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Do we really want Iowa to be first in 2016?

COMMENTARY | June 28, 2012

It’s not just the atrocious mistakes and the rule of the religious right that should make the GOP and the press rethink Iowa’s role in presidential campaigns, it’s also the events that go as planned, such as the quadrennial phony-baloney Ames Straw Poll.

By Herb Strentz
DES MOINES—Given the nature of Iowa GOP politics this year, the national party may want to drop Iowa as the lead-off state for presidential voting in 2016. What happened in Iowa was clumsy and scary, and long in the making. In addition, coverage of the events in the Hawkeye state makes the press look ridiculous, too. It would be one thing if the damage were limited to Iowa, but it isn't: it's a serious national issue. 
Iowa efforts to straighten things out are likely to provoke just more head-shaking. 
This week the Iowa GOP caucuses – remember them? – emerged from the Hawkeye equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab with a bolt tightened here and there but with loose screws still unattended to.
After what is regarded as the fiasco of the 2012 caucuses, the Iowa Republican party created a committee to see what should be done to redeem the caucuses in the eyes of their national party and the press and, it is hoped, to salvage the caucus’s “first-in-the-nation” status come January 2016.
The repair work was required, you may recall, because the Iowa folks reported Jan. 4 that Mitt Romney won the Republican caucus by 8 votes over Rick Santorum and then two weeks later reported that Santorum was the winner by 34 votes.
(Some five months later, at the state Republican convention June 16, the delegates selected for the party’s national convention were stacked in favor of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul – a result of pure political maneuvering and not another recount of the caucus votes.)
Ignored in the caucus recommendations this week were the two really loose screws in the whole shebang.
  • The Ames Straw Poll.
  • The closed nature of the GOP caucus, thanks to how the religious right dominates the Iowa Republican Party.
The phony baloney Ames Straw Poll kicks off the caucus press coverage in the August preceding the caucuses. It is essentially a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party. Candidates for the presidential nomination pay about $35 a vote and other fees in the thousands of dollars with the money going to the Iowa GOP. The national press gets all excited about this – the vote totals, not the money – and turns the sow’s ear into a silk purse. The winner of the 2011 Ames Straw Poll was U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann who celebrated her victory by being the biggest loser in the caucuses and then briefly opting for dual citizenship in Switzerland, perhaps so she could take her political smarts there. 
But the Straw Poll nonsense was not on the agenda of the Iowa GOP when it came to reforming Iowa’s ”first-in-the-nation” status. Neither was the restrictive, evangelical nature of the GOP caucuses, which tells moderate candidates they need not apply.
The reform committee logically could have advanced a recommendation along these lines: “Given Iowa’s role as a bellwether for the selection of our party’s candidate, it is important that the Iowa caucus be open to the widest spectrum of candidates to encourage turnout at the caucuses and to foster debate over the widest range of Republican concerns.”
Dream on!
Instead, the committee advanced eight recommendations that tinker with how caucus volunteers are trained and how results are reported. For example, there would be a 72-hour delay in certifying a winner in a close race, such as that between Romney and Santorum. (The closest previous race was when George Bush beat Ronald Reagan by 2 percent in the 1980 caucuses.) The committee recommendations will not be acted upon by the party bosses for months, or maybe for a few years, because the 2016 caucuses are so far off.
If you were wondering, the Iowa Democratic Party caucus is unaffected by what the GOP does. The Republicans try to count individual votes; the Democrats have a weighted caucus voting process so convoluted that it is possible for a candidate to get, say, 10 or 15 percent of the popular vote, and not even register in the reported results.
Small wonder Iowans fret. As Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich wrote Tuesday: “If Iowa forfeits its first-in-the-nation status because the nation has lost confidence in the process, it won’t matter how fast the votes are counted.” 
Given the nature of the Ames Straw Poll and the domination of the religious right in Iowa, it is a wonder there was any confidence in the first place. But those aspects of the caucuses draw little attention from the press.
Perhaps it could be worse: Suppose the national GOP decides everything is just fine in Iowa and the evangelical right is the hope of the future for the Republican Party. There’s some evidence for such an outcome. And some folks in Iowa would be delighted that we were first-in-the-nation with that message, too.

The problem is bigger than Iowa
Posted by Don Greenwood
07/03/2012, 05:24 PM

The whole primary system should be overhauled by both parties. There is no reason why one state should always be first. The order of state primaries should be rotated every four years so that other states have a shot at being first in line. It is time for Iowa to take a back seat for The next forty nine years.

Taking turns is a concept elementary school kids grasp. Apparently, the brain trusts in the GOP and Democratic party are too obtuse, or too jaded, to understand what six-ten year olds get without any effort.

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