Why Iowa?

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Iowa is a really nice place. I know people who live there and I know people who come from there. I'm sure that most Iowans are warm and friendly just like the Midwesterners that I grew up with were. Iowa leads the nation in corn for grain, soybeans, and hog production. Ann Landers, Herbert Hoover, and William Frawley - the actor who played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy" - were all born in Iowa. What could be more American than that? But are any of these things good enough reasons for Iowa to determine who the next president might be?

That's what's been in the news lately: "If he (or she) has a poor showing in Iowa, it's all over" or "If she (or he) does well in Iowa, it could wrap up the nomination." About three million people live in Iowa, which is about 1/100th of the population of the United States. It's ranked 30th in population among all the states. About 100,000 Iowans are expected to caucus. Obviously, Iowa should have a voice in determining who the next president will be. But should it be such a loud voice?

The caucusiowa.com Web site says that the results of the caucuses do not imply "... that every state should vote as we do - it's simply to say that we are representative of the country at large ..." But are they? Has anyone done research to prove this? Do the people in a typical neighborhood in Iowa have the same values and opinions as the people in your neighborhood? Maybe, maybe not. I mean, if you don't live in Iowa, can you imagine getting excited about high school wrestling?

It would be considered unfair if some big states like California, New York, and Texas all had their caucuses or primaries before the rest of the country. Nobody would care what the people in Iowa and other states felt. People from smaller states would feel disenfranchised. But is it any fairer to have the voters of Iowa be so powerful that some candidates will probably drop out of the race before people in other states even have a chance to vote for them?

Maybe the fairest thing would be to have a national primary in which all the states have their primaries on the same day. Of course, this will never happen. Iowa and the traditionally early primary states would fight it. And so would the political parties and the candidates. If you think running for president is ridiculously expensive now, can you imagine how much it would cost if every candidate had to campaign in every single state just to get the nomination? And what about the toll on the candidates? Their heads would be spinning so fast they wouldn't even be able to remember what state they were in while eating their nightly rubber chicken. They'd get confused and wouldn't know which regional accent to fake. And candidates like Chris Dodd would have to keep moving their families and renting houses in all 50 states.

Forgetting the fairness issue, why do people care so much about how the people in Iowa vote? If a candidate does poorly in Iowa, he or she can't just say, "OK, I didn't do well in that one state. There are plenty of other states I might do better in." They can't say that because Iowa has become something special. Candidates want to have a good start. And if you win something somewhere - whether that place is big or small - it's a good thing. Others will join your cause and donate money to you because everyone likes to be associated with a winner. And if you don't do well, people will desert you and your cause faster than you can say, "The Hawkeye State."

Iowa has come to have a mystique. When it comes to politics, Iowa rules. It "rocks." And there is an acceptance of this one state having more power than mere logic and statistics dictate. This has taken on a life of its own, and perpetuates itself every four years. So candidates would be foolish to stop spending so much time and money on an Iowa campaign just because it doesn't make sense. Even if it's not necessarily logical, they have to recognize that it's a reality.

It's quite possible that the people of Iowa have this mystique and power in other areas. Let's put it this way: if Iowans ever stop reading my column, I'm certainly going to start getting nervous about the rest of the country. And please don't start me worrying about how they feel about me in New Hampshire.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of which were corny.
By Lloyd Garver