Evangelical Christians in Iowa, dominant in the state’s Republican Party, have denied Sen. Charles E. Grassley his request for a place on the state’s delegation to this summer’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
Mr. Grassley may attend the party’s Sept. 1-4 nominating convention in St. Paul, but not as a voting delegate.
With a majority of nine out of 17 members on the Iowa Republican central committee, religious conservatives made Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler chairman of Iowa’s 40-member delegation in a vote immediately after their state party convention July 12.
“The Republican Party of Iowa is moving significantly to the right on social issues,” the just-ousted Iowa Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts told The Washington Times. “It hurts John McCain’s chances to win this state.”
Other party officials said money for the party is drying up because of past mismanagement and current religious dominance, which has turned traditional Republican politics upside down.
“It’s pretty well controlled now by the Christian Alliance,” Mr. Roberts said. “If somebody came to me and wanted to be a delegate to the national party convention, I used to say, ‘Talk to the state party chairman or to Grassley.’ Now it’s very simple. You go to the Christian Alliance, and they determine who is a delegate, and you have to do exactly as they say.”
In recent weeks, religious activists replaced Mr. Roberts as the national Republican committeeman and also replaced the national committeewoman with pro-life advocates who also oppose gay marriage.
Barring Mr. Grassley from voting-delegate status is seen as a blow to him as the senior Republican official in the state, who normally might have led the convention’s delegation.
Mr. Grassley had said “yes” when asked by Iowa Republican Chairman Stewart Iverson if he wanted to be a voting delegate to the national convention, Mr. Iverson said
Political observers in Iowa saw the move against Mr. Grassley as retribution for his having tangled with evangelical pastors in his state. He initiated a Senate Finance Committee investigation of six televangelists for conspicuous personal spending.
“That had nothing to with it at all,” Mr. Schefflersaid Sunday. He said Mr. Grassley and the other members of the Iowa congressional delegation already had national convention floor privileges - meaning they could walk the floor but not vote.
He was asked if Mr. Grassley had been chosen as a delegate, would he also have been expected to be chairman of the Iowa delegation.
“I suppose it’s true. He would have been chairman,” Mr. Scheffler said. “But the most important point is that we wanted grass-roots activists to attend to help get John McCain and Iowa House candidates elected.”
Mr. Grassley’s Washington office did not respond to several requests for comment.
Robert Novak on Saturday noted yesterday that the “74-year old Grassley once was considered the leader of the Iowa Republican Party’s conservative wing, but has been at odds with the increasingly influential evangelical elements in the party.”
Party officials in the state say the takeover is alienating major Republican donors and driving them out of the party.
The takeover by members and leaders of the Iowa Christian Alliance, successor to the Iowa Christian Coalition, was extensive.
Gopal Krishna, aligned with the Christian Alliance, was expelled from the Iowa party for “troublemaking” in 2000, but worked his way back onto the party’s central committee and replaced Reid Houser as state party treasurer.
Mr. Scheffler is the new Iowa member of the Republican National Committee, having defeated Mr. Roberts, the longtime national committeeman who, though he attended Christian Alliance meetings, was considered too moderate by some religious activists.
In another exercise of strength of the Christian right, Iowa Right to Life Executive Director Kim Lehman defeated veteran conservative state Rep. Sandy Greiner for a slot on the committee.