Staff Editorial

Want to be president? Iowans have some questions for you

Precinct packets await pickup during the caucus for all Linn County, Iowa precincts at the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in 2014. (Liz Martin/Gazette Archives)
Precinct packets await pickup during the caucus for all Linn County, Iowa precincts at the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in 2014. (Liz Martin/Gazette Archives)

The trickle of prospective presidential candidates visiting Iowa will become a deluge in the new year.

The 2020 presidential contest has begun, and it is expected to be crowded. Dozens of Democrats are openly exploring runs, a few Republicans have been suggested as possible challengers to President Donald Trump and several potential third-party candidates are making moves. We welcome them all to visit Iowa and articulate their visions to voters.

The Iowa caucuses are unique because they demand a higher level of engagement than traditional nominating primaries. It’s a process famous for rewarding the candidates who make personal connections with local party activists.

The 2016 cycle was something of a departure from that tradition. The two candidates who would go on to be nominated — Trump and Hillary Clinton — were able to harness enough media attention and event attendance to diminish their need for retail politicking. This cycle remains an open slate for now, ripe for some lesser-known candidates to ignite grass-roots fervor, the way it should be.

Through the caucuses, Iowans play an important role in setting the national political agenda. The questions we ask the politicians who visit our libraries and coffee shops will become national news stories. The time is now for Iowans to study the issues and make plans to demand answers from would-be presidents.

This Gazette Editorial Board will favor candidates who put forth big ideas to increase legal immigration, reduce health care costs, provide stable foreign policy leadership, protect the environment and uphold mutually beneficial international trade relationships. A detailed understanding of those and other issues will be more important than any ideological purity test fringe activists might impose.

Candidates must bring compelling expertise on public policy, but they also must exhibit a commitment to some basic American values.

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Trump has been widely criticized for his demeanor and rhetoric. Some of Trump’s opponents have suggested their best shot at victory is to emulate Trump’s style. To the contrary, we hope and expect Trump’s political style will prove to be an aberration from existing norms, rather than a new standard.

Iowans should look for candidates who have shown a commitment to transparency, honesty and civility, both in politics and in their personal lives. Leaders must value the democratic process, open debate and especially the free press. As we made clear during our 2018 endorsement process, this board has little respect for politicians of either party who refuse to engage directly with journalists and voters.

A diverse set of candidates deserves careful consideration, including several strong women, people of color and candidates of various ages who are likely to run.

The most intriguing candidates will be those who can cut through the vitriol and division that plagues modern politics. Americans deserve candidates we are excited to vote for, rather than those who are just less bad than the other options.

To our colleagues in the news media, we hope you will value fairness in vetting the politicians who get coverage. All serious candidates deserve media attention and debate participation, irrespective of their national name recognition or their fundraising ability at this early stage.

And to our fellow Iowans, we encourage you to track the process closely and participate as much as you are able. Becoming an informed caucus participant is a daunting but vitally important task.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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