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.
More Republican voters showed up in competitive 3rd district than in the more conservative 4th district, according to caucus turnout figures tabulated by Roll Call. Those numbers should help Rep. Tom Latham (R), who is running against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) in the competitive, Democratic-leaning 3rd district.
Turnout might have lagged in the 4th district because its population is more spread out than the 3rd, which means it’s more difficult for caucusgoers to reach their respective precincts. Nonetheless, about 36,700 Republican voters attended the caucuses in the 3rd district, while almost 31,100 attended the caucuses in the 4th district.
In the two Democratic-leaning House districts in eastern Iowa, just fewer than about 26,300 GOP voters attended caucuses in the redrawn 1st district, while almost 27,900 Republicans caucused in the 2nd district.
In wake of the results, both parties attempted to spin the caucus figures in their favor. Republicans pointed to their yet-to-be released voter registration drive success, while Democrats claimed GOP turnout faltered in key areas for House Republicans.
Republicans had a massive 111,000 voter registration disadvantage following the 2008 elections. But they’ve chipped away at that lead over the last few years, bringing more GOP voters onto the rolls than Democrats every month for the last couple of years.
“Much of that was due to the registration push by Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for the Iowa GOP. “Part of that was due to [President Barack] Obama’s unpopularity — since that time, one in 10 Iowa Democrats have left the party. Iowa Democrats are hemorrhaging voters, while the Iowa Republican Party is growing.”
House Democratic campaign aides said they’re aware of the changing dynamics in Iowa, including the new registration numbers.
Democrats also argued GOP caucus turnout was down in the 3rd and 4th districts compared with 2008. But that is a tricky comparison as the districts were redrawn significantly because Iowa lost one House seat following reapportionment.
“We always make sure that our campaigns run very aggressive ground games, which are especially important in Iowa,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said.