It seems a lot of complaining goes on about Iowa being the first in the nation to weigh in on national presidential politics.
Why Iowa? It’s a good question. After all, as critics argue, Iowa doesn’t represent the nation demographically and has less than 1% of the nation’s inhabitants.
Some argue California or New York or even Illinois are more “diverse” and would be more representative of the nation were they to go first. The angst over Iowa’s position in the process confirms its importance.
Perhaps the best endorsement of the Iowa caucuses (and highly complimentary of Iowa’s voters) came from Donna Brazile, a former DNC chairwoman. She believes Iowa can be trusted with first-in-the-nation status because citizens take the responsibility of choosing a presidential nominee more thoughtfully than voters elsewhere.
“While it doesn’t look like America, when they take into consideration the qualities and values we’re looking for in a candidate, I believe that they represent what is truly best about our country,” Brazile said. “They’re smart and they take this seriously.”
Iowa’s importance as the first national test for presidential candidates was both unintended and unexpected. Iowa Democrats get the credit. Following party reforms implemented nationally after the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, they established their first contest early in 1972.
The early date wasn’t a political calculation but was set because of the time then necessary to process results. One of the architects of the Democratic caucus system said, “Never in our dreams did we realize we would be ‘first in the nation,’ nor did we ever expect anyone outside Iowa would pay much attention.”
The “attention” began in 1976 when Democratic Gov. Jimmy Carter, a relative unknown outside his native Georgia, gained national notoriety in being declared the winner of Iowa’s caucuses. President Carter doesn’t believe he would have become president without his Iowa win.
More recently, Barack Obama’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2008 gave impetus to his campaign and ultimately the presidency. The Carter and Obama results best demonstrate the importance and impact of the Iowa caucuses.
Though it isn’t necessary to win Iowa’s caucuses to gain a presidential nomination, Iowa also serves to winnow out candidates that perform poorly.
Further, Iowa’s relatively inexpensive media market allows lesser-known candidates with limited funds to compete with big money candidates.
Despite the consternation over Iowa’s prominence in presidential politics, Iowa’s position is secure — at least through tomorrow. Several threats could make Iowa a presidential ghost town.
Upon the election of Donald Trump, Democrats — behaving then as now like sore losers — immediately wanted to change the rules of the game and called for changes to or elimination of the Electoral College.
Were the national popular vote substituted for the Electoral College Iowa would rarely, if ever, see presidential candidates. This may be Democrats’ preference, but America would be ruled by coastal liberal elites and the nation’s heartland would become political “fly over country.”
Also, if billionaire Michael Bloomberg is able to bypass early contests and spend his way to the nomination, Iowa, though still affording opportunities to other candidates, might see its importance diminished — at least for candidates able to buy the nomination.
But more immediately, the Supreme Court will rule in June on the status of “faithless electors” — those electors who cast their vote contrary to the popular vote of the states they represent. If they find electors can cast their ballot for anyone they choose, millions of voters would be disenfranchised.
Iowa’s caucuses are important and the Electoral College provides balance in our electoral system, keeping power in check. Let’s hope it stays that way.