Iowa Republican Party chairman Jeff Kaufmann and three key party staff members were closely watching the mechanics of Thursday night’s debate that featured 10 of the party’s presidential candidates.
“We were actually scoping out the entire debate in terms of the processes and what needs to be done and the amount of volunteers to be ready for our own debate,” Kaufmann told Radio Iowa this afternoon.
The Republican Party of Iowa will co-host a candidate debate in January with FOX News. Kaufmann was in Cleveland on Thursday for the first debate featuring the party’s 2016 prospects, but he gave his ticket into the arena where the debate was held to a staffer who kept an eye on activity inside. Kaufmann was in a nearby hotel, watching the debate on TV with a group that included an official with the Republican National Committee who’s been organizing the presidential debates.
“I didn’t want to give up this opportunity to hear kind of the experts on all of this as it (unfolded),” Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann’s key “take away” from the experience in Cleveland: do not “skimp” on the preparations for January’s debate.
“That was a lesson very, very well learned,” Kaufmann told Radio Iowa. “And it was repeated multiple times.”
Kaufmann said the party will have to recruit an army of well-trained volunteers to help manage the crowd that will be in the venue for January’s debate. An incident inside the arena in Cleveland drove that message home.
“There was some confusion on ticketing,” Kaufmann said. “You want to get a crowd upset and…let Person A be ahead of Person B and, oh my goodness, it can be a national crisis because there are oftentimes egos involved.”
Kaufmann said luckily, the volunteers in Ohio “put that fire out.” While some might consider that kind of thing “trivial,” Kaufmann said it’s important to ensure the key party activists who get to attend the January debate have a positive experience. FOX News has not yet announced where that debate will be held and Kaufmann says it will be the cable network, not the party, that makes the final decision. Kaufmann expects there will be two debates in Iowa in January, one for the top-polling presidential candidates, and another for the rest — just like Thursday’s events in Cleveland.
Kaufmann spent the week in Cleveland, attending Republican National Committee events. Kaufmann, who teaches history at Muscatine Community College, also visited President James Garfield gravesite while he was there. Kaufmann is driving back to Iowa this weekend, but plans to stop in Fremont, Ohio on the way to visit The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center. Hayes was the country’s 19th president. Garfield was the 20th president and his casket is on display in a memorial crypt at LakeView Cemetery in Cleveland.