The Republican Party of Iowa was blindsided by the Tea Party movement in the last presidential election, but party officials are already working hard to diminish the conservative movement's influence by the time the next presidential primary rolls around in 2016, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa said.
"I think the Tea Party people in Iowa caught them off guard," Grassley said of the state party in an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers."
Grassley said many Iowa Republicans "have been dissatisfied with the direction of the Republican Party in Iowa and are prepared to get more involved this time to counter the Tea Party influence."
"What we need to do is energize the Republican Party all over," Grassley said. "That doesn't exclude Tea Party people, but it means everybody who likes the Republican Party and our principles needs to get activated."
Grassley, who is running for a seventh term in 2014, said he hasn't decided who he'd back in the next presidential contest. But his influence in a state that casts the first votes of a presidential election will make him a sought-after endorsement.
When asked about the presidential prospects of newly re-elected New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, Grassley said Christie "would be a welcome candidate in Iowa."
His appeal, Grassley said, stems from his success as governor, "and he's been able to work with both political parties and he's shown considerable success."
Grassley, who considers himself conservative, rejected the "moderate" label Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and others have tried to attach to Christie to suggest he would have trouble winning a primary process dominated by conservatives. Christie allowed same-sex marriage to advance in New Jersey and embraced President Obama in the final weeks of the 2012 election.
"There is a tendency that if you are not a purist on everything then you are a moderate," Grassley said. "I don't accept that. I'm going to give Gov. Christie the opportunity to tell me issue by issue where he stands and I'll make a judgement."
Just three Iowa caucus winners — Democrats Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush — have gone on to win the presidency. But placing well in the race's first caucuses can give a candidate a chance to build momentum heading into the rest of the primary process.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Tea Party favorite, won the 2012 Iowa caucuses, though he was effectively denied the traditional bump a winner would have because problems with the vote count meant he didn't learn that he'd narrowly won until weeks later.
Grassley, hoping Iowa picks a winner next time around, said the Tea Party's insurgency has shaken up the state's Republican Party, motivating the party to get more involved in the next primary "so that we can be a more major force not only in Iowa but in the nation as a whole."