How Ron Paul's People Took Over A State

In Iowa, the Paul contingent made the leap into establishment politics. A model for the Republican Party — or a cautionary tale?

State parties all over the country have been wracked this year by trench warfare between longtime insiders and insurgent Ron Paul forces. The conflict has led to litigation, physical fights, and hard feelings all around between Republican Party veterans and the libertarians who are trying to get as many delegates as they can to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. next week.

But one state has avoided the conflict. In Iowa, where the state party has undergone a true transformation. The traditional Christian-right centers of power cooperated with the libertarians when shutting them down didn't work, to the point where the national committee members wouldn't sign a document pledging their support for Mitt Romney.

The alliance led to a unique situation where the party's chairman, A.J. Spiker, comes directly from Paul's camp, and nearly all of the state's delegates will be assigned to Paul. It's all being capped off with Iowa Republican Party-sponsored breakfasts at the convention that will feature two guests: Ron and Rand Paul. And it's a sign that the Paul movement, which has had trouble reconciling itself with the Republican Party's evangelical base, has the capacity to cooperate with them.

"When A.J. first came in as chairman there was some concern on the part of some parts of the Iowa GOP on whether or not A.J. was going to be a party chairman of all the party or primarily the Ron Paul supporters," said a Republican strategist close to the Paul campaign. "A.J.’s done a really good job of trying to heal some of the divisions that existed in the Iowa GOP."

"My goal as Chairman has always been to grow the Republican Party as much as possible," Spiker told BuzzFeed in an email. "Congressman Paul as well as a number of other candidates did very well in the Iowa Caucuses by attracting new people into the Party."

Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said that "the reception has been unique in each individual state party" but that "Iowa has indeed been very special. Chairman A.J. Spiker was our former Iowa Vice-Chairman and has been doing a wonderful job bringing Iowans together behind limited government principles."

According to people familiar with the situation, the two pillars of Iowa Republican politics — Iowa Right-to-Life and the Iowa Christian Alliance (now the Iowa chapter of Faith and Freedom Coalition) — knew they couldn't hold back the Paul people, so they cooperated instead.

"When they realized what was happening they basically cut a deal with the Ron Paul people," said a Republican operative familiar with the events. "There’s not an establishment to that party in the same way. The power lies in those interest groups."

The outcome: out of Iowa's 28 delegates, the majority went to Paul (all are unbound). And in April, Iowa's three members of the RNC — Spiker and committee members Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman — were denied admission into a reception with Romney in Arizona after refusing to sign the campaign's delegate pledge.

The stakes at the convention are low: Paul won't be on the ballot, and his delegates' presence — which organizers feel may be noisy — is ultimately symbolic. But the place of Paul's cadres in state parties remains an open question, and Iowa offers an unusually functional case study.

Similar takeovers were mounted in other states, like Maine and Nevada, but the state parties there handled them differently; "Let’s face it, Nevada politics has been very divided," said the strategist close to the Paul campaign. In Massachusetts, the insurgency was totally shut down when the state party forced Paul delegates to sign affidavits promising they would vote for Romney at the convention, which decreased their numbers considerably.

Though not every takeover was as effective as Iowa's, Matt Gagnon, a Maine Republican operative, said that all the Paul insurgencies followed roughly the same script.

"They showed up, they organized themselves into slates of teams while the old guard was disparate, they studied and understood the rules they were working within, so they could take advantage of the system to maximize their influence, and they were more committed," Gagnon said.

UPDATE: Iowa Right-to-Life executive director Jenifer Bowen told BuzzFeed her organization had nothing to do with the Ron Paul people, saying in an email that "Iowa Right to Life was not directly or indirectly involved in the cooperation of a 'Ron Paul takeover.'"

Skip to footer