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Iowa Doesn't Deserve Its Prime Primary Position

Saturday, June 11, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Tea Party demonstrators gather outside of the Iowa capitol building in Des Moines (jerrysEYES/flickr)

The logic supposedly behind the lock that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have on the early presidential calendar makes some sense. You have some smaller states in the beginning, which allows lesser known candidates to potentially catch up to bigger names without a huge bankroll. Then you have a southern state with a lot of black people, and then a western state with Latinos.

But it’s not that simple anymore.

This is by far best illustrated by the farce that is the Iowa caucuses. This is a state where the current leader is the same as the national leader, Mitt Romney. Tied for second in a recent poll, though, is Herman Cain, a cartoon character of a candidate who has no chance of winning.

Now, I live a mere three miles from Iowa, in Omaha, Nebraska. There is nothing wrong with the state itself. The problem is entirely with the system the state Republican party uses to select who it christens as their nominee. Partisan primaries that are not open to votes by independents — as New Hampshire’s system allows — result in a truly small portion of the population having a insane amount of say over the choices for the rest of us.

On top of that is the caucus structure itself, where not only do you have a tiny fringe of people who pay attention to politics months before the general election, but you are left with the even smaller portion of those people who are willing to stand in a room with other die-hard partisans for up to several hours. This is way beyond just filling in ovals with a number two pencil.

In Iowa, that means you get a group of people that could hardly be less representative of the rest of the country. Republican caucus-goers in Iowa are as white as stock printer paper. About 1,800 small gatherings across the state fill up with over 90 percent white people, and about six out of ten of them are evangelical Christians. Belief in conspiracy theories — like the president being born in another country — is still rampant among these people and this is leading more and more candidates to see the state as a risk better skipped over.

The recent past seems to agree with this strategy, as only two of the candidates who won there have gone on to win the GOP nomination since 1980. This is essentially the same problem that the GOP has nationwide. If they move too far to the right to satisfy the fringe elements of their base to secure votes in certain states, they hinder their chances in a general election. John McCain all but skipped Iowa in both 1999 and 2007, and this time around GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are going the same direction.

Having the first couple states in the primary calendar be small makes a lot of sense, but it makes zero sense for those states to be the same every four years. This honor should rotate between several states. A few politically powerful states, like Florida, have been angling to break the deadlock for years, but the candidates who want to pander to the voters in those states will have none of that. I’ve been against this up until now, but allowing this fringe group of people in Iowa so much power over the nomination process of one of our two major political parties is reason enough to hope that someone figures out a way to shake the boat.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.

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