Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn came to Washington today with a message for states with designs on Iowa's coveted status as host of the first contest in the presidential campaign: Get in line.
That Strawn delivered the comment from a conference room at the Republican National Committee's headquarters suggested that he had the might of the national party behind him. It also underscored the importance that the RNC is placing on trying to stretch out an increasingly front-loaded calendar of presidential contests, which in 2008 brought the primary campaign to an end in March, just two months after the first votes were cast. The effort by many states to maximize their influence over the nomination process by jumping the gun on their neighbors' primary and caucus dates to hold their own resulted in many other states--and their voters--being left out of the process.
This time around, the RNC is trying to reserve dates in February 2012 for four states: Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. All four scheduled their votes in January in 2008 to protect their frontline status. This time, the RNC is pushing the rest of the states to vote no earlier than March or April. Scofflaws risk losing delegates, which potentially means less influence over the nomination and fewer convention seats for the grassroots activists who make up the backbone of presidential campaigns.
“I remain cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get states into compliance,’’ Strawn said. He added, “I would think those sanctions would be even more acute if the convention happened to be in your home state and key activists weren’t able to have access to the floor.’’
Strawn was referring to Florida, the host of the 2012 GOP convention and the nation’s largest battleground state, which is among a number of states threatening to crash the national party’s timetable.
In what could become a war of words between the two states, freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida recently told The Palm Beach Post: “If the RNC thinks the way to win Florida--which they cannot win the presidency without--is to sanction the most important swing state in the country, then good luck to them.”
Potential GOP presidential contenders have been slower to launch 2012 bids in contrast to 2008, when all of the major Republicans were already campaigning heavily by this time. Strawn said one reason is that possible repeat caucus participants such as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have already established national profiles.
They “don’t have to start from scratch,’’ he said. “There are Iowans who have written their name on a sheet of paper on a cold January night.’’
Strawn dismissed suggestions that some of the more socially moderate contenders would write Iowa off. Asked if a well-known potential candidate such as Sarah Palin could afford to swoop into the race after the Iowa straw poll in August, Strawn called that a “risky strategy.’’
“The one thing Iowans don’t want to be,’’ he said, “is taken for granted.’’