Commentary Magazine


Iowa Officials Fret Caucuses’ Growing Irrelevance

As I wrote last week, although the Iowa caucuses are not particularly accurate assessments of either party’s primary field, they can serve as a platform for the occasional insurgent-turned-serious candidate. It did so for Barack Obama in 2008, for example.

And Michele Bachmann, seeking an early win for the same reason, is hoping to win the caucuses this time around for the GOP. But there’s a bit of awkwardness there: Iowan officials are openly rooting against her. From Iowa’s Globe Gazette:

What worries Iowa politicos this time around is the emergence of shooting-star candidates like Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, whose stock has skyrocketed since announcing her candidacy in June. Depending on which poll you’re reading, Bachmann is either in a dead heat or leading early frontrunner Mitt Romney in Iowa.

If Bachmann wins the caucuses then falters down the stretch, like 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee, the concern is it will give caucus critics the ammunition they need to make the case for diminishing the Hawkeye State’s influence.

The main concern, I wrote last week, is whether Iowa’s peculiar charm—its calling card—has removed the state’s attractiveness to the national Republican party:

The lore surrounding Iowa and New Hampshire is built on the retail politicking it takes to win those states. And although New Hampshire seems to be slightly better at picking the eventual nominee, Iowa takes some pride in this. What many voters like about the Iowa caucuses is that winning them depends a lot less on money and campaign machines. But it also produces less realistic outcomes, because protest candidates and vanity insurgents don’t always end up finishing the race.

The Gazette reports that other states’ Republican parties, such as Arizona, are trying to leapfrog Iowa on the calendar. National party officials are never entertained by this type of competition, because the primaries and caucuses start to creep closer to the beginning of the campaign than to the end. On the other hand, the sooner there is a nominee, the sooner that candidate can begin fundraising for a general election and stop spending money on party rivals.

Nonetheless, Iowa’s place at the front of the line is far from sacred, and the fact that more candidates skip the caucuses each election means every cycle, Iowa has less and less to gain by being first.