The Culture of the Iowa Caucus

I was watching the Democratic Town Hall in Iowa the other night, and I thought to myself, “Why the hell does Iowa play such an important role in the election?” I almost convinced myself that it was a scam to make people talk about Iowa with regard to something other than corn. So I thought if I wanted to consider myself an educated citizen, I might as well look into this. Here’s what I got…

Caucuses began in the 1840s but it took a while to reform and modernize the process. The first Iowa Caucus took place in 1972, making it the first contest in the election. Previously, Caucuses would start in May, but as time passed the Caucuses would begin to start earlier and earlier. This process all began due to something that is far more common in politics than it should be, corruption.

During the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, there were problems in the hall and violence in the streets. That is when the Democratic Party decided national reform was necessary.

These reforms required mandatory proportional representation for candidates while still giving the press data it needs to have plenty to write about. These reforms also made sure this vote took place early in the campaign. The way the voting was done for this process is all different than your typical elections. People gather in homes, churches, schools, and other public buildings. They would vote as groups. By 1976, both parties would be involved in the Caucus. And since then, the Iowa Caucus has either made or eliminated some candidates shot at becoming President of the United States.

A great example of how important this process can be for the election is the man who some say revolutionized the Iowa Caucus, Jimmy Carter. The year was 1975, and there were 11 Democrats running. When Jimmy proclaimed his presidential run, his hometown paper printed a headline stating, “Jimmy Who?”

Well, Jimmy went to work. He sold shirts, peanuts, and even organized Allman Brothers concerts to attract donations for his campaign. Jimmy went to 40 states and 250 cities in 260 days previous to any voting taking place. But there was one state he was focused in on and not for the delegates, but for the media coverage. While most candidates at the time ignored the state, Jimmy was setting up camp. Jimmy was stressing that he should not be compared to previous corrupt politicians like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Carter did a video interview in which he dresses as a chef and cooked up some fish. He was a former peanut farmer and that helped him connect with Iowans. He surprised multiple reporters with what he knew about agriculture. And before he knew it, the stranger to politics was becoming a well known and legitimate candidate.

He did this by turning politics into theater, attracting media buzz by any means necessary. Carter went on to win the Caucus, beating Birch Bayh by a 2:1 ratio and leaving all other candidates in the dust. He knew that he could get a crazy buzz going after the victory, so he went to all the major networks the very next day for interviews. “Jimmy Who?” went on to win New Hampshire and win the Presidential nomination.

From then on, candidates valued Iowa. However, a gentleman by the name of Ronald Reagan and an orangutan by the name of Donald Trump, took different routes. Reagan lost the Iowa Caucus to Papa Bush and went on to skip the following debate. Reagan still went on to win the election by a landslide. Today, Trump has came out and said he will not attend the debate hosted by Fox, which is Thursday night, just days before the Iowa Caucus.

Many are saying this election is down to four candidates. On the Republican side, Cruz vs. Trump (holy shit I may have to move to Canada), and on the Democratic side it’s Clinton vs. Sanders. Bernie seems to have out shined Clinton and O’Malley at the Democratic Town Hall and could have made a major impact on the Iowa Caucus.

But we will only be able to tell the situation of this election after February 1st, when the 2016 Iowa Caucus will take place.



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