One Iowa GOP congressman weighs presidential endorsement as others stay neutral

Most of Iowa’s congressional delegation is staying out of the GOP presidential primary, but Rep. Randy Feenstra is interviewing candidates this weekend as he weighs an endorsement in the race. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and pastor Ryan Binkley will attend an event in Feenstra’s district on Saturday, where the congressman and his wife will be interviewing the candidates and their spouses. 

Feenstra noted they will be speaking to Haley and her children, since her husband is currently deployed with the South Carolina Army National Guard. The congressman also said former President Donald Trump was invited to this weekend’s event, but he declined to attend.

“For me it’s about who can lead a country, who has strong foreign policy,” Feenstra told NBC News in a brief interview off the House floor on Tuesday. He added that he is looking for a candidate who can “truly be effective.”

“We’re going to decide as a family what we want to do, if we want to endorse or not,” Feenstra said. “I take this very seriously. I’ve been an ambassador to everybody, taken them through my district. And the bottom line was, we just want to show everyone what Iowa has to offer. And we’ve done that.”

As Feenstra considers making an endorsement, Iowa’s other Republican lawmakers are staying out of the primary. GOP Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks both said Tuesday that they plan to stay neutral. GOP Rep. Zach Nunn is also not planning to endorse a candidate ahead of the caucuses, according to a spokesperson.

And while Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds backed DeSantis, GOP Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have not taken sides in the race. 

“I think it’s really important to continue to hear ideas and welcome everybody,” Hinson told NBC News at the Capitol on Tuesday. “And so I’ve been hosting events and appearing with candidates and doing that, and I plan to continue doing that through Jan. 15.”

Miller-Meeks also said in a brief interview off the House floor that any of the GOP contenders would make a better president than President Joe Biden. 

“My job is to make sure that Iowans are exposed to all of their candidates, get to ask them questions, get to vet them,” Miller-Meeks said, noting that she attends different candidates’ events in her district and they have attended hers as well. 

Feenstra had said over the summer that he did intend to back a candidate, potentially in “November, early part of December.” But he cautioned on Tuesday that he is still weighing whether to endorse a candidate at all.

“I take it very seriously,” he said, noting that roughly 40% of the state’s Republicans live in his northwestern district. 

Trump has dominated the GOP race in Iowa, leading his next-closest rival by nearly 30 percentage points in the most recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

That consistent lead is reflected in the race for endorsements. Most members of Congress who have weighed in on the presidential race have backed Trump, who has support from around 80 House members and more than two dozen senators.

No member of Congress has endorsed a candidate other than Trump since late June, when Indiana GOP Rep. Larry Bucshon endorsed former Vice President Mike Pence — who has since dropped out of the race. 

But Feenstra noted the race could still change before the caucuses next month.  

“I’ve always said that Iowa is unique, meaning that we’ve seen it, over the last, probably the last four or five caucuses that we’ve had, it’s really not decided til mid-December,” Feenstra said, pointing out that past winners including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Gov. Mike Huckabee “all broke late.”  

David Kochel, a veteran Iowa GOP strategist, said support from a member of Congress could boost a candidate by grabbing headlines and connecting with voters in their district, which could help a campaign turn out supporters to the caucuses.

“If you’ve got someone who’s endorsed you, you can rely on their knowledge of the people in the district to help,” Kochel said, noting caucuses are “precinct-by-precinct events.”

Kochel also noted Feenstra is well-liked in his district, which covers the most Republican part of Iowa.

“I think it would be really helpful to someone to have his support,” Kochel said.

CORRECTION (Dec. 6, 2023, 9:14 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the sex of Nikki Haley’s two children. She has a son and a daughter, not two daughters.