What’s Next for the Iowa GOP?
by Jen Green
The two-edged sword to leadership: when things go well, you get the credit. When things go wrong, you get the blame.
Republican Party of Iowa chairman Matt Strawn resigned his position this morning, just eleven days after the Iowa caucus vote and winner certification controversy. While it may not be a shock to most politically active Iowans due to the amount of scrutiny Strawn received for his leadership (or lack of, depending on who you ask) during that media circus, most Iowans realize his resignation leaves a void at a crucial time for the Iowa GOP.
If you look at the facts and when you talk with many in-the-know, Strawn did a good job for the party. When he took over in 2008, it was in complete disarray. He turned the fundraising numbers around and oversaw a GOP victory in the 2010 state elections when the Republicans regained control of the executive branch and the Iowa House. According to Wes Enos, who sits on the state central committee, Strawn did an “exceptional job, exemplary even, when you look at the party now compared to 2008.”
However, RPI’s chairman knows that arguably the most crucial part of his job is to maintain Iowa’s first in the nation caucus status and the integrity of the Iowa caucuses. This integral role proved to be Strawn’s downfall.
In Enos’s opinion, on caucus night, Strawn should have kept his powder dry and simply said to the press “here are the numbers as we have them until they’re certified” and instructed the rabid reporters to go write their story. Instead, he bowed to the pressure to declare a winner and proclaimed Mitt Romney the caucus winner by a mere eight votes. “In an unprecedented situation where your caucus comes down to less than 100 votes between the winner and second place, he should have simply reported the numbers,” says Enos. “I understand why he did it, and I’m not sure anyone else would have done it better than he did, but in the end, he bowed to media pressure.”
Instead, Iowa’s GOP had egg on their face when they had to admit two weeks later that, in fact, Rick Santorum was the winner of the caucuses . . . and even that announcement was bungled in the eyes of many.
The long and the short of it is that now, Iowa’s Republican Party is without a leader.
Names of potential candidates for Strawn replacements are starting to surface: former Iowa State representative Danny Carroll, Polk County Republican Party co-chair Dave Funk, deputy secretary of state and former third district congressional candidate Jim Gibbons, and former Iowa state representative Bill Schickel, currently serving as co-chair of RPI. When Strawn officially steps down on February 10th, Schickel will fill his role until an election.
This position will not be for the faint of heart. Besides the day to day job requirements, this chair will have to reside over the upcoming state convention, which could prove to be very interesting when delegates are chosen. As one little birdie said to me, “It’s a debris field right now. Any person stepping into it needs to be prepared.” Another birdie told me, “There’s no telling what could happen at our convention. Whoever the chair is, he’ll need a keen knowledge of the process and he’d better be a very strong leader.” All this and a lot of fundraising for a mere $20,000 a year plus expenses.
I talked with both Carroll and Funk before publishing this article. Funk was very quick to say that “Matt Strawn is a friend. I thought he and his administration did a great job, and I encouraged him to stay on. Now that he’s resigned, I think it’s essential for the next chairman to build on all the things he did right and fix the things that were done wrong.” Funk went on to say, “The next chair also needs to be someone who knows the job is big, long-term, and is not just looking for the next good deal.” Funk says he will be making an announcement regarding his interest in the position as early as tomorrow afternoon.
Danny Carroll said it was “an honor even to have his name thrown into the mix” and that he planned to go home tonight and “have a conversation with my wife. I am not dismissing the possibility out of hand but need some time to think about it.”
He may not have a long time to think. I spoke with another birdie who said the vote for the new chairman could come as soon as the scheduled February 11th meeting. It’s not likely, they say, but indeed possible. More plausible, is at the meeting on the 11th, they will set a date for the election. In the meantime, the candidates will have to garner the support of at least 9 of the 17 sitting members of the central committee. A couple of my birdies think the committee may choose the path of least resistance and just go with Bill Schickel and maintain the status quo. But, others say with the volatility of the 2012 process so far, it’s anyone’s guess.