Government

State GOP chief confident of Iowa caucuses first-in-the-nation status - for now

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann speaks during a press conference at the Linn County GOP headquarters in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. Kaufmann criticized Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbel, for his record as a business owner and talked about the billboards up across the state. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann speaks during a press conference at the Linn County GOP headquarters in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. Kaufmann criticized Democratic candidate for governor, Fred Hubbel, for his record as a business owner and talked about the billboards up across the state. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — State Republican Chairman Jeff Kaufmann isn’t worried about California beginning absentee voting in its 2020 primary election the same day as Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses.

Not yet, at least.

Kaufman isn’t expecting a serious challenge to incumbent President Donald Trump at the Republican caucuses scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020. With between 30 and 40 Democrats indicating they may seek their party’s nomination, the big action likely will be on that side of the political divide.

Regardless, Kaufmann believes Democratic candidates will want to campaign in Iowa ahead of the caucuses rather than spend all their time in California, Texas and other Super Tuesday primary states.

California absentee voting may begin on Feb. 3, but won’t be opened or counted until March 3.

Kaufman is paying attention, however, because he has concerns with states that have tried to jump ahead of Iowa and the other states the Democratic and Republican parties have carved out to go first in the nominating process.

New Hampshire’s primary is scheduled eight days after the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 11, the Nevada Democratic caucus is planned Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary is set for Feb. 29.

“We’ve had states that tried to jump ahead and I want to make very sure that this isn’t a foot in the door and in 2024 or 2028 we have problems in the Republican caucus,” Kaufmann said.

“Because of the huge penalties we have for any state that tries to jump ahead of the four carve-out states, I feel comfortable right now,” he added. “But I want to make sure they understand we’re going to push back any place where we think there is an erosion of the process starting in Iowa.”

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The argument for other states to go first — and the reason California moved its primary from June to March — is to have states that are more representative of the country as a whole to have more influence in the nominating process. Iowa and New Hampshire, for example, are too old and too white, critics say.

Those critics don’t understand the role Iowa and New Hampshire play, Kaufmann said.

“We have never pretend to pick the president. We start the process,” he said.

“I think it is so important that we start in smaller states where everybody has a chance regardless of financial means,” Kaufmann said. “I know he’s a Democrat and I’m not supposed to use him to buttress a Republican position, but we need to keep the ability of a Jimmy Carter-like phenomenon to always be a possibility.”

Carter, then a little-known Georgia governor, ran a low-budget, personal campaign in 1976 to get Iowans’ caucus support and went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

Kaufmann expects to meet with his colleagues from New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada at Republican National Committee meetings in New Mexico in January.

“The carve-out states have to have united front,” he said.

Although Trump finished second in the Iowa caucuses, he has been supportive of their first-in-the-nation position.

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

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