Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Iowa Caucuses

Tomorrow they will begin to caucus in Iowa. It is the first real political contest of the election year. It's the nation first contest designed to choose the democrat and republican candidates for the 2008 elections. Iowa traditionally doesn't forbear winners in each party. It does, however winnow away the field heading into New Hampshire. Taken in tandem the Iowa Caucus, the New Hampshire Primary and the South Carolina Primary are considered the three most important contests of the primary season, simply by virtue of the fact they are the earliest contests of the year. Two of them, Iowa and New Hampshire are prescribed to be so by state law.

Most Americans know these things, but many Americans are starting to wonder if the Iowa caucus followed only five days later by the New Hampshire primary is the most effective way to weed away nominees in both parties. Why does Iowa a rural state with an overwhelmingly white population get lavished with all of this attention? The state doesn't have the kind of diverse population or economic background of the US as a whole. It is by and large not demonstrative of the general US population's interests, needs, or desires from their commander-in-chief. Yet the politicians, pundits, volunteers and workers of this election cycle come to Iowa with the same ferocity as they have in the past.

The reason is rooted in the concept of "retail politics." The idea that the candidates, in order to impress caucus goers of Iowa, must actually go out there and meet the voters face to face. They meet in living rooms, in diners, in school auditoriums, and in backyards. They start making visits in the summer and they don't stop until the last vote is cast. We place value in the people of Iowa's judgement because they get an opportunity most of the rest of the nation will not. They actually get to meet these folks face to face and ask them tough, very purposful policy questions. They get to look the candidate in the eye and get a real sense for who they are and what they will stand for. Most Americans will only see their president and all of the candidates through a television screen.

Defenders of the Iowa-New Hampshire method also like to point out that if you removed this process in favor of regional or a national primary it will make the money race, which is already paramount in this country, even more so. They reason that a national primary will eliminate the need for meeting people face to face. It will kill "retail politics" and turn the primaries into a national media war.

I wonder if there isn't a middle-road. Is there a way to maintain, or even increase the "retail politics" nature of the early primaries, but at the same time, give more of the nation a say in who the nominees will be?

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