Hillary Clinton’s return to Iowa this past weekend marks her second attempt to charm voters in that important state, as she considers another Presidential run in 2016. It was in Iowa in 2008 where she came in a surprising third, which threw her campaign off-track. The first place finish by then-newcomer Barack Obama propelled him to the nomination and eventually the White House.
But does Iowa matter? Ask President Gephardt, President Huckabee or President Harkin whether winning the Iowa caucuses helped them snag the nomination of their parties, let alone the White House.
So why do we spend months with the media spotlight on Iowa, as we do every four years? The answer is simply Tradition.
In 1976, a relatively unknown peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter stole the show in Iowa, and that launched his Presidential campaign. (Actually, Carter came in second that year, since “Uncommitted” got the most Democratic votes, but Carter seized the moment anyway.)
Now, every candidate feels obligated to grab that same momentum, despite the fact that a win in Iowa is about as valuable as a broken snowplough.
The problem is not Iowa’s voters – any reporter will tell you they’re as earnest as any citizens you can find. The problem is Iowa doesn’t resemble much of America, and that’s true in very significant ways. It certainly doesn’t resemble a state as diverse as California, whose big population should have much more say in the early voting.
Iowa has more hogs than people — and those people happen to be 91.3% white.
University of Iowa Professor Stephen Bloom laid out a picture of the Hawkeye state that set-off an ongoing war of words in the Des Moines Register and in other publications.
The professor faced serious backlash for describing Iowa like this:
“Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow.’ It’s no surprise, then, really, that the most popular place for suicide in America isn’t New York or Los Angeles, but the rural Middle, where guns, unemployment, alcoholism and machismo reign.”
So is Iowa predictive of the Presidency?
No, but until we have regional primaries that would include truly important states like California, or a national primary (which has been proposed since Woodrow Wilson), the Iowa Caucuses seem to about as sacrosanct as corn-ethanol subsidies.