Iowa caucuses - and attention that comes with them - just part of the job

Reporter not taking sides in state's effort to keep first-in-the-nation status

Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders sit in their area of the room Feb. 3, 2020, at a Dem
Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders sit in their area of the room Feb. 3, 2020, at a Democratic caucus site at the community center in West Liberty. The fate of the Iowa caucuses’ first-in-the-nation status once again is up in the air. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

I do not care what happens to the Iowa caucuses.

Given Iowa’s looming battle to maintain its first-in-the-nation status, and some perceptions I’ve heard bandied about out there, I felt compelled to get that on the record sooner rather than later.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucus system is in for the fight of its life in the coming months. And that’s saying something, because the Iowa caucuses are historically and constantly under fire, 24/7/365.

But this time is different. The Iowa caucuses, especially on the Democratic side, were dealt an uppercut to the jaw in 2020. Iowa Democrats may argue who threw the haymaker: themselves, the DNC, or Shadow, but there’s no doubt the caucuses are staggered, grabbing the ropes and trying to stay on their feet.

There will be a lot of reporting on the caucuses’ future in the coming months, both from within and beyond Iowa’s borders. So I write here my feelings about the caucuses: Again, it matters not to me whether Iowa remains first. I say this because there seems to be an assumption by many folks that Iowa reporters love the caucuses and thus feel invested in the state preserving its enviable first-in-the-nation status.

That may be true of some Iowa journalists. I’m not speaking for everyone here. And who knows? Perhaps I’m in the minority, maybe even the vast minority. I didn’t poll my colleagues to find out, and it’s not something we discuss whenever we gather over beers (pre-pandemic) or Zoom (during the pandemic).

I suppose the owners of the TV stations may have a certain affinity for the caucuses, given the yearlong spigot of campaign ad spending. (That, to be clear, is not a shot at my TV colleagues).

For me, the caucuses are just another part of my job. Sure, they’re a higher-profile part of my job. I don’t get asked to appear on CNN, Fox News or the BBC for my coverage of public education bills in the Iowa Legislature.


Still, that’s not what motivates me as a journalist. What it really boils down to is, the caucuses matter, so I enjoy covering them. And the Iowa Legislature matters, too — arguably far more than the caucuses, at least to Iowans. So I enjoy covering the Legislature, too.

If the Iowa caucuses go away, or if Iowa’s role in the presidential nominating process becomes dramatically diminished, it won’t change my attitude toward my job. I’ll still have a job to do, and I’ll still enjoy doing it.

Iowans, and by extension Iowa reporters, have for 40 years enjoyed unique opportunities because of the caucuses. Not everyone is eager to throw that away, but there are a lot of ways to elect a president, and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses are not without their flaws.

If now is the time for the Iowa caucuses to end, so be it. I’ll still have my day job.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His column appears Mondays in The Gazette. Reach him at erin.murphy@lee.net and follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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