Exclusive – Iowa GOP Chairman: Road Back to Power for Republicans Runs Through Hawkeye State

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel speaks to reporters as Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, left, looks on before the Republican Party of Iowa's annual Reagan Dinner, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann predicts Republican success in the midterm elections will hinge largely on the Hawkeye State, a closely watched battleground with three tight congressional races and a Senate race that is up in the air until Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announces his reelection plans.

During an interview on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Saturday, host Matthew Boyle asked Kaufmann if “the road to the majority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate runs right through the great state of Iowa.”

“Absolutely,” Kaufmann replied. “And we are ready to accept the challenge.”

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Iowa has one solid red congressional district and three toss-up districts. Of those three that are toss-ups, Reps. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA) flipped two to GOP control in tight races last year while Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) kept her seat in Democrat hands after just barely edging out her Republican opponent by one point.

“We have every intention, every intention, of getting all four of those,” Kaufmann said. “I talked to Kevin McCarthy two weeks ago. The House of Representatives is counting on Iowa to step up.”

To retake control of the House, Republicans need to hold everything they have currently and flip five or more seats into GOP hands. That means holding seats like Hinson’s and Miller-Meeks’s districts, then flipping seats like Axne’s district. Axne is a top target for Republicans nationally, and if the GOP is able to hold those two Iowa gains from the 2020 election and flip the other one in the upcoming midterm elections, the battle for the majority in the House will become easier for Republicans and hinge on a handful of seats in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, New Jersey, and some western states such as Nevada, Arizona, Washington state, and Oregon — among other places.

On Hinson’s ability to retain her seat in the First District, Kaufmann said, “Ashley Hinson, very early on, it’s very obvious that she is moving up. I mean, she is a strong, strong conservative voice. She serves those folks in northeast Iowa very, very well, and she has already garnered an extremely important committee assignment.”

In the Second District, Miller-Meeks won in the closest race in the country in 2020, securing a six-vote win that national Democrats sought to overturn in Congress using the House Administration Committee for months before ultimately dropping their case. Democrats only dropped the effort to overturn the election there when it became clear that they did not have the votes in the chamber to succeed in installing Democrat Rita Hart into the seat using arcane congressional procedures to undo the certified election win for Miller-Meeks.

“Miller-Meeks, they tried to take that from her,” Kaufmann said. “Nancy Pelosi [tried to] take it from her until she couldn’t even hold her own Democrats, and so Miller-Meeks won by six votes. She won, and she’s going to enlarge that even more. Miller-Meeks had a difficult district. I don’t think a lot of people thought that we could take that Second District. That was her fourth run at it. She is not going to let that go after running essentially four times to get that.”

As far as Axne’s prospects in the Third District, Kaufmann said her passivity while in office has created “big, big problems” for her, contending the Iowa Democrat generally “absolutely will not take a stand on anything.”

“She thinks that by a few talking points she can throw out there that somehow, some way the people of Iowa, people of that Third District are going to forgive,” he said. “Every single county that Cindy Axne represents, if you can call it representing, there is a Republican legislator that has won the votes in those counties. She has got some big problems. … We’re going for urban Des Moines, and we’re going to knuckle down and continue to reinforce our base in those rural areas. Cindy Axne’s got big, big problems. Mark my words.”

While the road to a House majority is much easier for Republicans in the midterms — again, they need only to flip five net seats from Democrat control — taking back the Senate is a much more difficult proposition.

To win back the Senate majority, the GOP needs to only flip one net seat from Democrat control, but a number of Republican senators in battleground states are retiring, forcing Republicans to defend a growing number of those states with few pickup opportunities nationwide.

For instance, Republicans are defending seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Missouri — all with retiring GOP incumbents and open, competitive primaries in each state — while also defending Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) faces reelection.

In Iowa, Grassley, 87, has yet to make his intentions about whether he will run again clear. If Grassley runs, the longtime senator is very likely to win reelection but will still likely face a well-funded Democrat challenge. If he steps aside, the GOP has a deep bench in the state waiting — with several rising stars in the GOP-heavy state legislature, in the congressional delegation, and elsewhere in the state — to try to pick up the mantle, but the race could become competitive as the Democrats will likely field a well-financed candidate.

So, retaking the Senate majority requires defending the growing number of battleground states and flipping at least one seat — maybe more, depending on how the party does elsewhere playing defense. The best possible pickup opportunities for Republicans on the Senate map include Georgia and Arizona, where Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) face reelection next year. Republicans are also eyeing the seats of Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) as possible pickup opportunities in New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, and Illinois.

In Iowa, what Grassley does weighs heavily on this picture. Kaufmann asserted that “if Chuck Grassley does run, it won’t even be a race,” adding “that guy’s ready to roll.”

Kaufmann’s interview came during a busy weekend of hosting potential 2024 GOP presidential prospects, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R).

The state holds the first caucuses in the country for presidential races and is foundational for candidates as they map out their possible paths to winning their party’s nomination. More potential Republican candidates, Kaufmann said, are expected in the coming weeks and months.

The critical Iowa midterms will give the potential presidential contenders an opportunity to create a presence in the state while campaigning on behalf of those running in 2022.

Write to Ashley Oliver at aoliver@breitbart.com.

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