Opinion: Three Reasons That Iowa’s Time Has Passed

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Supporters wait for the arrival of former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a rally at the Hotel Blackhawk December 27, 2011 in Davenport, Iowa. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Getty)

A couple of weeks ago, University of Iowa professor Stephen Bloom lit a small firestorm in the Hawkeye state when he profiled the first-in-the-nation caucus state for The Atlantic and portrayed it as a “schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged” Midwestern backwater with a declining population, almost no ethnic diversity, and a farm culture that he seems to hold in a sort of mild contempt -- despite the fact that he’s made Iowa his home for 20 years.

Never mind that Iowa is one of only six states where same-sex marriage is legal and four years ago elevated underdog Sen. Barack Obama over then-frontrunning Sen. Hillary Clinton. Bloom was pretty clear that he thinks Iowa's a dubious place to hold the first presidential vote every four years, even if, he concedes, "For better or worse, Iowa’s the place where that greased pig" — the eventual nominee — "generally gets grabbed first."

But the reason Iowans don’t deserve a monopoly on the nation’s first caucuses is a lot simpler than anyone’s perception of the agrarian heartland. You needn't consider that the state is a conspicuously unrepresentative 91 percent white, or that they only control a mere 6 out of 538 total electoral votes. In a world where we all watch the same cable news, browse the same internet and shop at the same Banana Republics, no single state should have right -- in perpetuity -- to kick the presidential election cycle off every four years. It’s time Iowa (and, while we’re at it, New Hampshire) stood aside. Here’s why:

It’s Not Constitutional

It may be unfair, but the reason tiny Rhode Island has as many U.S. Senators as gargantuan New York is that it's an imbalance the founding fathers enshrined to leaven the power of the states against the federal government. Likewise, the anti-democratic Electoral College system -- which can hand the presidency to the popular vote loser -- has the benefit of being explicitly enshrined in Article II. But there’s nothing in our founding documents even hinting that Iowa’s the ideal spot to lead-off every presidential election.

It’s Not 1972

Back when Iowa first laid claim to first-in-the-nation status, you could make the case that only a small state with inexpensive media markets was a level playing field for both well-funded candidates and those working with a tight budget. But in an age where Justin Bieber has almost 5 million more Twitter followers than President Obama and candidates can reach thousands of supporters via Facebook, the idea that any state is the perfect campaign incubator has little merit. This year, it wasn’t shoe leather or the issues that made the difference, it was the barrage of negative TV ads aimed at Newt Gingrich by his rivals. You can do that in Eugene, Oregon as easily as you can in Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s Someone Else’s Turn

If the NFL managed to figure out that the perfect balance of power in a league of 32 teams was two conferences with four divisions each -- North, South, East, West -- and four teams in each division, there’s no reason why the political parties and the Federal Election Commission can’t get together and create a system of regional primaries -- North, South, East, West -- and rotate the order in which they vote every four years, so that none of the 50 states has the advantage when it came to electing a president.

As any grade-school kid can tell you, you have to take turns.

David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root -- The Washington Post’s online magazine for black news, opinion, politics and culture. His writing has appeared in the New York Daily News, the American Prospect, and Follow him on Twitter.


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Comments [1]

Darius from New York

Not convincing at all. As for whether Iowa is "representative" enough, well its 91% white; the nation is 75% white. So how close to the average should a state be before it "deserves" to have the special influence on the election? You mentioned Oregon -I believe Oregon is about 85% white. Is that close enough then? States that were much less white than Iowa did not select Barack Obama. You need to think about these things before just slapping down some number and saying that proves your point.

1. It's not constitutional.

I don't see what your point is here. Clearly Iowa's first-in-the-nation status is not in the Constitution, and no one says it is. These are partisan choices, and even though the two parties are huge, there's no way their processes deserve a special place in the Constitution. You can vote for whatever party you want, so if you don't like how one party chooses its candidates, you can participate in another party's process and vote for that candidate in the election. And if enough people agree with you that this is a big deal, they can go along with you just like Ross Perot's, John Anderson's, Ralph Nader's, Abraham Lincoln, etc. I mean, ok good point, it is not Constitutional. Good point. Anyway...

2. It's not 1972.

True, the candidates, except for one, have gone away from the heavy retail politics in favor of more media-based options. However, are you saying that this will be better in other states? Moot.

3. It's Someone Else's Turn.

Specious. Either one state going before the others is fair, or it isn't. Switching the state that goes first doesn't make it more fair. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot from watching what happens in Iowa. Then, when it's your turn, you can make an informed choice.

Jan. 03 2012 08:35 PM

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