A lot is at stake on caucus night. Branstad's campaign has long been organizing, handing out presidential style "pledge cards" at events last fall. It's an unusual effort for an off-year, but it's been a couple unusual years for the Republican Party of Iowa, and the roots go back to caucus night 2012.
Paul's supporters figured out that the presidential "straw poll" was meaningless except to the media and focused its efforts on winning central committee and delegate seats. Those are chosen after the presidential vote so simply staying late after most people went home was enough to win. That put Spiker in the party chair, gave Paul most of the national delegates despite a third place finish in the "vote," and dug a deep rift between the party structure and the donor/elected official structure.
That fight gets re-fought on January 21, but this time the element of surprise is lost. There are also electoral implications, as Spiker explained in his Friday night email.
Don't forget, delegates to the district and state convention, (who started out from their precinct caucuses), are the same people who nominated Steve King for Congress in 2002 and Kim Reynolds for Lt. Governor in 2010.Team Branstad-Reynolds, for their part, hit mailboxes Friday with a comic book-styled postcard (via Dom McDowell) with Branstad as "The Hero!" and Reynolds as "The Heroine!" "The Villain!" is, ostensibly, "big-spending big-debt Democrats..." but we'll be down the hall at our own caucuses. Maybe Branstad has another villain in mind?
In 2014 these delegates will be nominating the Lt. Governor once again. And should a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, or other statewide offices not receive at least 35%, these delegates will be nominating the Republican candidate at convention as well.
The emphasis on lieutenant governor is... interesting. From 1990, when governor and lieutenant governor were first a ticket in Iowa, through 2006, state conventions just rubber-stamped running mates. But in 2010, primary loser Bob Vander Plaats tried to force himself onto the ticket and challenged Reynolds, Branstad's hand-picked choice, at the convention. And Bob made a race of it at the convention, an unheard of rebuke to a just-nominated candidate and four-term governor.
(Democrats also had a brief feint at a lieutenant governor challenge in 2010, as CCI's Barb Kalbach argued that incumbent Patty Judge was "too corporate," but the Democratic convention/leadership shut that down cold.)
So my read on this, and I'm not privy to GOP insider thinking, is that the various anti-Branstad forces, both the "Big Liberty" Paul-Spiker wing and the Vander Plaats social conservatives, either want to force Reynolds off the ticket or, more likely, take her and Branstad down several notches.
Terry Branstad has always been about Doing Business. He wants to cut corporate taxes, he wants to ger revenge on AFSCME if he ever gets a chance, and when the legislature's per diems run out he'll cut the deal on the most favorable terms he can get. He'd sign social conservative legislation, sure, but it's not at the top of his priority lists. The minimalist government Spiker group and the Fags and Fetuses Vander Plaats crowds are about purism and principle, not Business As Usual.
Reynolds, for whatever reason, is clearly Branstad's heir apparent. All of the re-election campaign's branding is "Branstad-Reynolds." In both official and campaign appearances, the two are almost inseparable. There's even widespread speculation that Branstad plans to either step down mid-term or, maybe even, abandon re-election at the last minute and try to hand Reynolds and uncontested nomination.
Just in case, Republicans: check your caucus packets for any mystery nomination papers. Remember, it's the Spiker-led party structure that's putting those together. And Democrats, don't forget we got caucuses too.
UPDATE: A public response from Spiker:
@johndeeth @IowasTeam @KimReynoldsIA Looks like Deeth is sporting a tin foil beret these days!Wait: so I just got called a tin foil hatter by AJ Spiker?!? A couple hours after he retweets "I don't believe anything the government tells me"?
— AJ Spiker (@AJSpiker) January 5, 2014