Caucuses benefit state, expert says

Josh Nelson

In every election season, Iowa becomes a shining star among the 49 other states as candidates prepare for the caucuses. With Democrats and Republicans finalizing nominations, Iowa’s first in the nation status has come to attention again.

In 2000, ill-gotten bids by other states — like Louisiana — threatened Iowa’s status, but party leaders stuck to the status quo, leaving Iowa as the leader.

By the close of the Republican National Convention, Iowa’s status as first in the nation will be renewed, said Sen. Larry McKibben, R-Marshalltown.

McKibben said that the caucus and primary schedule for 2008 was one of the things left to hammer out over the course of the convention, along with other major platform issues for the future.

“When we finish, that will be determined and locked in,” McKibben said.

“It’s very important to us to maintain our first-in-the-nation status.”

However, he said, the Democratic leadership will decide if Iowa will maintain its status later.

Bruce Gronbeck, University of Iowa professor of communications studies, said that the caucuses in Iowa help affirm Iowa’s status as a kind of “linchpin of the Midwest vote.”

Another reason Iowa has fought hard to maintain its status is because the caucuses bring a great deal of economic benefit to the state, said Gronbeck, an expert in the Iowa caucus system.

Typically, candidates will come to Iowa to test out different campaign strategies, and to discuss with residents the issues that could be big later on, Gronbeck said.

He said one major reason for this is because the caucus system is in place.

Generally, a caucus will require prospective candidates to get out and talk to people one-on-one, where as primaries rely more on advertising and slogans.

“What becomes clear is candidates love Iowa as the first place to go,” he said.

Another reason Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status will likely be preserved is its position as a swing state, which leads to a variety of diverse ideas. Candidates, Gronbeck said, are attracted to Iowans especially due to somewhat renowned “Iowa civility,” a characteristic of openness and kindness.

Fewer than a third of the states still have caucuses. In the 2000 election, five more states chose to hold primaries instead of caucuses.

Candidates will begin to express interests in the Iowa caucuses typically two years before the presidential election he said. In 2006, there will be a gubernatorial election, which Gronbeck expects will draw potential presidential candidates to travel with gubernatorial candidates. Meanwhile, candidates will also be looking to raise funds for their potential bids.

“You’ve got to get there early because you’ve got to get your hands on the money,” he said.

One example of the early approach was President Bush’s approach.

In 1999, Bush had raised $175 million before any of the other candidates, who then had to scramble to match the amount Bush had raised.

“[The candidates] all learned they need to start a little earlier,” Gronbeck said.

If Iowa were to lose its status, he said, much of the traffic through Iowa would remain the same.

“The broadcasters and newspapers would be a lot poorer,” he said.

“There would still be a lot of traffic through here.”