CEDAR RAPIDS — Add Sen. Chuck Grassley’s voice to the opposition of an effort to replace the Electoral College with a plan to elect presidents by a national popular vote.
The Electoral College “has served us well,” Grassley said Thursday on WMT Radio 600, and the change would allow presidential candidates to ignore small-population states like Iowa.
Under the Electoral College system, the candidate who wins a majority of votes in a particular state receives all of that state’s electoral votes, which are equal to the number of members it has in Congress. Opponents don’t like it because the system makes it possible to win the popular vote nationally, but lose the election in the Electoral College.
However, Grassley said the framers of the Constitution “wanted every state to have a voice” in electing the president. If the Electoral College would be replaced with a national popular vote, states like Iowa would receive little attention from presidential candidates, the Iowa Republican warned.
“Do we want Iowa to get the attention of the candidates?” Grassley said. “If we do a national popular vote, the 12 to 13, some say 19, largest states are going to get all of the attention” because they have enough population to determine the outcome of the election.
“We want a national president, not a regional president, a president who has to go to rural America,” Grassley said.
Grassley joins Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee that voted earlier this week to oppose the national popular election effort.
A national popular vote would shift influence toward major metropolitan areas and require candidates to raise more money for television advertising, Branstad said. If adopted, 31 smaller states, including Iowa, would lose under the proposal.
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“The national popular vote initiative will do nothing but shift candidates’ focus from battleground states like Iowa to mega-population centers,” the governor said. “The national popular vote will do nothing but allow candidates to look past smaller populated states and focus instead on cities with major media outlets.”
However, Patrick Rosenstiel, a spokesman for the National Popular Vote Initiative, rejected the idea that a national popular vote would hurt small states. He said under the current system, candidates focus primarily on states with a lot of Electoral College votes, such as California.
“I actually dispute the governor’s claim that this would rob small states of their influence,” Rosenstiel said. “He’s defending a system that makes smaller states irrelevant.”
His group has been running print and television ads encouraging Iowans to ask the Republican presidential hopefuls about replacing the Electoral College.
The proposal needs to be taken seriously because popular vote advocates are spending big money to promote it — including print and television ads in Iowa, Branstad said.
“They are spending all kinds of money on TV right now making a direct appeal to people on this with a lot of misleading ads,” he said.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said that in conversations colleagues across the country he’s heard the initiative is “not only running TV ads and newspaper ads in places like Iowa, they are hiring lobbyists in statehouses.”
The National Popular Vote law has been approved in eight states and the District of Columbia. Those states hold 132 electoral votes — 49 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
The Iowa Legislature has, so far, rejected the idea of becoming part of the national popular vote plan.