116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
One of my earliest vivid political memories is a campaign rally at a Cedar Rapids middle school with then-U. S. Sen. Barack Obama. At the time, he was a relatively unknown political entity in Iowa and across the nation. After giving a powerful speech on his vision for a renewed American dream based on hope and change, he proceeded to have a conversation with every member of the audience. I distinctly remember him engaging directly with Democratic caucus voters, looking them in the eye and listening to each of their questions and concerns. Although he was a relatively inexperienced senator in a primary race against Hillary Clinton — a political figure as established in D.C. as the Washington Monument — he asked Iowa voters to consider his unconventional candidacy and the positive vision that he had posited that day.
After months of grassroots organizing and retail campaigning, Iowa caucus voters objectively listened to all of the candidates and correctly assessed that Obama’s vision was what the Democratic Party needed to win and reverse eight years of misguided Republican policies. Spending close to a year in Iowa’s small towns, diners, schools, and cities, Obama built a strong connection with the Iowa voters who would later catapult him to victory in the caucuses and two general elections. His shock upset over Hillary Clinton gave his campaign the national attention and credibility it needed to win the Democratic nomination in 2008. Similarly, after being virtually unknown at the start of the 2016 presidential primary, the Iowa Democratic caucuses launched U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to national political fame, resulting in his virtual tie with Hillary Clinton in the caucuses.
Democrats in Washington are now thinking of stripping Iowa of its first in the nation status. For 40 years, every candidate who has sought to be the leader of the free world has had to come meet Iowans where they are; they have to poignantly put forward their respective visions for our country’s future, and, importantly, withstand the scrutiny of some of the most knowledgeable and engaged voters in the country. Candidates from powerful coastal states, aided with large war chests and prominent national political profiles have never been able to take this state or its voters for granted.
Many Democrats outside the Midwest have claimed that Iowa and the upper Midwest have gotten too conservative to go first in our nominating process, or that our demographics don’t allow for candidates of color to succeed. On the contrary, for more than 150 years, Iowa has served as a progressive beacon for the rest of the nation. We outlawed the death penalty nearly 60 years ago and became one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009. We desegregated our schools 100 years before Brown v. Board of Education. In addition to playing a prominent role in helping elect our first Black president, Iowa is only one of two states this year that have nominated African American women to represent the Democratic Party in contested gubernatorial races.
As a former Iowa campaign staffer who worked during the 2020 caucuses, I understand the frustrations of Democrats who complain that our quirky electoral system is outdated and unable to cope with increased turnout and participation. The proposed reforms by Iowa Democrats that include early voting, voting by mail, and other changes that would make our process more accessible are a welcome step in the right direction. Speaking from personal experience, our caucus system is a big reason why I and countless others have decided to choose a life in politics. More importantly, it is a process that has allowed unknown or outsider candidates to present themselves to voters on an even playing field. I respectfully ask our DNC leaders in Washington, many of whom started their political careers in Iowa, to continue to have faith in the great people of this state and our electoral process.
Sami Scheetz of Cedar Rapids is the Democratic nominee for Iowa House District 78. He would be the first Arab American to serve at the Statehouse. He worked on the Iowa caucus campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2020, and later served on President Biden’s Iowa general election leadership team. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, where he studied government and history.