Iowa Republicans are channeling Ronald Reagan in their response to Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Project, set up to derail "unelectable" candidates like GOP Rep. Steve King before they can win primaries and spoil the party's general election chances. Rove, they say, is not the solution to the problem; Rove is the problem.
“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem," Steven Law, the group's president, told the New York Times earlier this week. Law softened his stance on King in a subsequent interview with National Review, but Iowa Republicans are still crying foul. The problem, according to Iowa GOP Chair A.J. Spiker, isn't with his state's 4th District representative or a failed Missouri Senate candidate. "When people like Rove are out there talking about the Todd Akin problem, well there's a Karl Rove problem too," Spiker said in a phone interview.
Meddling in an Iowa election before a single GOP candidate has declared only exacerbated Rove's perceived problem, said one Republican operative after another. Strategist Bob Haus said, "The reaction has been predictably equal and opposite," firing up King's grassroots support.
King and Rep. Tom Latham are considered the frontrunners for the Republican nomination -- polls show King with an edge among primary voters but Latham more likely to fare well in a general election. Iowa Republican editor Craig Robinson said Latham could have made a strong case for the nomination using the electability argument, but Rove deprived him of that opportunity by forcing the issue in a "destructive" manner. "[Rove] took all the oxygen out of the room," Robinson said. "That's an argument that Latham should be making."
Political consultant and former state GOP Chair Steve Grubbs said Rove inadvertently provided an edge to King as he and Latham jockey behind the scenes for party support. "If he wanted to slow King down, the reverse has occurred. ... It certainly allows Steve King to get the upper hand with the grassroots conservatives," Grubbs said. "You've got a small group of donors, you've got a small group of activists. This provides King with a rallying cry."
Two elements strong within Iowa's GOP, the Christian Right and libertarians, "really don't like being told what to do," Haus said." Robinson agreed. "To have an outsider come in and say, 'I know what best for you' ... It's insulting," he said.
Even piling on legitimately flawed candidates like Akin, Spiker said, only gives Democrats ammunition to paint the GOP as out of touch. "When groups like that insert themselves, I think it ends up backfiring," he said.
Despite the momentum gained by King, Republicans say Latham is enough of a known commodity that voters won't associate him with Rove, even if he is viewed as more establishment-friendly. "Latham is defined pretty well among Republican primary voters in Iowa," Grubbs said.