RNC chair: Republicans value Iowa caucuses as Democrats are 'absolutely walking away' from the state

Republican National Committee chairperson Ronna McDaniel speaks during the inaugural Ashley's BBQ Bash fundraiser, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Central City, Iowa.
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Republican National Committee chairperson Ronna McDaniel said Democrats' decision to delay its plans to restructure the presidential nominating calendar until after the midterm elections show they're "absolutely walking away from Iowa" as the first-in-the-nation state for 2024.

But Republicans value keeping the state first, she said.

"The Democrats are walking away from Iowa. It is a very clear signal," she told reporters Wednesday at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. "They do not want to come here anymore. And Republicans have re-upped our commitment to your great state."

McDaniel was the featured speaker at the Iowa GOP's annual Lincoln Dinner, an event the state party touted this year as "a celebration of Iowa's first-in-the-nation status." The event featured speeches from U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra, 3rd District candidate Zach Nunn and other state party and legislative leaders.

Postponed: Democrats delay decision on replacing Iowa as first to weigh in on presidential contests

Leaders took the stage one after another, many of them praising state and national Republicans for their work in keeping Iowa at the front of the line in the nominating process. Democrats have discussed a number of potential changes to the nominating calendar, including replacing Iowa with a different Midwest state like Michigan or Minnesota, but the Democratic National Committee has deferred its plans to make a decision until after the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, Republicans have already decided to keep Iowa at the front of the line in 2024. Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann led the national committee tasked with recommending the dates and the order for Republicans. McDaniel said Wednesday that naming Kaufmann to that role was an indication she wasn't keen on changing Republicans' calendar.

"I knew the Democrats were going to be changing their map. They had such a hard time in 2020," she told reporters. "I figured that they'd be changing, and I wanted a very strong signal from the RNC."

During her remarks at the dinner, she praised Iowa's process, saying it's a state where "retail politics matter" and that Iowans are engaged in paying attention to candidates, even ones with less money.

Other Republicans also applauded the decision. Feenstra, who is running for a second term in Iowa's 4th Congressional District, praised the work of state party leaders in pushing for Iowa to stay first but said Democrats are "not getting it done."

"They're going to lose being first in the nation," he said. "That's shameful."

Grassley: 'the credibility of the FBI is at stake'

During their speeches, many speakers touted recent Republican victories in Iowa while taking aim at the Biden administration. Their main targets of the night included a sweeping piece of legislation on health care, climate and taxes that U.S. Senate Democrats passed on Sunday, as well as criticized the FBI's Monday search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. The Justice Department has not commented on the search.

Grassley, who is running for reelection against Democrat Mike Franken this fall, said he believes there's political bias within the FBI and that he wants to see justification for the search.

"We’re at a point where the culture and the credibility of the FBI is at stake," he said. "We’re at a point where you ought to have confidence in the number one law enforcement agency in America, and I don’t think most of you do."

Reynolds also railed against the search.

"This administration has unleashed the (Department of Justice), the FBI, on parents, on taxpayers, on gun owners and a former president of the United States of America," she said. "We are at an all time low folks. Elections matter."

Like Grassley, McDaniel told reporters she wants federal authorities to share more information on the search of Trump's property. The search "doesn't help heal the division that we're seeing across the nation," she said.

"I asked him the other day, I'm like, 'Was it the Declaration of Independence? What did you take?'" she said. "But I think this is really deeply troubling, and it's creating distrust in our institutions."

Republicans currently control both chambers of Iowa's Legislature, as well as the governor's office, both U.S. Senate seats and three of the four U.S. House districts.

Ahead of Wednesday night's event, Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa released a statement saying Republicans like McDaniel "are pushing an ultra-MAGA agenda that’s not only extreme, but also wildly dangerous."

"They’re doubling down on their efforts to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest and throw doctors in jail while calling to gut Social Security and Medicare," Moussa said. "Iowans simply cannot afford Republican control this November.”

Iowa Democratic Party chair Ross Wilburn said in a statement about the event that Republicans in Iowa "will always put politics before people."

“Ronna McDaniel’s presence in Iowa tonight confirms what we already knew," he said. "The Iowa Republican Party is full of right-wing extremists who want to outlaw abortion, cut Social Security and Medicare, defund public education and attack our LGBTQIA+ friends and neighbors."

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at irichardson@registermedia.com, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: RNC chair Ronna McDaniel talks Iowa caucuses, Trump at Lincoln Dinner