WASHINGTON – Buried deep in a new Republican National Committee report is a proposal that could ignite not only intraparty warfare, but stoke a feud between two states that vie over starring roles in nominating presidents: New Hampshire and Iowa.
On page 75 of the 100-page report, the RNC stays that it is “discouraging” caucuses, like the one Iowa uses to select its presidential nominees. The caucuses are attended by the party faithful, who show up for several hours every four winters to try and convince their neighbors to vote for their preferred candidate.
But the party is hoping instead to convince states to open its nominating contests to more voters.
There’s just one problem: If Iowa switches to a primary, it would disrupt a sort of gentlemen’s agreement with New Hampshire that has allowed the two states to operate in relative harmony.
The Granite State lays claim to the “first in the nation primary,” and has adopted as state law a rule that no other state can hold a primary before New Hampshire. Because Iowa holds a caucus, the two states have been able to maintain their dual roles of importance.
If Iowa were to switch to a primary, it would upend that system.
“That would an irreconcilable conflict,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “If they were to switch to a primary and schedule it before New Hampshire, that would be a big problem.”
There are no indications that Iowa will switch from a caucus to a primary. But underlying the debate is a broader schism in the GOP between more traditional parts of the party and the insurgent Tea Party wing.
There has been growing concern that the Iowa contest – including the Iowa Straw Poll, which takes place in the summer before the caucus – rewards more socially conservative candidates who later have trouble appealing to a broader general election electorate.
Henry Barbour, who was a co-chairman of the committee that produced the RNC report, said the party would not dictate to states what types of elections they have to hold to nominate their preferred candidate.
“But we believe, and I certainly believe, that primaries are better than a caucus or a state convention for nominating a candidate,” he said. “We get better results, they’re more participatory. The objective is winning general elections, and the broader electorate does a better job at picking general election winners than any group of activists or insiders or Washington third-party gurus.”