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Iowa GOP threatens to move caucuses to Halloween to mess with Democrats

National Democrats want to drop Iowa from their early state lineup but Republicans aren't about to go along with the changes for their primaries.
Attendees for Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont and 2020 presidential candidate, hold up their Presidential Preference Cards during the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus at the Southridge Mall in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. Iowa Democrats prepared to pack firehouses, schools and community centers across the state Monday night to give the first read in the race to challenge President Donald Trump in November.
Attendees for Senator Bernie Sanders hold up their Presidential Preference Cards in Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 2020.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Iowa’s Republican Party chair wants to make it as difficult as possible for national Democrats to dethrone his state from its early perch in the presidential primary season, even if it means moving the state's caucuses up by several months.

Iowa GOP Chair Jeff Kaufmann, who also heads the national GOP committee that oversees its presidential schedule, wants both parties in his state to hold their caucuses on the same day, even though there's no rule that mandates they do so. 

National Democrats are pursuing an overhaul to their primary schedule, including dropping Iowa amid complaints that it isn’t racially or ethnically diverse and has grown so red it isn’t worth the early investment. 

But if a different state were to move into Iowa’s slot for Democrats, Kaufmann said he will make sure he keeps jumping so Iowa’s Republican caucus goes first. 

“This is the Democrats that are pulling this crap and I’m telling you right now, they don’t want to play chicken with me. This is pure, progressive, power politics,” Kaufmann told NBC News Friday. Kaufmann’s position could complicate the overall schedule even more since New Hampshire has a law on the books that it has to hold its primary just after Iowa’s caucuses.

“If, for some reason, California and New York dictate policy for the entire DNC and they give the middle finger to Iowa and the Midwest — if that happens, we will be first,” Kaufmann said. “I’ll move this thing to Halloween if that’s what it takes.”

The caucuses are typically not scheduled until January or early February of the same year as the presidential race.

Kaufmann also laid into President Biden’s agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, a onetime presidential contender and former Iowa governor, saying he and other Democratic leaders weren’t doing enough to preserve Iowa’s first place in line. Vilsack did not respond to a request for comment. Kaufmann argued it was detrimental to the entire system if Democrats pulled out of Iowa as a first-in-the-nation caucus since the two parties typically agree to hold their caucuses on the same day. 

Iowa’s Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn noted that even if Democrats put the state later, Republicans would still be campaigning in Iowa early and testing their messages to rural voters, putting Democrats at a disadvantage with that electorate if they abandon the smaller state.  

“We can’t allow our presidential campaigns to be solely decided by campaigns that can only afford TV ads or by corporate special interest groups who have the funds to pay for their candidate to get exposure in larger media markets,” Wilburn said. “We believe we need to have small rural states like Iowa, in the mix.”

The discussion comes after Democrats scrapped the old calendar and opened up the process so all states could apply to be early contenders. That old system began with the Iowa caucuses, then went to the New Hampshire primary, Nevada and South Carolina.  

These early positions are prized since they create an economic bump in states that are flooded with advertising dollars and on-the-ground organizations.  

Dozens of states have now applied to take one of the early state positions. They include all of the states that have previously gone early, while Nevada is attempting to replace New Hampshire as the first-in-the-nation primary. Both Minnesota and Michigan are making plays to move into a Midwestern slot should Iowa be dropped from the early rotation.

The Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee is scheduled to meet in early December in Washington to discuss the presidential primary schedule.