Iowa's Grip On First Caucus Slipping, Iowa State U. Experts Say

This story was written by Elizabeth Ricker, Kyle Ferguson & Nimota Nasiru, Iowa State Daily
Iowa is known throughout the nation as one of the most important states in the presidential nomination process, but it may not hold that distinction for much longer.

"The Democrats added another caucus in Nevada and a primary in South Carolina. Also, Super Tuesday, the day where most states hold their primary elections and caucuses, has been moved up this year," said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. "It used to be that there weren't any additional tests. I think that we could lose our status as first caucus in the nation soon."

On Super Tuesday, 20 states in the country hold their primary elections and determine who they want as their presidential nominees. Super Tuesday was traditionally in early March, but this year, it has been moved up to Feb. 5.

"Super Tuesday is causing uncertainty in how much impact the Iowa caucuses will have," said James McCormick, professor and chairman of political science.

While Iowa moved up its caucus date to match this shift, that's only a short-term response.

"We can't move up the caucus date much further," Bystrom said.

Also, Iowa's position has been criticized for the perception that Iowa and New Hampshire, which traditionally holds the first primary election in the nation, do not reflect the average state.

"There has been lots of criticism that Iowa and New Hampshire are not diverse enough states to represent the population accurately," Bystrom said.

Also, other states are looking to move up their caucus and primary dates. Florida and Michigan have both moved up their dates to Jan. 29 and Jan. 15, respectively.

"Other states want to take part in what Iowa and New Hampshire has," Bystrom said.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean the Iowa caucuses will be any less important in the future. McCormick said the main point of the Iowa caucuses is to measure the candidates' personal skills.

"It tests candidates in their ability to meet voters in a one-on-one basis," he said. "It sees whether they can find out what is on the voters' minds in the Midwest and, particularly, here in Iowa."

Bystrom said the political candidates and media like the fact that Iowa and New Hampshire provide the first tests of the candidates.

"They are fairly small states, so the candidates can get out and meet people one on one. There's also a lot of historical sentiment for keeping Iowa and New Hampshire first," Bystrom said. "It's a different campaigning experience than in other states."

McCormick said one state has to be a determining factor in shaping the field of candidates.

"The Republican and Democratic parties of Iowa will continue to jealously guard that role of being the first in the nation," he said.

Despite how much they guard the role, it might not be theirs much longer.

"There is a lot of speculation that Iowa won't have the same importance this year because candidates now have to pay attention to Nevada and South Carolina," Bystrom said. "The candidates can't focus as much attention on us as they did four years ago."

Although the Iowa caucuses are being held as the first national test of who supports which candidate, they aren't always that accurate of a test.

"The Iowa caucus winner wins the presidential nomination roughly half of the time," McCormick said.
© 2007 Iowa State Daily via U-WIRE