Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann says concerns remain about Iowa Democrats’ caucus plan

By: - September 8, 2023 5:24 pm

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann spoke about the 2024 Iowa caucuses on Iowa Press Sept. 8, 2023. (Screenshot via Iowa Press)

Republican Party of Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann said the GOP caucus date of Jan. 15, 2024 is “etched in stone,” but concerns remained about whether Iowa Democrats’ new caucus process could affect the state’s first-in-the-nation position.

Kaufmann and Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member and Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition president, spoke to reporters about the caucuses at an “Iowa Press” recording Friday at Iowa PBS.

The Democratic National Committee voted in February to change its Iowa’s presidential nominating calendar, having South Carolina kick off the cycle and removing Iowa as an early state. Republicans have opted to keep their traditional order starting with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada as early states.

In response to national criticisms of caucuses’ accessibility, Iowa Democrats proposed a new delegate selection plan. Participants will select their choice of candidate using a presidential preference card that can be requested and returned by mail.

Republicans say this proposal is changing Iowa’s caucuses into a primary. New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan has said Iowa Democrats’ plan would trigger a New Hampshire state law mandating holding the first primary in the nation, the Des Moines Register reported in April, for being too similar to a primary contest.

Kaufmann said though he has reported the party’s plan to go first, he was still aware that “anything can happen” before the Oct. 1 deadline for states to submit their delegation plans to the RNC. However, he also said he spoke with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, about the nominating calendar when he came to Iowa for a party event.

“I told him, I said, ‘I’ve got some inherent problems with some of the messages I’m hearing out of New Hampshire, that somehow if Iowa Democrats here turn something into a primary, that somehow we’re held responsible for that,'” Kaufmann said. “I said the Iowa Democrats, if they turn that into a primary, we should not — Iowa Republicans should not be held responsible for that, and now there is a new law that defines what a caucus is. It was very, very clear to me that he agreed with me.”

He said it was also clear Sununu was going to speak with Scanlan, who Kaufmann said “may be a little over-rambunctious in my opinion.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a measure passed during the 2023 legislative session that requires state parties to hold in-person caucuses, a requirement GOP lawmakers said was necessary to make sure Democrats’ plans did not impact Iowa Republican caucuses. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart said in June that the purpose of the law was to “interfere in our caucus process” and said the party remained committed to the new process.

Previously, Hart said the state Democratic Party intended to hold its caucuses the same day as Republicans, but she declined to commit to the Jan. 15, 2024 caucus date when speaking at the Iowa State Fair in August. Iowa Democrats have not given up on holding the first contest — Hart said their plan allows Iowa the flexibility to respond to “calendar chaos” as New Hampshire and Georgia face difficulties complying with the DNC proposal.

Kaufmann said he has given advice to Democrats on how best to preserve the first-in-the-nation caucuses, but said he felt like he was “whistling in the wind.”

In addition to concerns about inclusivity, Iowa Democrats were under national scrutiny because of reporting delays during the 2020 caucuses due to issues with a reporting app, developed by Shadow Inc. for the party. Kaufmann said Iowa Republicans are speaking with “various entities” about its plans for electronically reporting and sharing caucus results, and plans to share details in a future press conference.

“Whatever we do, I can promise you this: It will be transparent, and media and the rest of Iowans are going to be able to see the results very, very quickly, almost in real time,” he said. “And then, of course, we have to have a situation where everything can be audited very quickly. We do not want delays, and we want to be as quick and accurate as possible.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.