Iowa Republicans determined to keep caucuses “first in the nation”


Photo: Yue Wu/Iowa State Daily

Rick Perry, Republican presidential candidate, talks to the Iowans after the speech during the Polk County Picnic. The Polk County Picnic is held in Jalapeno Pete’s at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Aug. 27, 2011. Photo: Yue Wu/Iowa State Daily

Jessica Opoien

Iowa Republicans are not about to

relinquish the state’s “first in the nation” status, despite

decisions from states such as <a href=

“” target=

“_blank”>Colorado and <a href=


target=”_blank”>Florida to bump up the dates on which their

primaries and caucuses will be held.

“Iowa will be first,” said Iowa GOP

Chairman Matt Strawn in an email. “The only open question is the

date on which we hold our ‘First in the Nation’


<a href=


target=”_blank”>According to CNN, Florida House Speaker Dean

Cannon said that a state commission exploring potential primary

dates will likely choose Jan. 31, 2011, as the date for the state’s

primary. Holding a primary on this date would violate rules agreed

upon by both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic

National Committee, which say the only states that can hold a

primary or caucus before March 6 are the “carve-out” states: Iowa,

New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Arizona has also decided

to <a href=""

target=”_blank”>defy these rules, having scheduled its primary

for Feb. 28, 2011.

“I’m not sure what we can impose to

make these states bend and knock off this nonsense,” said Steve

Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa who

also serves on the state party’s executive council. “We spent over

a year putting this process in place basically to see these states

thumb their nose at the RNC.”

Scheffler, who was appointed to the

RNC Rules Committee in 2008 and is president of the Iowa Faith and

Freedom Coalition, was quick to point out that the states flouting

RNC rules are mostly influenced by Republican governors and

legislators, not committee members. 

Although the Republican National

Committee has sanctions in place to prevent states from breaking

the rules, Scheffler said he does not think they serve as a

deterrent. ISU professor of political science Steffen Schmidt


“The problem is, the rule is never

enforced really well,” Schmidt said. “Usually, the party wimps out

and reaches some sort of compromise. They’re not scared of actually

having that happen. That’s why they probably think they can go

ahead and do this thing early and not suffer too much.”

Under RNC rules, states that do not

follow the scheduling guidelines could lose half their delegates —

the representatives who choose the party’s nominee — to the

Republican National Convention. Scheffler said the scheduling rules

were put in place to lengthen the nominating process, make sure

candidates were vetted well and make sure states had a lot of


“It is not useful for Florida to try

to shake up the rules,” Schmidt said, “because both parties have

agreed at a national level that Iowa should be first in the nation.

As states try to break out of the scheduled sequence of events, it

creates chaos.”

Cory Adams, chairman of the Story

County Republican Party, agreed that it is important for Iowa to

remain the first step in the nomination process. He said all the

candidates he has met during this election cycle have been

surprised by how seriously Iowans take the state’s role.

“You need a state — when you’re

acting as the potential springboard for the presidency, those early

states really matter — so you really need a population that takes

this event seriously and does their due diligence and their

homework. Iowans have shown themselves to be up to that task,”

Adams said, adding that if Iowa were not first in the nation, its

caucuses would likely become a “fly-over event.”

<a href=


target=”_blank”>According to USA Today, Florida does not want

to jump ahead of the “carve-out” states; instead, it wants to be

the fifth state to vet the candidates. By pushing its primary date

forward, the four other states are required to do the same. Schmidt

said the earlier these primaries and caucuses are held, and the

more compressed they become, the more unrealistic it is for

candidates to campaign under the schedule.

Candidates are not the only ones who

might struggle with the shuffling of dates. Adams said that the

general timeline for primaries and caucuses is set at the national

level, and the state party selects its specific date. From there,

it’s up to county parties to secure locations and coordinate the

caucuses. Normally, the county organizers’ biggest challenge is to

find locations with adequate parking and space for


Bumping up the caucus date, Adams

said, could affect the availability of some of the locations that

have traditionally been used for caucusing. Churches have often

been used as caucus locations, but if the date is moved to

December, holiday activities could present a scheduling


Scheffler said regardless of what

other states do, Iowa will continue to go first and make a strong

impact: “Whatever it takes.”

“Ironically, in attempting to assert

increased relevance in the process, Florida’s move only elevates

the importance of Iowa and the other early states,” Strawn said. “A

compressed caucus and primary calendar makes doing well in the four

kickoff states a necessity for a candidate to secure the Republican