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Klobuchar as neighbor: Is Upper-Midwestern-ness much of a factor in Iowa?

I’m not sure Upper-Midwestern-ness is such a powerful factor in Iowa. Maybe it is. It didn’t do Tim Pawlenty or Michele Bachmann any good when they ran.

If Sen. Amy Klobuchar does well in Iowa, it will be discounted until she does well in a non-neighboring state.
REUTERS/Eric Miller

People keep writing how vital Iowa is to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential bid.

I’m not going to argue that it isn’t vital, just to point out something obvious. Klobuchar supposedly has an advantage in Iowa because she comes from a neighboring state, which means either Iowans know her better or share a certain Upper-Midwestern-ness affinity.

If she does well there, it will be discounted until she does well in a non-neighboring state. If she does poorly, she will probably disappear from the list of top-ranked candidates, partly on the argument that if she couldn’t do well in a neighboring state, she won’t do well elsewhere.

I’m not sure Upper-Midwestern-ness is such a powerful factor in Iowa. Maybe it is. It didn’t do Tim Pawlenty or Michele Bachmann any good when they ran.

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Pawlenty announced his 2012 presidential campaign in Iowa in 2011 and didn’t last until the caucuses. That same year, Michele Bachmann, who was even born in Iowa and did well in the ridiculously overrated Ames Straw Poll (she won it), did last until the actual caucuses, in which she finished sixth, with 4.98 percent. And has seldom been heard from since.

On the Republican side, and looking past the two Minnesotans mentioned above, none of the last three Iowa winners (Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee) has gone on to win the nomination, nor to win the next contest, the New Hampshire Primary, Before that, several Iowa winners did end up as the nominee, but in most cases they were the front-runners all along (George W. Bush, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush).

On the Democratic side, the last five Iowa winners have all ended up as nominees. Two of those (Bill Clinton in 1996 in and Barack Obama in 2012) were incumbent presidents at the time, so we can discount those. And, although Hillary Clinton won in 2016, her 49.8 to 49.6 percent squeaker over Bernie Sanders actually did more harm to her and good for Sanders.

The one time I personally got to cover Iowa (in my Strib days) was 2004, the year Democratic front-runner Howard Dean’s candidacy famously imploded. (No, it didn’t implode because he screamed. He screamed the night the results came in because his once-commanding lead had imploded, and he was apparently attempting to show that he wasn’t giving up. And the whole scream narrative is ludicrous.)

Before I close, I beg leave to argue that the whole Iowa-New Hampshire silliness has gone on long enough. Perfectly nice states. But why on earth would any one state (or two) be chosen above the other 49 (or 48) to always have disproportionate influence, or at least attention, over the choice of our presidential nominees?

Columnist/Data analyst David Byler of the Washington Post opined recently that Iowa is fine for this role but that New Hampshire should be removed from the Big Two because, as the headline on his column says, it’s “too odd to go early.

According to me, that’s a numb argument. No state is a perfect microcosm of the country, and if one were, it would soon change. If we had the nerve to start fresh and do something rational, I would suggest the following.

Don’t let any state (or two) go first every cycle. No state is important enough or “typical” enough for that and the other 49 (or 48) are not chopped liver. Rotate the honor so everyone gets a turn, or part of a turn.

My specific idea: Divide the states into five groups of 10 (you could also make it 10 groups of five, depends on how many primary nights you thought was wise). Make the groupings permanent, but rotate the order in which each group would be scheduled so that once every five (or 10) cycles, your group would be in the first primary (or caucus) night, and once it would be in the last and once per cycle for everything in between.

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Sorry Iowa. You’re a perfectly nice neighbor. Sorry New Hampshire, but you’ve had this first-in-the-nation primary thing monopolized now since 1920. Time to share the honor.