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February 5th, 2013

Thornton Elected Johnson County GOP Chairwoman

Despite being overwhelmingly liberal, Johnson County is one of the most important counties in the state for Iowa Republicans. More than 23,000 Johnson County residents voted for Mitt Romney last November. Although that was only 31.4% of the vote in county, those 23,000 votes can make a significant impact on a statewide election. With an open U.S. Senate seat and gubernatorial election on the horizon, having a strong Republican central committee in Johnson County is vital.

Bob Anderson decided to step down as Johnson County GOP chairman after a four-year tenure. Anderson is also a member of the State Central Committee. He wanted to focus more of his efforts on helping the entire congressional district. Monday evening, Johnson County Republicans elected activist Deb Thornton to replace Johnson. She was the only candidate nominated. Thornton praised the Anderson’s efforts.

“I think we’re in a really good position, particularly going into an off-year election, to build on that, to make some significant changes in Johnson County,” Thornton told the committee. “I think we’re on the verge of showing the Democrats that you can’t just walk over us and just expect us to take it.”

Some of the goals Thornton laid out for the committee include enhanced voter outreach, expanded efforts to get all central committee members involved, bringing in more big name speakers for fundraisers and focusing on local candidate recruitment and development. She believes, with a lot of hard work, the county GOP can turn some of left-leaning precincts red.

“You can carry a 40%-45% precinct if you work it,” Thornton said. “Now, you’re not going to carry a 15 percenter, but those over 40% precincts, we can carry those. We can do some good work and bump that vote so that we can be a real strength for the rest of the state, so we’re not a drag on the Second District Congressional candidate and Governor Branstad and the U.S. Senate candidate.”

Johnson County is not unwinnable for Republicans. Although most GOP candidates failed to surpass 35% in recent elections, Congressman Jim Leach and Senator Chuck Grassley both carried the county in 2004. Grassley nearly beat Roxanne Conlin there in 2010, though his success is an anomaly.

One of Chairwoman Thornton’s immediate goals is helping the Republican candidate win the Johnson County Board of Supervisors special election in March. One central committee member said a Republican has not won a seat on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 50 years. The Republicans will choose their candidate at a special nominating convention on Wednesday.

Thornton also told committee members to come to her with any ideas they had to help the county party. Outgoing chairman Bob Anderson expressed confidence that Deb Thornton will do a solid job in running the county party.

“I think she will be a strong chairperson,” Anderson told “I felt that as a State Central Committee member, with specific focus on eastern Iowa counties, that I wanted to devote my full attention there and I knew she would devote her full attention to Johnson County. I’m excited about her. She’s a strong, principled conservative and she’s a worker.”

Last year, the GOP Victory office in Johnson County was routinely topped the state in voter contact. Keeping central committee members active and continuing to incorporate the University of Iowa College Republicans into the party is vital for the future of the GOP in eastern Iowa.

In the other Johnson County GOP officer elections, Dave Yansky was reelected co-chair. The county party also selected a vice-chairman, which will be practically identical to co-chair. Arleigh Clemens was selected vice-chairman. Cynthia Michel was reelected as secretary and Kris Ortale was chosen as treasurer.

Although there is an organized effort by Ron Paul supporters to take over leadership roles in county GOP parties around Iowa, they have made little headway so far. Jason Glass, a local businessman, was a Ron Paul supporter in the 2012 Iowa Caucus. He was nominated for both co-chair and vice-chair on Monday, but failed to win either. Glass was then selected as deputy vice-chair by acclimation.

New chairwoman Deb Thornton supported Herman Cain in the Iowa Caucus. Dave Yansky and outgoing chairman Bob Anderson remained publicly neutral. Yansky pledged he would continue to not take sides in Republican primaries.

About the Author

Kevin Hall

Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor’s office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad’s 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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