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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