Iowa has a new GOP influencer as 2024 contenders flock to state
This article originally ran in the Washington Examiner on June 29. You can read it there here.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Rep. Randy Feenstra is emerging as a key caucus power broker, embracing the role of Republican ambassador to northwest Iowa’s heavily conservative 4th Congressional District for prospective 2024 presidential contenders.
The freshman congressman shepherded former ambassador Nikki Haley around the rural, small-town 4th District Saturday and is hosting former Vice President Mike Pence at the “Feenstra Family Picnic” in mid-July. His team has reached out to at least five additional potential 2024 candidates, holding discussions about visits to northwest Iowa, including Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who was scheduled to be in Sioux Center for a state party reception on Tuesday.
For several years, an endorsement from Feenstra’s predecessor, Steve King, was coveted by GOP White House candidates ahead of the Iowa caucuses, traditionally the first contest on the Republican Party’s presidential nominating calendar. Feenstra ousted King, who had become politically radioactive, in a primary last year. But he is working hard to both maintain the 4th District’s influence in presidential politics and preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in the Republican primary.
“By inviting Republican leaders to visit our state, it will start important conversations about the challenges and opportunities facing Iowa’s farmers, families, and main streets,” Feenstra said through a spokesman. “These conversations will help shape future policies, open up opportunities, and ultimately ensure the people of Iowa continue our important role in nominating our next president.”
"I am honored to help Randy kick off the inaugural Feenstra Family Picnic in July," Pence said.
The full list of Republicans Feenstra has talked to about visiting his corner of this Midwest battleground reads like a who’s who of 2024 hopefuls.
In addition to Cotton, Haley, and Pence, it includes: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2016, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. The congressman has also invited to visit the 4th District the caucus runner-up from 2016: former President Donald Trump, who has not ruled out a third White House bid. The relationships Feenstra, 52, is developing are symbiotic.
Haley headlined a lucrative fundraiser for Feenstra’s 2022 reelection bid during her multistop swing through Iowa in late June, and Scott did the same for the congressman in Washington during the first quarter of this year. In Congress less than six months, Feenstra moved swiftly to establish himself as a force in presidential politics. Iowa GOP officials, worried Iowa might lose its position as the state that votes first in primaries, are delighted.
“I applaud Congressman Feenstra’s efforts to both promote the Iowa caucus and win back the House majority,” state Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said. “There is no better way to promote our state, our values and our caucus than by hosting Republican leaders and showcasing all our great state has to offer.”
Iowa’s historic role as the state that votes first in the presidential primaries of both major parties has come under increasing threat.
In the Democratic Party, activists have questioned holding the first nominating contest in a predominantly white and rural state, given that its base is dominated by ethnically diverse voters, many of whom live in urban communities. In Nevada, Democrats are attempting to claim first-in-the-nation status, approving a state law that intends to bump both Iowa and New Hampshire from their leadoff caucus and primary spots, respectively.
In the Republican Party, the Iowa caucus as the first contest appears more secure. Trump left office just a few months ago, and the state is already seeing a parade of GOP 2024 hopefuls travel there to lend a hand to Gov. Kim Reynolds and down-ballot candidates. Meanwhile, the national Republican Party is giving no indication it wants to demote Iowa. Iowa Republicans are not taking anything for granted.
Haley, in late June, headlined the Iowa Republican Party Lincoln Dinner, a major fundraising gala. During the question-and-answer session with Haley and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad after her keynote speech, Kaufmann asked the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations if she was committed to ensuring the special status of the caucuses. It was the first question Kaufmann asked of Haley as he opened the panel.
“Madam Ambassador, before we get into a conversation about some serious issues, I've got to ask you this,” Kaufmann said. “I’m just wondering what Nikki Haley thinks of Iowa being first in the nation and our whole carve-out system.”
Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, did not hesitate with her answer. “I’m fine with Iowa being first in the nation as long as you keep South Carolina first in the South primary. You mess with us, we’ll mess with you,” she said.
The Republican Main Street Partnership was an early supporter of Rep. Feenstra, helping him defeat longtime incumbent Steve King in the Republican primary.