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Kaufmann, Upmeyer To Lead Republican Party Of Iowa

Linda Upmeyer
John Pemble
IPR file
Former Speaker of the Iowa House Linda Upmeyer has been elected co-chair of the Republican Party of Iowa, while Jeff Kaufmann has been reelected as chair.

The Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee has voted unanimously to reelect Chairman Jeff Kaufmann and elect former Speaker of the Iowa House Linda Upmeyer as the party’s co-chair. The votes follow the Iowa GOP’s sweeping victories at the ballot box last November, bolstered by support for President Donald Trump, but they come at a time when the national party is increasingly divided over the future role of Trump, after a mob of his extremist supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“This is kind of an emotional up and an emotional down when I talk about the election of 2020. Obviously, we do not have a Republican in the White House. Obviously, Republicans are not in charge of the United States Senate,” Kaufmann said on a call with reporters Saturday. “At the same time, here in Iowa I can’t think of a time when things have been stronger. I mean, we are at an absolute peak right now.”

RPI’s focus already turning to 2022

Following the vote on Saturday, Kaufmann will begin his fourth term at the helm of the RPI. Upmeyer will take the place of outgoing Co-chair Cody Hoefert, who decided to step down to spend more time with his family.

Upmeyer was the state’s first female speaker of the House and spent 18 years in the legislature, leaving her post as one of the state government’s most powerful women in 2019. Speaking to reporters, she said among her first priorities will be supporting county parties in their own local leadership transitions and focusing on recruiting the next class of Republican candidates.

“In the upcoming months, we will see people in these districts that are willing to raise their hand and say ‘I want to run for office’. And I for one want to be ready to help them get going on the right foot and…really, really be successful,” Upmeyer said.

Under Kaufmann’s leadership during the 2020 election, voters delivered a decisive Iowa victory to Trump while Republican candidates held and flipped key seats at the federal and state level, with notable wins for Sen. Joni Ernst and for newly-elected Congresswomen Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, respectively.

Republicans also retained control of the legislature, during a cycle when Democrats believed they were in striking distance of retaking the Iowa House. Instead they lost seats, with Republicans even ousting some Democratic incumbents in the Des Moines suburbs, thought to be increasingly Democratic-leaning.

Currently the Iowa House is at a 59 - 41 split and the Iowa Senate is divided 31 - 18. Kaufmann said he hopes to expand that margin during the 2022 elections, as well as reelect Gov. Kim Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“We’re looking forward to 2022,” Kaufmann said. “I’m not going to rest with three congresspeople that are GOP. I want…I want all four. I want all six of our federal officials to be members of the GOP. I want to cross 60 and I want to cross 34 in our legislature and obviously I want our governor reelected.”

Kaufmann also touted the party’s election of barrier-breaking candidates of color, who he said will help make the RPI’s work “more authentic," pointing to state lawmakers Mark Cisneros, the chamber’s first Latino member, Henry Stone, the second Asian member, and Eddie Andrews, who Kaufmann described as either the first or second Black Republican state lawmaker, pending a closer examination of historical records.

Resistance to the Iowa Caucus ‘can’t get any worse’

Beyond the 2022 election, Kaufmann said he’s laser-focused on maintaining Iowa’s position as the first in the nation caucus state and hopes to again work closely with officials in the Iowa Democratic Party to protect that status, pending the IDP's election of a new chair. He acknowledged that task may be even more difficult than past cycles, after the IDP’s 2020 results were delayed by issues with a largely-untested reporting app and complicated by irregularities in some precinct’s tallies.

Kaufmann said he was optimistic that the nomination of Jaime Harrison of South Carolina to lead the Democratic National Committee may bolster Iowa’s case as a “carve-out” state, along with New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

“I see a…DNC official from one of the carve-out states. I’m hopeful that that will be a positive,” Kaufmann said. “I think it can’t get any worse. And I actually am hopeful that it will get better.”

‘For the citizens to decide’ Trump’s role going forward

Kaufmann was clear that Trump’s position at the top of the ticket was “obviously helpful” for down ballot candidates in Iowa, though he acknowledged that was not the case in other states. In fact, after Trump’s decisive loss, Republicans have now failed to win the majority of votes in seven of the last eight presidential elections, while Democrats have won control of the U.S. House and Senate, though by incredibly narrow margins.

In the wake of the siege on the Capitol by a mob of pro-Trump extremists, which forced members of Congress into hiding for hours and resulted in the deaths of five people, Republican leaders in Iowa have repeatedly condemned the political violence, while stopping short of issuing that same censure to the president himself for his role in encouraging the crowd.

When asked by a reporter whether the RPI will remain “Trump’s Republican Party," Kaufmann, who has been one of the president’s most vocal and impassioned defenders in the state, deflected.

“This was never Trump’s Republican Party. This was Kim Reynold’s Republican Party,” Kaufmann said. “Does the president still have support? That’s going to be ultimately for the citizens to decide,” he said, adding “I think he still has a great deal of support in this state.”

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter