Thousands of Iowa Republicans braved frigid temperatures Tuesday night to participate in biennial Iowa Caucuses. Due to inner-party squabbling, this was perhaps the most hyped mid-term caucus in history. Republicans angered by the direction and leadership of the state party took the first steps toward reclaiming it.
Many GOP county chairs across the state reported record turnout for a non-presidential caucus.
“I was excited by the turnout this evening,” said Story County GOP Chair Dane Nealson. “It was up from 2010. Our facility was packed in Ames with around 150 people and that doesn’t include our other Story County locations. I think it shows a lot of energy going forward for the Republican ticket. From what I saw there was a lot of unity in the room and everybody understood what’s on the line.”
“We had 80-90 folks caucus in Lyon County, which was a stronger than expected off-year turnout. We are pleased that Lyon County Republicans are fired up to elect candidates up and down the ballot,” said SCC member and Lyon County GOP Chair Cody Hoefert.
A crowd of 50 attended the caucus in Adair County. That is an off-year record for the southwest Iowa county. They were able to fill central committee and delegate slots that sometimes remain vacant even get in presidential years.
“I’m totally overwhelmed by the support that was shown for the Republican Party tonight,” said Adair County GOP Chair Ryan Frederick. “Attendance exceeded all my expectations and the buy-in from participants willing to go to convention and be central committee members was far beyond anything we expected.”
Far and away, the candidate with the most presence at the caucuses was Governor Terry Branstad. His campaign made a concerted effort to encourage their supporters to attend the caucuses and try to become delegates to the county convention.
The strategy is partly to ensure Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds is nominated again the delegates to the state convention. It is also partly to rebuild the state party that is floundering with raising money heading into a crucial election year.
There was evidence of Branstad support almost everywhere in the state. They had signs, t-shirts, stickers and surrogates speaking on behalf of the gubernatorial campaign. A caucusgoer in West Des Moines told TheIowaRepublican.com that out of the 200 attendees at that location, more than 70 percent of them wore Branstad t-shirts and/or buttons. Governor Branstad spoke at to a crowd of more than 200 caucusgoers in Ankeny.
Polk County GOP Chairman Will Rogers noticed an uptick in attendees at many of the caucus locations compared to 2010.
“We’ve looked through the caucus packets and it looked like turnout was pretty good,” Rogers said. “I didn’t see a whole lot of the agenda-seeking people out there tonight. I got the impression that people felt pretty good and were excited going into this election year. I think the cold weather kept some people home, but looking at the group of people that attended, there were a lot of younger folks, and that’s a good sign.”
Additionally, with crowded fields in the U.S. Senate and Third Congressional District races, candidates and campaigns sought to woo activists and show the strength of their candidacy. To that end, some succeeded. Others did not.
The Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs senate campaigns appeared to have the strongest statewide outreach. They had surrogates speaking on their behalf at caucus locations around Iowa. The Sam Clovis campaign also organized a fair amount of representation. There was very statewide little presence from the Matt Whitaker campaign.
Sioux County was a bright spot for the Clovis campaign. The deeply Republican, northwest Iowa county is close to Sam Clovis’ Plymouth County home and that advantage shone through in a straw poll, as the former radio host garnered 80 percent of the vote. Mark Jacobs finished a distant second, at 14 percent. No one else picked up more than two percent.
Sioux County GOP Chairman Mark Lundberg usually tries to recruit a prominent speaker for caucus night, but was unable to this time. That issue, bad weather and a high school basketball game contributed to the smaller-than-usual assembly.
“We had light turnout, with approximately 130 in attendance,” said Sioux County GOP Chairman Mark Lundberg. “Most of the delegates were longtime folks, with a few new names.”
Linn County was the political hotspot of the state. Speakers there included U.S. Senate candidates Sam Clovis, Joni Ernst, Mark Jacobs, Scott Schaben and Matt Whitaker, First Congressional District candidates Rod Blum, Walt Rogers and Steve Rathje, Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen, former and perhaps future Secretary of State Paul Pate, and Fox News reporter “Campaign” Carl Cameron.
On the other side of the state, the leaders of the Pottawattamie County GOP reported good numbers and a positive atmosphere at their locations.
“About 60 percent less than a presidential caucus, but good to see turnout of new folks that are Republican and that are interested in getting involved,” said Pottawattamie County Co-Chair Naomi Leinen. “Overall, it was a great night for Governor Branstad and Matt Schultz had a good showing as well.”
‘They went very smooth. No muss, no fuss,” added Pott. GOP Chair Jeff Jorgensen. “A little better than expected turnout. Our largest caucus location had about 200 attendees. I heard the Pott. County Democrats had 65 total attendees countywide.”
As for the Third Congressional District race, candidates focused largely on Polk County’s biggest locations, trying to hit as many of those as possible. Robert Cramer, who announced a congressional bid last week, is a close ally of both Governor Branstad and conservative firebrand Bob Vander Plaats. Cramer told caucusgoers in Johnston his ability to build coalitions would serve him well in Washington, D.C.
“You’ve got to have principles. You’ve got to be persuasive. So, I’d like to, even within our own party, build a coalition of people who believe in these principles and will go fight for them. And then when we go to fight, sticking together. We saw in Washington this last year if Republicans would have stuck together, we could have won more battles,” Cramer said.
State Senator Brad Zaun told Johnston caucusgoers that he would officially announce another run for Congress next Tuesday. He was unsuccessful in a congressional bid in 2010, but vows this time things will be much different.
“It’s going to be a different campaign for me,” Zaun said. “First of all I made a lot of mistakes. Hopefully I learned from those mistakes and I’m not planning on duplicating those mistakes. Second of all, this was a left-leaning district. Now it’s a right-leaning district.”
For the most part, the senate and congressional candidates did a solid job distributing their ballot petitions to the various caucus locations. The Draft Ben Carson for President movement successfully blanketed the caucus locations across the state with their petitions.
Platform planks were also discussed at many of the caucus locations and submitted to the county committees for approval. Education issues, particularly Common Core, were among the most discussed topics, as well as abortion and same sex marriage.
As for the tug-of-war for control of the party, reports from delegates out of places such at Webster County say out of the 100 attendees at that caucus, the “liberty” crowd was nowhere to be found.
The fight is far from over, but the general consensus is that although the Ron Paul wing of the Iowa GOP still secured a fair amount of county delegate seats, they were greatly outnumbered by the other factions of the party and will not be able to dominate the district and state conventions the way they did in 2012.
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