2016 watch: Iowa GOP chairman to step down, heads to Rand Paul PAC

Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 3:34pm

(CNN) -- In a move that is generating even more 2016 presidential buzz, the chairman of Iowa's Republican Party is leaving his position to work for Rand PAC, a group that supports Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

A.J. Spiker, who's been chairman since February 2012, sent a letter to Iowa GOP committee members Friday, saying that he was stepping down and that elections for a new chairman would take place on March 29, according to a statement released Saturday by the state party.

Spiker said he would stay in his role until a new chairman is elected.

The party said he'll leave the group "with more than $300,000 cash on hand, zero debt and with a voter registration advantage for Republicans" over Democrats in Iowa.

Spiker will become an adviser for Rand PAC, a staff member with the political group confirmed. Paul is seriously considering a presidential bid.

The Des Moines Register in Iowa first reported Spiker's next job.

Iowa, the first state to hold nominating contests in presidential election years, is closely watched by political observers, and its party organization can play a crucial role in presidential campaigns.

Spiker was the Iowa chairman of Ron Paul's presidential campaign in 2012. Rick Santorum bested Mitt Romney by just 34 votes in the state's caucuses. Each candidate captured 25% of the vote, with Ron Paul coming in not far behind at 21%.

Spiker and other members of what's described as the "liberty" faction of the state GOP took over the party two years ago, according to the Des Moines Register.

The chairman's announcement Saturday came the same day as mainstream Republicans attempted to take back control of the Iowa GOP with a strong showing at county party conventions, the Register reported.

The state traditionally holds the Ames straw poll the summer before the primary and caucus calendar begins. While it's a highly anticipated event, critics, including GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, have been arguing in the past year that it's a tradition that should be cast aside, saying it's a poor indicator of the actual caucus results.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, for example, won the straw poll in 2011 but came in a disappointing sixth place in the caucuses months later. She then dropped out of the race.

As chairman, Spiker has forcefully defended the straw poll, saying it's "possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize" for the Iowa caucuses, and the state's Republican committee has favored keeping the poll.


CNN's Kevin Bohn and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.


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