  It might not seem like a big deal, but words matter, and at that point, I got the sense that the voters in the room didn’t believe that he was one of them.

That clip was also deadly to Deace’s chances because a lot of the things he spouted off about have improved under the leadership of Bloom and Rogers.  For example, Republican County Supervisors E. J. Giovannetti and Bob Brownell have held their positions for a decade or longer.  I don’t know what point he was trying to make when he talked about the supervisor’s races.  Steve also seems to have forgotten that Halley Griess defeated a 20-year incumbent in Tom Vlassis in 2009. His rant about not winning anything until they started adhering to the platform wasn’t well thought out and made him look uneducated about local politics.

Don’t Insulate Yourself Inside The Bubble

Every candidate needs wise counsel.  It doesn’t matter if you are running to be the chairman of the Polk County GOP or governor of the state of Iowa.  Every candidate has someone they listen to, but successful candidates and campaigns have someone who is willing to play the devil’s advocate, or willing to disagree with the candidate or other advisors when the situation warrants.

Having now observed three Vander Plaats campaigns for governor, it’s obvious that he either lacks, or doesn’t listen to, a person who supports his candidacy, but differs with him on the tactics his campaign is employing.  The same appears true of Deace.  Deace and Vander Plaats operate in a bubble, surrounded by well-intentioned people who would follow them over a cliff, all the while, never daring to question the wisdom of their leaders’ decision to jump off the cliff.  That’s great for one’s confidence, but bad for trying to develop a winning campaign.

Other Winners and Losers

The winners are always easy to figure out.  Obviously Kevin McLaughlin was a big winner last night.  While Deace’s campaign only lasted a day, don’t fool yourself, it was well thought out.  I think those who wanted to see the Polk County GOP continue its current direction are also winners.

Even though this was a small campaign, this election had two significant losers.

Secretary of State Matt Schultz

I appreciate Matt Schultz’ zeal, but his decision to give an endorsement in a county party election just goes to show that our young Secretary of State is still a bit green behind his ears.  Schultz didn’t make the list because he backed Deace, who didn’t win.  He made the list because it’s foolish to weigh in on intraparty contests like this.  That is especially the case when it comes to local, county level politics.

I don’t know what Schultz thought he was going to gain by wading into these waters, especially when he’s not even a resident of Polk County.  Just look at the last primary. Dave Vaudt endorsed Branstad, which was the first time he had endorsed any primary candidate, but Bill Northey, Congressman Latham, and Congressman King felt no need to wade into the turbulent primary waters.

Iowa Tea Party Leader Ryan Rhodes

I would have been surprised had Rhodes not backed Steve Deace in his bid to be Polk County GOP chair. The two are friends, and when a friend asks for an endorsement, you gladly give it.  The reason Rhodes is on the list is because the clout he has received from the media isn’t backed up by the results of the campaigns and projects with which he has been associated.

Rhodes has been quoted in the media as saying that the tea party movement in Iowa has 10,000 to 30,000 members.  Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register said that half of the members of the Polk County GOP central committee are Tea Party activists.  If that’s the case, then Deace should have easily won last night with the help of Rhodes.

In just the last year, Rhodes has been part of Dave Funk’s failed congressional primary and county supervisor campaigns.  He also organized a tea party rally in Council Bluffs a few weeks ago where he had hoped for 200 attendees, but only 35 people showed up.  At some point, Rhodes needs show that he can actually mobilize voters, not just get mentioned by the media.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country.

Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states.

Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site,

Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing.

Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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