ELECTION 2020

Despite Trump loss, state victories have Iowa Republicans at 'peak,' Chairman Jeff Kaufmann says

Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann asks a question of Sen. Joni Ernst during a fundraiser hosted by the Iowa GOP at the Hug
Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann asks a question of Sen. Joni Ernst during a fundraiser hosted by the Iowa GOP at the Hughes Family Barn in southwest Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

It will be up to the rank-and-file to determine if Iowa Republicans are moving on from Donald Trump, GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said Saturday.

“You know, that’s going to be ultimately for the citizens to decide,” said Kaufmann, who was unanimously re-elected by the Republican Party of Iowa State Central Committee. “I believe with the length of the coattails that he added in the state and what I’m hearing from our phones and from emails and from texts — and I mean we are bombarded here and I mean literally bombarded — yes, I think he still has a great deal of support in this state.”

Kaufmann and former Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake, who was unanimously elected as the party’s co-chair, didn’t mention the president by name in their remarks. They were focused on the GOP’s wins in congressional and legislative races, and efforts to maintain Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus status in 2024.

“I can’t think of a time when things have been stronger. We are at an absolute peak right now,” Kaufmann said. “Here in Iowa in 2020 and 2016, we painted Iowa red. We delivered the state solidly and pretty overwhelmingly for the Republican nominee for president and the incumbent president” and had a successful 2020 caucus.

Republicans also maintained a 32-18 advantage in the Iowa Senate and “did something that I don’t think anybody expected” by increasing their House majority to 59-41. The GOP also re-elected U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, picked up House seats in the 1st and 2nd districts and held the 4th.

“We are not going to rest,” Kaufmann said. He wants to see 34 Iowa senators and 60 House members and carry all six federal seats in 2022.

That’s when Gov. Kim Reynolds will be up for re-election and the Senate seat held by Sen. Chuck Grassley will be on the ballot. Grassley has not said whether the will seek re-election. However, Kaufmann said that with the Senate tied, any race will get national attention — and money.

In response to questions, Kaufmann said the state party’s focus is on state races.

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“This was never Trump’s Republican Party,” Kaufmann said. “This was Kim Reynolds’ Republican Party. At the state level, if you have a governor, the governor of that party is the head of that party. That’s Kim Reynolds.”

At the same time, the chairman said, “I can’t think of anything more important — I literally mean anything — more important” than Iowa retaining its first-in-the-nation caucuses.

He doesn’t know what impact the selection of Jamie Harrison of South Carolina as Democratic National Committee chairman will have on Iowa’s leadoff position. Like Iowa, South Carolina is one of four carve-out states that begin the presidential nomination process. He’s building a coalition with Republicans from South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada.

After the Iowa Democratic Party was unable to report definitive results from their February 2020 caucuses, national party leaders called for changes — abandoning the caucus system or moving Iowa later in the nomination process.

If that happens, Kauffman said it will be harder for Iowa Republicans to maintain its first-in-the-nation status.

“It’s a moving target,” he said. Regardless of what Democrats do, “I would do everything humanly possible to preserve it in the Republican Party (but) it would be much, much more difficult to do it.”

Iowa Democrats are scheduled to elect a new party chair next weekend. Chairman Mark Smith, who stepped into the role after the 2020 caucuses, is not seeking re-election.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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