Iowa and New Hampshire are the opening battlegrounds of presidential nominating contests. This year, they have something else in common: dysfunction surrounding the state-level Republican Party.
— In Iowa, the state party is led by Ron Paul acolytes, who have clashed with the more-pragmatic wing of the party, headed by Gov. Terry Branstad. Two county GOP chairs have called for party chair A.J. Spiker‘s resignation, as has longtime Branstad ally David Kochel. Branstad himself has swatted at the state GOP repeatedly, and some Republicans are planning an effort to install new party leaders next year. In New Hampshire, GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn is already losing her executive director, who started six months ago.
— At the same time, Republicans have struggled to land quality candidates in winnable races in both states. In Iowa, where President Obama‘s approval rating is weak, the GOP has a crowded but unremarkable group of candidates. There’s a growing likelihood the nominee will be determined by a convention of activists. In New Hampshire, no Republican has stepped forward to challenge Gov. Maggie Hassan, while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen‘s little-known challenger doesn’t seem ready for primetime. A long line of qualified Republican candidates have passed on both Granite State races.
— Problems within a state party can cause major headaches during presidential races, as Republicans learned in Nevada in 2012. Lingering problems within these state parties means the traditional powerbrokers will have less influence over the nominating fights, boosting the odds for a grassroots-powered underdog, like Rand Paul.
Over the next few years, presidential contenders will find reasons to visit Iowa and New Hampshire. At the same time, their aides will keep a wary eye on the drama within the state parties.
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Just after President Obama finished his address to the DNC, Hillary Clinton walked out on stage to join him, so the better could share a few embraces, wave to the crowd—and let the cameras capture all the unity for posterity.
In a speech that began a bit like a State of the Union address, President Obama said the "country is stronger and more prosperous than it was" when he took office eight years ago. He then talked of battling Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2008, and discovering her "unbelievable work ethic," before saying that no one—"not me, not Bill"—has ever been more qualified to be president. When his first mention of Donald Trump drew boos, he quickly admonished the crowd: "Don't boo. Vote." He then added that Trump is "not really a plans guy. Not really a facts guy, either."
Tim Kaine introduced himself to the nation tonight, devoting roughly the first half of his speech to his own story (peppered with a little of his fluent Spanish) before pivoting to Hillary Clinton—and her opponent. "Hillary Clinton has a passion for children and families," he said. "Donald Trump has a passion, too: himself." His most personal line came after noting that his son Nat just deployed with his Marine battalion. "I trust Hillary Clinton with our son's life," he said.
Michael Bloomberg said he wasn't appearing to endorse any party or agenda. He was merely there to support Hillary Clinton. "I don't believe that either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, before enumerating how he disagreed with both the GOP and his audience in Philadelphia. "Too many Republicans wrongly blame immigrants for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on climate change and gun violence," he said. "Meanwhile, many Democrats wrongly blame the private sector for our problems, and they stand in the way of action on education reform and deficit reduction." Calling Donald Trump a "dangerous demagogue," he said, "I'm a New Yorker, and a know a con when I see one."
Vice President Biden tonight called President Obama "one of the finest presidents we have ever had" before launching into a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton. "Everybody knows she's smart. Everybody knows she's tough. But I know what she's passionate about," he said. "There's only one person in this race who will help you. ... It's not just who she is; it's her life story." But he paused to train some fire on her opponent "That's not Donald Trump's story," he said. "His cynicism is unbounded. ... No major party nominee in the history of this country has ever known less."