Harkin’s retirement created a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans in Iowa, but a cast of lesser-known GOP candidates could force the selection process to an unpredictable nominating convention.
Last cycle, supporters of former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, took over much of the state GOP’s leadership that makes these decisions. The current chairman, co-chairman and finance chairman of the state party are supporters.
As a result, there’s some concern the rules could be changed to favor a libertarian candidate in the convention process. Operatives caution that, because of this, Republicans understand they must turn out supporters in the low-turnout delegate selection process in a midterm cycle.
In 2010, about 1 out of every 3 people who attended a precinct caucus had the opportunity to be a delegate at the state convention, according to Matt Strawn, the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party at the time. The result is a massive organizational effort by candidates up and down the ballot.
“The off-year caucus provides a great opportunity for Senate campaigns to make sure their supporters are filing delegate slots because participation is historically low,” Strawn added.
While the Republicans battle through the summer, Braley can continue to raise funds for the fall of 2014. He’s running in an uncontested Democratic primary and is widely considered the front-runner with $2 million in the bank.
Democrats argue that Republican fears of an unelectable convention nominee signal the GOP’s attempt to blame the process, instead of faulty candidate recruitment, for a potential loss.
“This is an early attempt to place blame at the feet of the convention attendees a year from now, rather than the fact that they couldn’t get anybody good to run,” said Travis Lowe, a Democratic consultant and Iowa native. “They’re setting the table very early for, ‘It’s not our fault.’”
To be sure, some of these candidates may drop out before the filing deadline in March. Fewer candidates means a great likelihood that Republicans avoid a convention.
At least that’s what some GOP operatives hope will happen to help the party’s chances of picking up this seat.
“Democrats would like to assume that a convention is a disaster for us,” said David Kochel, an Iowa Republican consultant. “It could be, but it also may not be.”