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House Campaign Strategists Scour Iowa Results for Turnout Clues

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican caucus turnout was highest Tuesday in Iowa's 3rd district, which should be good news for Rep. Tom Latham (above) in his bid against fellow Rep. Leonard Boswell.

Presidential candidates weren’t the only ones kicking off campaigns in Iowa Tuesday night.

While former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney battled for every last caucus vote, Iowa Republicans waged another type of campaign — a voter registration drive.

Hawkeye State Republicans continue to battle their 32,000 voter registration deficit — a waning gap compared to Democrat’s six-figure advantage after the 2008 elections.

Tuesday’s caucuses provided a unique opportunity for Republicans to register new voters to boost their prospects in at least two competitive House races this fall. What’s more, caucus turnout figures gave party operatives an early glimpse of which Republicans might show up at the polls in November.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) recalled that there were about 78 new Republican voters out of the 400 caucus participants at the Story County caucus he attended inside the 4th district. That’s good news for King, who faces the first competitive race of his Congressional career in November against Iowa’s former first lady and fundraising powerhouse, Christie Vilsack.

“If there are some kind of similar registrations like that across the state, then Republicans might have caught up last night,” King said in a Wednesday phone interview.

But Vilsack’s team argued many of those new voters are supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), and they probably don’t look fondly on King after he criticized his House colleague’s foreign policy last week.

“The only candidate who brought in new voters was Ron Paul, and the only county he won in the 4th [Congressional district] was Buena Vista,” Vilsack campaign manager Jessica Vanden Berg replied. “I don’t have the turnout numbers from the district ... but the truth is the statewide turnout numbers weren’t overwhelming enough to make the case that there were tons of new voters.”

Neither Republican nor Democratic officials — who also hosted perfunctory presidential caucuses — have released their new registration tallies from Tuesday evening. Iowans might not get their first glimpse at the registration scoreboard until early February, when the Secretary of State’s office will release its monthly voter data report.

But it’s hard to imagine Iowa Republicans erased their entire voter registration disadvantage Tuesday night. To accomplish this, 26 percent of the 122,255 people who turned out on caucus night would have to be new GOP voters. Although Iowa Republicans posted record turnout Tuesday night, only about 4,000 more GOP voters showed up to the caucuses than in 2008.

Even so, less than 24 hours after the caucuses finished, House campaign operatives started digging through the results for clues.

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