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Republican Red Flags in Early States

ANKENY, IA - JANUARY 03: A sign is posted on the door of the Ankeny 9 Republican caucus on January 3, 2012 in Ankeny, Iowa. Iowans are preparing to caucus to vote for their favorite Republican candidate for president.
National Journal
Kevin Brennan Julie Sobel
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Kevin Brennan Julie Sobel
Oct. 9, 2013, 7:40 a.m.

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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