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Iowans’ place in the spotlight


On Jan. 19, Iowans get their chance to shape national debate and begin winnowing the crowded field of Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination. Conventional political wisdom says it’s important for candidates place within the top three in the caucuses for their campaigns to continue, so Iowans’ role is indeed important.

Iowa sometimes takes heat for being too small and too much of a monoculture to be a representative microcosm ofr the nation. But the state is not, as Iowa Democratic Party chairman Gordon Fischer says, “the Iowa of the 1950s.”

Though still predominantely white, Iowa has large black and Latino populations, as well as a strong tradition of welcoming immigrants, such as the large number of Southeast Asians who settled here after the Vietnam War and refugees from Bosnia and the Sudan. It plays host to the only presidential debate on minority issues with the Brown-Black Presidential Forum. And Iowa’s economy is moving beyond its traditional agrarian base to include more of the industries found in bigger states.

We can’t think of a better place than Iowa, located in the middle of America and a population mainly inclined toward middle-of-the-road politics, to start the presidential selection process. Beginning the process in a large state such as California would limit candidates’ ability to meet face-to-face with voters, which is the backbone of the Iowa caucus system, and force them to do more of their campaigning through paid commercial spots. Without big campaign war chests, lesser-known candidates would be at a bigger disadvantage than they are now at getting their message before voters.

Though only about 20 percent of the state’s registered Democrats will attend the caucuses, those who do participate will have taken the time to learn about the differences separating the candidates. When likely Iowa caucus-goers pose a question about education, for example, they’re sufficiently well-versed to cite a specific bill number and ask candidates to expound on various aspects of it. And they could probably write on the back of a napkin who voted for what trade agreements, who supported the war in Iraq and who didn’t, who’sgot the best agricultural policy or the best health-care plan and how the candidates stand on a host of issues.

Iowans take their role in the presidential selection process seriously. And the caucuses themselves give state leaders an opportunity to promote the state as always evolving, changing and worthy of the responsibility with which its residents have been entrusted.  

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