JOHNSTON — If Chuck Grassley runs for an eighth term in the U.S. Senate, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party says he will be “smiling.”
If Grassley, who would be 89 at the start of another six-year term, decides against running for re-election in 2022, Jeff Kaufmann said he would expect a wide-open Republican primary race for the seat.
Kaufmann, speaking during the Friday taping of “Iowa Press,” said he has no insight into whether Grassley will run for another term. Grassley has been non-committal, telling reporters to ask him again later this year.
If Grassley runs again, Kaufmann expects him to be successful.
“I will tell you this, that if he does run, I’m going to be smiling,” Kaufmann said. “But I don’t know. If Chuck Grassley does not run, then obviously my goal slides to a fair and neutral primary to see who is our candidate and then getting that candidate to victory.”
When there was an open-seat U.S. Senate race in 2014, the Democratic field cleared for former U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley. The Republican side featured a competitive, five-candidate primary from which Joni Ernst, a state lawmaker, emerged. She defeated Braley in the general election by 8 percentage points.
Kaufmann said if Grassley does not run in 2022, he expects a competitive primary similar to the one in 2014, if not even more populated.
“I would assume that it will include several people, and we have a large bench,” Kaufmann said of Iowa Republicans. “We’ve got a (state) Capitol full of candidates, and we have a lot of successful businesspeople. So I think it will be bigger.”
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As to the future of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, Kaufmann said he will work, as always, with the Democratic Party’s state chairman to maintain Iowa’s enviable position, which is once again under fire after a technological malfunction prevented the Democrats from reporting timely results in the 2020 caucuses.
Historically, some criticize Iowa as a leadoff state in the presidential nominating process because the state’s demographics don’t reflect the nation. One proposal would have all four early-voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — hold their caucuses or primaries on the same day.
Kaufmann did not express support for that proposal, which he said defeats the spirit of Iowa’s leadoff role, where candidates who are not necessarily well-funded can campaign and catch voters’ attention.
“I think it defeats the purpose,” he said. “The purpose of starting with Iowa is so that a Rick Santorum or a Barack Obama can actually go out there and actually campaign face-to-face.
“If we load up four (states), then we’re back to starting (with) the equivalent of starting in a state like, maybe not like California, but in a state that is much larger.”
“Iowa Press” airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday on Iowa PBS and at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on PBS World. It also can be viewed at IowaPBS.org/iowapress.
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