Stirewaltisms: Iowa Down, But Not Out

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg prepare to caucus for him in a school gymnasium on February 3, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Hawkeye State had long been viewed suspiciously as a first presidential nominating contest by elites in both parties. For Republicans, it has always been too church-y, and for Democrats it has always been too white

For Republicans, the criticism has been more fair than for Democrats. GOP caucus-goers picked three clunkers in a row, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz, all of whom predicated their campaigns on outreach to Evangelical voters.  The Dems, though, are being more than a little unfair. Iowa, which is something like 90 percent white, had more to do than any single state in making Barack Obama the first African-American major party nominee.

But the actual problem that political professionals both red and blue have with Iowa is that it’s too hard to win and too politically weird. The caucus system rewards enthusiasm and organization over broad support, so it’s even less representative than the primary system. Since its arrival as a significant contest 48 years ago, Iowa’s caucus-goers have been stubborn, demanding, and fickle in ways that other states have never had the luxury to attempt. Getting to paint the first stroke does things to voters, and that would be true whichever state went first.

Then there’s the abstrusion of the process. State delegate equivalents? Second round popular vote? Eligibility thresholds? Are those people in someone’s living room? And then it turns out that it doesn’t really matter because they can always throw the results out at the state convention in the summer. 

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