Iowans are cringing at a possible January 3 caucus date, more than a month earlier than planned.
The holiday hangover date puts turnout in doubt, enhances the chances of front-runners and undermines Iowa’s historic role in selecting a president, some say.
“I think it is really going to cut down on our participation big time. People will be out of town. I think it is going to hurt Iowa’s ability to have an early impact (on the GOP nominating process),” said Carmine Boal, a former Republican Iowa House representative from Ankeny.
Republican central committee members have reached consensus on the date, which although tentative will receive a formal vote about October 16, according to a report from The Des Moines Register.
“We had a real clear consensus last night that we want Jan. 3,” Drew Ivers, a member of the Iowa GOP central committee and state chairman for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, told the newspaper.
Party Chairman Matt Strawn plans to discuss the new date on Monday, Ivers told The Register. Strawn refused to confirm the Jan. 3 date in a report by Iowa Politics.
Iowa's Move Responds to Other States
The move is in response to Florida's decision to move its primary voting date to January 31 in violation of Republican party rules. That, in turn, prompted South Carolina to move its primary date earlier, to January 21, and Nevada to January 14, causing Iowa to look for an early-January caucus date.
“I think we are really getting precariously close to weakening our system. We’ve always prided ourselves on allowing someone with limit amount of dollars and name recognition to rise from anonymity here in Iowa,” said Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton and Speaker Pro Tempore of the Iowa House, noting the rise of Mike Huckabee and former President Jimmy Carter.
“When you compress the schedule you continue to favor the candidates who already have the dollars, and I don’t think that is the right way we want to go,” he said.
Early Iowa Caucus Helps the Rich and Hurts the Poor
Kaufmann said the early date will help Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, and hurt Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, who need more time.
Tim Hagle, an associate professor at University of Iowa, agreed.
"It helps the front-runners more than it helps the candidates who are trying to work their way up the ladder," Hagle said. “Even if a lower-tier candidate does well, they don't have time to get the funding bounce from that finish.”
Date Won't Deter Some
Charles Schneider, a Republican City Councilman in West Des Moines, said he thinks Jan. 3 is too early, but he doubts turnout will be affected.
“I think turnout will be strong – we might see it a little lighter, but I anticipate we'll still see a lot of people, especially now that the field has settled,” Schneider said. "I'll still go, and I still have plenty of time to evaluate who I'm going to support. Their positions are well known and vetted."
New Hampshire has promised to move its traditional first-in-the-nation primary date.
Schneider, Boal and Cory Adams, chairman of the Story County Republicans, said they will still attend, Boal reluctantly; Adams has to attend.
"Hopefully it doesn't go any earlier than that … it's still a month earlier than I would like but I will settle for it if I have to,” Adams said of the early January caucus date.
National Republicans have been pressuring New Hampshire's Secretary of State, Bill Gardner, to schedule his state's primary late enough to allow Iowa's caucus to take place in January. The Hill has reported that Gardner has no plans to make a decision before next week.
Acording to The Hill, New Hampshire's logical choices for a primary date are January 3 and January 7. If the state decides on January 3, count on December caucuses in Iowa.
Reporting from Jessica Miller (Ames Patch), Stephen Schmidt (Iowa City Patch), and Beth Dalbey (West Des Moines Patch).