Guest Columnist

The case for the Iowa caucuses

Attendees hold letters that read #x201c;CAUCUS#x201d; during a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate form
Attendees hold letters that read “CAUCUS” during a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at Northwest Junior High, in Coralville, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Every four years Iowa takes a beating from the 49 states that aren’t reporting first-in-the-nation presidential primary results.

Arguments include “Iowa’s too small, white and rural” — and many Iowans can’t or don’t participate.

Could caucuses be improved? Of course. Nevada offers one option: four days of early “caucus” voting; ranked voting of up to five choices; and Saturday afternoon (instead of a weekday evening) for the in-person caucus gathering,

The bicoastal Democratic Party elite who confuse Iowa with Idaho and Ohio literally fly over the state going to New York or LA. They are the same folks who were willing to hand Republicans the 80 percent of America’s 3100 counties Trump won in 2016 — mostly counties they’d never visited.

Iowa is far more representative of America than they will ever know.

In 1974, after 12 tempestuous years in Washington, I planned to drive thousands of miles to revisit America. Then, invited to run in Iowa’s third congressional district primary, I realized those third district counties were a microcosm of America. Moreover, they would take much less gas to drive around and visit than covering the entire country.

I closed my eyes and poked my finger at a map of the district. It landed on a small farming town of 100 residents that became my campaign home. A young farm family rented me an empty house on their property. A neighbor gave me some straw bales for insulation around its base. And the one church’s congregation welcomed me to its Sunday services. My checking account was with the town’s one bank. Businesses for miles around offered local banks’ blank counter checks. No ID was required. I’d just sign the blank check, take my purchase, and my new home’s bank would recognize my signature.

At that time these third district counties had African-American, Latino and Native American populations. Farm families, sure, but also young professionals, small colleges and a state university, daily and weekly newspapers, entrepreneurs, industry (John Deere Tractor Factory), and union members (Waterloo’s UAW Local 838). Iowa was a state that invited, rather than rejected, immigrants, a state where students from around the world, in excellent K-12 schools, spoke over 100 languages.

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The ability to go to any farm, business, home, or union hall and visit with anyone, the stories I heard, the friends I made, gave me an understanding of America no Washington job, book or TV show could offer. Those were some of the most rewarding months of my life.

Today, Iowa also has its share of counties with rural poverty; shuttered main streets, high schools and hospitals; opioid addiction and suicides. Iowans who, ignored by elite Democrats, look to Trump as their only salvation.

And those are just some of the reasons Iowa is the perfect state to be first-in-the-nation.

Here are some more.

Iowa’s size is an advantage. It’s possible for candidates to visit its 99 counties, to get a sense of an entire state while meeting, one-on-one, with a meaningful proportion of its diverse citizens.

Iowa can be to politics what spring training locations are to baseball. The number of Iowa’s national delegates are so insignificant that little’s at risk. Iowa lets candidates scrimmage, hone their talking points, interact with “real people,” better understand their opponents, experience hiring and managing staff while raising money. Iowa helps improve candidates’ national name recognition with free media coverage that’s also informative for the nation’s onlookers.

Keeping Iowa’s first-in-the-nation role is good for the candidates, for both political parties, all Americans, and our democracy. A wise Democratic National Committee should know that.

Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City, is the author of “Columns of Democracy.” Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org

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