DES MOINES — Many of Iowa's top Republicans are slamming a decision by the Iowa Republican Party to delay the 2014 convention, with the governor and political candidates arguing that pushing back the gathering could jeopardize the party's chances in next year's U.S. Senate race.
One top GOP fundraiser said the conflict reveals an ongoing rift among Iowa Republicans. The official party apparatus is run by followers of libertarian Ron Paul, who have clashed with Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on how to manage state and party affairs.
“It's not a good indication of the health of the party,” said Doug Gross, a Republican fundraiser and Branstad adviser, adding that the situation might galvanize Republicans at odds with Party Chairman A.J. Spiker. “I'm confident that a lot of Republicans are being energized by this.”
The party's State Central Committee voted a week ago to move the convention from June 14 to July 12. Spiker argued that the party needs the extra time so the election results from the June 3 primary can be properly certified.
“It wasn't debated very long. There wasn't much dissent,” Spiker said of the vote.
But critics said moving the meeting could hurt the Republican Senate candidate if there isn't a definitive winner in the GOP primary, because the ultimate nominee would lose precious campaign time. That could benefit U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrat who is running unopposed in his party.
Asked about conflict among Republicans, Spiker said there have always been “multiple groups” within the party.
Already Republicans have been hampered in the Senate race because most of the state's best known conservatives declined to run. Six lesser-known candidates have declared bids for the seat, and more could enter.
If no one gets 35 percent of the vote in the primary election, the GOP nominee will be selected at the convention. Five of the declared candidates have signed a letter to Spiker asking him to reconsider the convention date.
“Essentially gifting Braley an additional 30 days to campaign in a vacuum — while reducing our nominee's time to raise funds and campaign as the general election candidate by an entire month — only serves to strengthen Braley's viability,” states the letter, signed by State Sen. Joni Ernst, Sioux City talk show host Sam Clovis, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, former car salesman Scott Schaben, and David Young, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Branstad recently called the decision a “real mistake.”
Spiker said he isn't a fan of the delay either, but said that under state law, the party couldn't nominate a candidate until the secretary of state certifies the primary election results, which happens after a 27-day waiting period.
Chance McElhaney, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the office had reviewed the state code and found nothing to prevent the party from holding the convention before the certification of the results is complete. “Our office would not reject a nominee selected prior to the canvas,” McElhaney said, “because the code gives us no reason to reject it.”
McElhaney said the Republican Party did not consult the Secretary of State's Office prior to the vote, but has been in touch since then.
Spiker acknowledged that there was precedent for holding the convention earlier. In 2002, U.S. Rep. Steve King became the GOP nominee for his congressional district through a convention process after coming in first in the primary with 31 percent of the vote. That convention was held before the 27-day canvas period had elapsed.
For now, it doesn't appear that the matter is closed. Spiker said talks within the party and with other officials continue and that adjustments could be made.
“I don't think dates are ever absolute. It's certainly something the committee is talking about,” he said. “At the end of the day, the State Central Committee has to make the decision.”
Central Committee member Jamie Johnson, a pastor from Stratford, said he was out of town when the vote happened, and he disagreed with the decision. He also said this puts the party in a bad light nationally.
“I'm calling for an immediate reversal and apology from the chairman,” he said. “These kinds of embarrassing decisions from the Republican Party of Iowa's leadership undercut Iowa's credibility as a first-in-the-nation caucus state.”
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