- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2013

DES MOINES, Iowa — The same rift between insurgent Republicans and old-line party establishment figures that is rattling Washington is also playing out in states such as Iowa, where open warfare has broken out between veteran GOP operatives and the state party chairman, an ally of former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

Those veterans want to oust A.J. Spiker, who headed Mr. Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in Iowa, insisting he isn’t providing the leadership the state party needs as it gears up for congressional elections in November and for its role in 2016, when it once again will be front and center for the nation’s first presidential nominating contest.

Mr. Spiker said his critics have been trying to undermine him since he was elected to the post in 2012, encouraging donors to stay on the sidelines until he leaves.

“Nationwide, there is a fight within the party really over the direction of the party,” Mr. Spiker told The Washington Times. “I was the first Ron Paul supporter to ever get elected state party chairman, and it just so happens to be in the first-in-the-nation presidential state. So there is some big, powerful people who don’t like that. What we post on Facebook could impact their bank accounts.”

In Washington, the battle exploded onto the front pages in late September and October, when Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, led an ill-fated campaign to tie continued government funding to demands that President Obama’s signature health care reform law be repealed. A government shutdown ensued and left congressional Republicans embroiled in bitter recriminations.

Mr. Cruz’s opponents agreed about repealing Obamacare but said the freshman senator failed to develop a legislative strategy after rallying grass-roots conservatives.

The battle continued into December’s budget fight, with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, breaking publicly with outside conservative activist groups that opposed the bipartisan compromise deal.

In Iowa, establishment Republicans are making no secret of their unhappiness with the head of the state party.

Dave Kochel, who has worked as a Republican adviser to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said Mr. Spiker is trying to cover up his incompetence by peddling a false storyline.

“The people at the headquarters, the Ron Paul faction, they want to say it is Branstad and his moderate establishment donor types who want to drive the grass roots, the conservatives out of the party — but it’s absolutely not,” Mr. Kochel said.

Supporters of Mr. Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania are calling for Mr. Spiker to go, he said. “There is a professional side to party mechanics that this group doesn’t understand and can’t institute. They focus on everything accept winning elections.”


The frustration dates back to last year when Mr. Spiker and his supporters outmaneuvered their rivals at the state party convention, handing Mr. Paul 23 of the state’s 28 delegates to the national convention — months after Mr. Paul finished third behind Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney in the presidential caucuses.

“That was probably the defining moment of the libertarian folks who run the state party,” said Will Rogers, head of the Polk County GOP, which has passed a resolution calling for Mr. Spiker to step down. “They had basically snubbed the intentions of the caucus-goers in Iowa by choosing Ron Paul.”

Mr. Rogers added, “It went downhill ever since.”

Mr. Spiker also was criticized for trying to move the date of the 2014 state convention — a move that Republicans feared would hurt the GOP Senate nominee and give the leaders of the state party a chance to tilt the election toward their favorite candidate.

Mr. Spiker has been criticized for being more interested in sparring with fellow Republicans than attacking Democrats, and too focused on pushing pet causes of the libertarian movement such as opposing a county bond issue, calling on Republicans to oppose a gas tax increase and issuing a warning about police checkpoints.

“I have been around that state party headquarters for literally 30 years,” Mr. Kochel said. “It has never been in worse shape and the reason is that it is in the worst shape is that they can’t really raise money and they don’t really have a mission that is designed around winning campaigns and elections.”

Mr. Spiker shrugs off the criticism.

“You’ve got an older authoritarian wing that believes that you ought to always just submit to government, and you’ve got a young wing that believes you’ve got civil liberties, you’ve got rights and you’ve got a right to exercise them,” he said.

He also does not apologize for coming out against GOP-backed bond issues and is dumbfounded that he is being criticized for calling on Republicans to oppose a gas tax increase.

“We were bucking the system to a degree, but right within the platform of our party is [a provision that] we oppose gas taxes,” he said. “Why in the hell would you raise them then? That is a good way to lose elections. So having a party that stands for things isn’t always easy.”

Iowa as microcosm

Drew Ivers, a Spiker supporter and another member of Mr. Paul’s 2012 campaign, said the GOP infighting in Iowa is a microcosm of what is playing out across the nation.

“There is a discontent with status-quo Republicanism,” Mr. Ivers said. “The role that I have tried to play for the 40 years I have been involved in the party is trying to get the Republican Party back to its traditional position of small government and get Republicans to do what they say they are going to do.”

Mr. Branstad said he is focused on making the party more welcoming, helping Iowa’s economy grow and getting the state’s finances in order.

“I have always encouraged more people to get involved in the Republican Party and to participate,” he said. “What we are in the process of doing is strengthening, revitalizing this party and bringing more people in. We don’t want to chase anybody out. We just want to be welcoming.”

Brian Kennedy, an adviser to Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign, said the internal battle in Iowa is different from the national fight because it is a struggle between the establishment and Ron Paul supporters.

“Had Ron Paul forces taken over the state party and put in a chairman who was prepared to do the job and was doing the job the right way and working collaboratively across the party and [focused] on winning campaigns, I don’t think we would much care if that chairman supported Ron Paul or Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney,” he said.

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